Transformation is currently underway in the Indian higher education sector. Characteristics and circumstances for learners are changing. New demands are being made of them in terms of their knowledge, skills and competencies. Greater diversity is manifested in relationships between learners and educational providers. Today’s networked society offers a marked increase in opportunities for interpersonal communication and access to digital resources. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education is above 40 percent in developed countries while the global average is 23 percent. In India, however, the GER lags behind at only 22 percent. The government proposes to enhance it to 30 percent by 2020.
But, this presents a huge challenge. Another 40,000 to 50,000 higher education institutions are anticipated to be needed to boost the GER as envisioned. Where will resources to create so many ‘brick and mortar’ campuses come from? And how can it be ensured that they will impart quality education at an affordable price? Cost versus quality concerns about higher education abound.
The limitations of ‘brick and mortar’ campuses in ensuring accessibility for different kinds of learner profiles, is pushing ICT enabled education into the limelight. ICT enabled education attracts students of all ages for offering low cost learning, flexible “anytime, anywhere” learning, individualised learning, just in time teaching, and overcoming the barriers of physical distance, time and socio-economic circumstances.
The National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) was launched on February 3, 2009 at Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, as a centrally sponsored scheme of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to leverage the potential of ICT in teaching and learning. It is envisioned to become a major intervention in enhancing the GER in higher education. A landmark initiative, NMEICT addresses all the education and learning related needs of students, teachers and lifelong learners.
Mission higher education
The three cardinal principles of any education policy, access, equity and quality are expected to be well served by providing connectivity to colleges and universities across the board, providing low cost and affordable access-cum-computing devices to learners and teachers and providing high quality e-content free of cost. NMEICT encompasses all of these elements.
The objectives of the mission are to:
• Empower and enable students by ensuring equity and 24x7 access to education through
the use of ICT, irrespective of their social, economic and educational status;
• Connect over 400 universities and 22,000 colleges across India through high-speed data networks;
• Improve faculty quality by using a unique synchronous training methodology;
• Ensure equity by providing access to expensive equipment even to students in remote corners through innovative use of ICT; and
• Make available e-content and educational videos created by the best teachers across all disciplines for undergraduate and postgraduate classes.
The mission provides an opportunity for teachers and experts across India to pool their collective wisdom for the benefit of learners and thereby, reduce the digital divide and reach out to hitherto deprived sections of society in rural and underdeveloped areas of the country.
Teachers’ training is another important component of NMEICT. It encompasses readying teachers to adopt a technology enabled environment, supporting them in acquiring skills in e-content development and making them adept in emerging modes of technology based delivery. IIT Bombay is implementing training for 10,000 teachers, the ‘Talk to a Teacher’ project by means of an audio video tool A-VIEW developed by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. ‘Talk to a Teacher’ also makes available a series of talks given by doctoral students at IIT Bombay, recordings of course lectures delivered at the institute and access to IIT Bombay faculty to clarify conceptual doubts in engineering and science.
Under the NMEICT there is a plan to set up shared ICT infrastructure, cloud computing and services. The overall goal is to set up a national academic cloud offering a fully-functional ERP and hosting other applications such as education and research related applications software, mail services and websites, for institutions of higher learning in India. This would make available a shared data centre consisting of servers, related hardware, multiple layers of software including platform (OS) and applications software services. This proposed academic cloud will be distributed across 100 institutions in different geographical locations, with a data centre in each institution.
The MHRD is poised to launch one of its most ambitious programmes—50 24x7 educational channels on DTH, under the auspices of the NMEICT. Teachers and SMEs shall deliver eight hours of live lectures a day per channel; repeated twice a day for the benefit of those who miss the live sessions. Students will be able to seek answers to their queries instantaneously from teachers during the live transmission or asynchronously if they are viewing recorded lectures. The live telecast will be multicast to enable access through other devices like computers, tablets and smartphones. All the content delivered will be converted into e-content so that viewers can access it on demand at a convenient time, place and pace.
Setting up courses in the cloud is a key trend in web based learning. The concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been gathering momentum in the last few years. MOOCs integrate the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of an acknowledged expert in a field of study and a collection of freely accessible online resources. NPTEL and NMEICT in association with NASSCOM launched the first online certification programme on Data Structures and Algorithms on a MOOCs platform powered by Google. Next, it is proposed to create a unified platform integrating several MOOCs offered by higher education institutions in the country, thus pooling educational resources and subject experts to reach out to a large number of learners who are otherwise deprived of higher education opportunities.
In time this initiative is envisaged to evolve into a Virtual University to formalise the process of certification and awarding degrees on the successful completion of requisite coursework.Closely related to this, there’s a pressing need for a policy acceptable to all stakeholders, defining how technology enabled learning can be integrated as a part of the curriculum and recognising degrees and diplomas earned online or through a blended mode. In the Indian scenario where there is vast disparity in educational facilities available in various regions across the country, the mission is playing a key role in bridging the gap
Uma Kanjilal is Professor and Head, Faculty of Library and Information Science at IGNOU. She was a Fulbright Scholar in University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign during 1999- 2000 where she worked on Multimedia and Web Based Courseware Development. Professor Kanjilal has been coordinating the Sakshat/ NMEICT Portal since 2006 and is a Standing Committee Member of NMEICT.
Praveen Prakash, an electric engineer graduate, has more than 20 years of experience in administration at various levels under the Government of India/ State Government.
He is at present, Joint Secretary, Technology Enabled Learning, MHRD, Government of India. He is also the Mission Director of National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). He is spearheading the adoption of ICT on a massive scale in the higher education sector.