Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Government’s attempt to Disrupt Education System through ICT: A case study of initiatives in Bihar and Rajasthan

Dheeraj Kumar
(Dheeraj works in the Central team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

Digital technology has revolutionized every aspect of modern life. It has become almost impossible to imagine our lives without mobile phones and other communication technologies. In recent years, learning technologies in high-cost schools have taken a leap, while government funded education still lacks the basic ICT infrastructure. Government interventions in ICT in education have been largely limited to the digitalization of data collection process with an attempt to make the system more transparent and responsive.

Learning technologies governed by ICT and digital framework have the potential to majorly change the way education is administered and transacted in today’s classrooms. There have been quite a few efforts from the state government to solve the access, equity and quality related issues by providing the ICT infrastructure in the selected schools, but the real challenge has been the integration of the technology into classrooms and in the lives of the teachers.

Without a holistic digital education policy, any standalone ICT intervention comes with a risk of widening the already existing gap in the country’s current education system. Vast demographical and geographical diversity of India also adds to the challenge of forming an uniform national digital educational policy. Education being a subject on the concurrent list, makes the role of state governments crucial to formulate policies to overcome the challenge of diversity and maximize the benefits that can be achieved through ICT. While many states are taking active steps in this direction; we look at a few such digital interventions made by the state governments of Bihar and Rajasthan to reflect on the impact of those efforts.

A mid day meal session in progress
In last several years, Bihar has witnessed many reforms in the education system, as well as, faced challenges with respect to infrastructure and service delivery such as connectivity, electricity, and so on. Bihar made an attempt in digitalizing the education system by building a digital monitoring system for implementation of Mid Day Meal schemes.

Mid Day Meal MIS

In Bihar, BEPC (Bihar Education Project Council) implements an MIS (Management Information System) for real time monitoring of the mid day meal scheme throughout the state. The group of all the monitoring officials can access information pertaining to number of meals served, amount of grains distributed and fund disbursed on real time basis. Additionally, it enables the officials to plan for advance two months through funds estimation.

Both the planning and the execution are done at different levels such as block, district and state. Seeing the success of mid day meal schemes in attracting and retaining children especially of parents from low income strata or below poverty line, there is a plan to devise a central scheme throughout the nation. It is likely, that this mid day meal MIS scheme will be replaced by a central scheme of similar nature.

Pilot for Model schools

In order to conduct a pilot on “Model Schools” around 1,000 high schools have been chosen and equipped with a modern computer lab facility. This project has been spearheaded by Adarbhut Sanghathan Nigam and funded by Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). Each of these modern computer labs possess at least one server, 10 computers, networked with printer and Scanner, computer furniture, etc. Each lab has power backup facilities to improve the physical infrastructure and its efficient utilization. The schools have a devoted IT trainer to provide quality computer education to the students. This project is implemented under Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to alleviate the associated risk of failure on operational and financial front. Bihar government has selected two service providers for this project Pearsons and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS).


Rajasthan Education Initiative
The state government of Rajasthan has embarked on digital interventions across the state in an effort to provide quality education and easy access to each student, especially the marginalized children and those with special needs.

One such interventions of Rajasthan state government was Rajasthan Education Initiative (REI) which is a joint effort with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Global e-Schools Communities Initiative (GeSCI) and World Economic Forum. This MoU was flagged in 2005 to improve the general public education throughout the state with a special focus on improving the state of girls’ education, rural marginalized children and children with special needs. REI implemented several ICTs and ICT enabled learning including School Computer Education Program, Computer-aided Learning programme (CALP), Girls of Rajasthan and Computer Education program famous as project GRACE.

A computer class in progress
Though REI could not achieve the targeted success in terms of actually disrupting the education system in the state and lessening the gap, the major flaw was not the initiative but its ad-hoc activities, scale of tasks being limited to pilots and lack of innovative approach. However, this initiative has presented immense learning curves pertaining to management of multiple stakeholders and successful implementation of ICTs and ICT enabled services, especially in the primary education. It proved to be a huge experimental learning, and efforts were made to mainstream REI under the flagship project Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Under REI, about 30,000 teachers were trained in ICT and 15,000 schools received several REI digital interventions, providing access, enrolment, and retention of children, particularly in primary education.

Taking a definite step forward, Government of India has initiated the National Mission in Education through ICT which has been envisaged as a centrally sponsored scheme to leverage the potential of ICT in teaching and learning process in higher education institutions.