Technology can’t replace teachers in classrooms

Updated on Feb 01, 2019 07:35 AM IST

To improve learning levels in schools, develop and enable quality teachers to perform their professional roles.

Of the six million teaching positions in government schools nationwide, approximately one million positions were vacant in 2016.(Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)
Of the six million teaching positions in government schools nationwide, approximately one million positions were vacant in 2016.(Burhaan Kinu / HT Photo)
ByShireen Vakil

The 2018 ASER report released earlier this month is a yet another annual reminder that the education system is not equipped to deliver quality education to children across states in rural India. Poor performance in schools impedes children’s ability to carry out basic tasks. This in turn reduces the chance of gaining meaningful employment as they enter the labour market. Two-thirds of the surveyed students in the age group of 14 to 16 years were unable to solve simple mathematical problems.

Developing and enabling quality teachers for their professional role is the missing link in India’s educational system. Of the 6 million teaching positions in government schools nationwide, approximately 1 million positions were vacant in 2016. Among all states and UTs, teacher vacancies as a proportion of total sanctioned posts was highest in Jharkhand (38%), followed by Bihar (34%) and Delhi (25%).

The short supply of qualified teachers also exacerbates this problem. Of the 1.7 million candidates who appeared for the 2018 Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET), a recruitment exam for aspiring teachers, only 178,273 (17%) candidates qualified for the primary school teachers test and 126,968 (15%) candidates qualified for middle school teacher tests.

The Tata Trusts has been working with the National Council on Teacher Education (NCTE) to develop a model curriculum for teacher training programmes. Additionally, a Centre of Excellence in teacher education is being developed by the Trusts, which will have the capacity to undertake curriculum development, project implementation, publication and research, management of teacher data, and monitoring and evaluation.

Technology can indeed be a significant enabler for achieving quality education with the objectives of access, quality and equity. However, technology should not replace teachers; rather, it should serve to empower them.

There is a need to look beyond the phrase, Information and Communication Technology and use the term technology more holistically. For this to happen, substantial investment will need to be made across infrastructure, teacher education, and content and curriculum. It is necessary for technology to be incorporated into curriculum delivery and teacher capacity building.

According to a cost-benefit analysis conducted by India Consensus, a partnership between Tata Trusts and the Copenhagen Consensus Center, an investment of Rs1,333 ($21) per student per year, would create a multiplier effect of generating benefits to society worth Rs 74 for every rupee spent. Further, research from Andhra Pradesh estimated that implementing computer-based learning would lead to a wage boost of 5.1% and lifetime benefits worth Rs 83,000 ($1,313).

There has been a decline in education expenditure as a share of total approved budget. According to the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), the budgetary allocation for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the national programme for elementary education, fell to 29% in 2018 from 31%in 2016; the allocation for Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, the integrated national programme for secondary school education, declined from 78% in 2015 to 54% in 2017.

The first decade after the implementation of the Right to Education Act has seen remarkable achievements, especially in school attendance. It is now time for us to concurrently focus on strengthening the systems for teachers and leverage technology to improve learning outcomes if we are to build human capital in the country.

Shireen Vakil heads the Policy and Advocacy unit of the Tata Trusts

The views expressed are personal

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