As we travel across the country by road, the extent to which we benefit from the infrastructure investment becomes evident. Road trips have become an enjoyable experience due to the extensive network of well-maintained highways connecting the country. This feat enabled trade, encouraged tourism, stimulated the automotive market, and created livelihoods in remote villages through toll booths or highway restaurants. The infrastructure has provided an enabling environment for realizing India’s potential.
Efforts and investments are underway to build the infrastructure that creates the potential for growth and development, including roads, ports and airports, utilities like electricity, water and the Internet. India’s 5.98 million kilometers of roads make it the second largest road network in the world. In the past year alone, 13,298 km of freeways have been added. The government has also accelerated reforms in the telecommunications sector, allowing widespread Internet penetration. The second largest telecommunications market in the world, India is on track to reach 900 million Internet users by 2025.
The nation’s true potential, however, lies in empowering its young people through access to education. When people benefit from investments in infrastructure to strengthen their financial security, pursue learning and career opportunities, and raise living standards, they make progress. The education sector is ready for reforms and investments. The pandemic has demonstrated a critical need to prioritize the digitization of education and learning. The low cost of smartphones and the penetration of the Internet represent an opportunity that policymakers and educators cannot afford to ignore. In 2020, when schools were closed, the digital divide only peaked; a very small minority of students were able to benefit from online courses, as this required additional expense from parents and schools.
What is needed to allow access to digital education? A smartphone or device in the hand of each student, an affordable Internet connection and personalized content and learning service. Although it sounds simple, the NCERT survey showed that at least 27% of students do not have access to smartphones or laptops to take online courses, while 28% of students and parents think that the lack of electricity is one of the main concerns. For children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, a device and an Internet connection can include them in mainstream education. Online education can also streamline the quality of education, with access to standardized or diverse content in different languages.
The National Education Policy (NEP) envisions the integration of technology into online and digital education to ensure equitable use of technology. This will be played out in the years to come. It’s time for government, educators and business to work together to create the new digital order of education for all. Basic enablers such as the internet and devices can attract CSR funding. Reinventing the teaching method to make it suitable for online learning requires a reflection on the skills and the curriculum. Teachers need to adapt and evolve new teaching methods, as well as acquire new skills and capacity for content creation. Schools will need to have the capacity to invest in new secure systems and applications designed for education, as well as capacity building for teachers. Assessment criteria and exams will also need to be redesigned, with collaboration between technology experts, industry, educators, policy makers, teachers and parents.
For now, the easiest way to start is often the best: find a way to provide smart devices and the internet to every student, so no one is left behind.
Just as the road network has had an exponential effect on livelihoods and the economy, the infrastructure and investments made to enable digital education will enable India to extract the maximum potential from the large young population. . India’s hope of being a world superpower lies in its young population. The “demographic dividend” window opened in 2018. Supposed to be a 37-year period in which India will have more labor force than dependent population, investments in digital education will have the same exponential effect on the country’s economy.
Imagine the impact we could create if children across the country could learn at their own pace from free content available all over the Internet. Some of these self-taught kids may end up creating the next Google and Apple in the world!
(The writer is the founder of an online learning platform)
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