I often wonder what the difference between an Indian and an American is. On one hand the Americans come up with innovations like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and so much more whereas we Indians merely end up doing their back office work or working for them and at the most excelling at that. We, the Indians, have the perfect DNA for an innovative mind. Ours has all the stuff that should theoretically make us frontrunners in technological advancements. The world has been a witness to the technological leaders of ancient India. It was we, who invented the first flying technology fueled by mercury, cosmetic surgery, the backbone of mathematics - The Number System, many of the modern mathematical formulae, Yoga and the saga continues. Some of these inventions may even be debated on by some; after all what we know of the world is what the British wanted us to learn. History's victors and villains were decided by the British, and an open mind, given its ability to question, could've been a nail in the British Empire's coffin.
A closed mind
To close that openness of the questioning mind, they came up with a brilliant solution. Why not introduce a memory rote based system? One that clogs an individual's intellect and releases it only during examinations directing him to the sole aim of obtaining marks which would ultimately reward him/her a good career and prevent him/her from thinking out of the box. What else? Label him/her a failure if they didn't. And if your memory absorption power didn't live up to their expectations, they can always get away with corporal punishment. The outcome being, in a class of 60 students there are just 3 toppers and 57 losers. This is what education was, for Indians back in the days until the 90's.
Education to create excellence
The basic principle of education is intra and interactivity which means both the teacher and the student are on equal grounds, learners if I may say. The teacher imparting knowledge through a skill set, honing his own knowledge and skills in the process, learning from the student as a result of the intra-activity and inter-activity between them.
The other important aspect in education is the process of bringing out excellence and polishing the talents of a child. Education is neither a process of elimination nor a process of branding a couple of winners, and tagging the rest of them as losers. Nor is education a 100m sprint or a deciding factor of whether or not a child is a success or a failure (Don't you think an incompetent student is the result of an incompetent teacher, or or probably an unworthy education system?)
Tools for education
Tools are important. Consider the grand old blackboard that most of us grew with and anchors like teacher throwing the duster or the chalk to gain attention of the child. From a neuro-lingustic point of view, the way our brain deciphers information, it may just need the rawest form of anchor to hamper its development. From a psychological point of view, such methods not only lead to louder anchors for gaining future attention but also make the child scout for internal safety and there goes the once innovative brain in slumber and all he strives is survival i.e. jobs or making ends meet. In other words, it's putting a person on a survival mindset rather than a mindset that creates excellence. Another important aspect is the way knowledge, data or information is presented to the child. The right information delivery to the child can make all the difference in terms of not just the absorption but also the processing of this information in the child's brain. Remember, this absorption and processing of information presented by the teacher makes all the difference between the child who excels and the one who is labeled as a laggard.
Technology in education:
Interactive White Boards
Take for instance the case of interactive whiteboards. An interactive whiteboard equips an ordinary whiteboard with the power of computer, opening up immense possibilities for the teachers as well as for students for the proper flow of knowledge and information. According to Smart Tech, creators of world's 1st interactive white board called Smart Boards "Research has established that learners are better able to retain concepts when all their senses are engaged. Integrating sounds and visuals like graphs, maps, videos and images bring the course content alive for students - making it easier for them to grasp concepts." Over the past 15 years, numerous studies have been conducted in the United States, Canada, UK, Australia, Mexico, Asia and the Middle East resulting in documented evidence confirming that the use of interactive whiteboards, combined with appropriate pedagogy, can increase a student's engagement, motivation and participation.
In the book E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice, Terry Anderson presents an extensive research from technological, pedagogical and organizational perspectives in order to create practical models and release the full potential of e-learning. NCERTs initiative in getting course material available in electronic format is in the right direction that can aid e-learning.
A tablet for every child
The government is already spending on incentives to attract children to classrooms, especially the girl child. Initiatives like mid-day meal and an incentive paid to the girl child every month deposited in the child's bank account are steps to a better future, a better India. India has the highest youth population in the world that "needs to be educated". Would it be asking a lot if instead of just educating them, they are educated in an environment where their potential to excel is realized?
Engage the child, inspire him and give him tools to collaborate. Much of education is about the collaboration dynamics between students, between students and teachers and more. Cloud Learning could perhaps be one of the most interesting ways in which students get access to Create, Share and Collaborate knowledge, information, data and content and create excellence.
India and spending on technology
Surprisingly, in a country like India where education is yet to reach the masses, one may argue how wise it is to spend on technology. Paradoxically, it is technology that bridges the gap between schools; the underprivileged and the elite ones. The installation of interactive Smart Boards in schools like Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas, Delhi and the Kendriya Vidyalayas has shown a considerable impact on the learning outcomes of the students.
The results of technology
A study conducted by Milken Exchange on impact of educational technology on student achievement brought forth conclusive evidence on the dramatic impact of technology on student's learning outcomes. It was observed that students who used computer based instruction scored at 64th percentile on tests of achievement compared to students in the controlled conditions without computers who scored at the 50th percentile. Those students were also found to take lesser time to grasp concepts in comparison with students in control group. It was also observed that the eighth grade students who used simulation and higher order thinking software showed gains in math scores up to 15 weeks above grade level.
The last word
India is high on youth pool in the world. Think about the new possibilities if instead of 1 million workers which education would normally create, India could create a pool of excellence which is trained to excel and deliver excellence. What would it take for Wall Street traders to start the day early because Indian BSE opens 12 hours before their time? What would it take for NASA to take inspiration from ISRO? What would it take for next invention beyond the www to take place in India? Most importantly what would it take for a Tim Johnson in USA or a Mary Cooper from UK, both from very wealthy families, to be sent for their education in India?
The answer is simple, the right education and technology. If India could do it before we can do it now. It is in anyway in our DNA.
Puneet Mehrotra is a columnist on Business and Technology www.thebusinessedition.com