Dr Prem Das Maheshwari is the Business Director for South Asia at D2L Asia. Aged 51, he has attained over 29 years of rich experience in various aspects of business development & channel management in both the international and national higher education spaces. Having worked in the capacity of Managing Director, Director and Vice President with leading U.S./Europe and Asia based international education groups and multi-national companies, Dr Prem has a proven glorious career in the Education domain.
Before the pandemic ravaged the world, India was progressing on education, moving up five places in the global rankings in 2019 from 40th to 35th. Reduced school dropout rates and increased enrolment are partly responsible for this rise in standards. The government’s desire to overhaul the system and elevate education standards in the country led it to publish the National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020.
The NEP aims to urgently address issues within the Indian education system. It states that it seeks to ensure “equitable access to the highest-quality education for all learners regardless of social and economic background.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has delayed the implementation of many of the national education policy recommendations. A recent study by Azim Premji Foundation noted that lockdowns and social distancing measures have hindered education and instigated regression. The study found that 92% of primary school pupils surveyed had lost at least one critical language skill, and 82% had lost at least one mathematical or numeracy skill.
While the health crisis has caused issues across the board, it has also widened the accessibility gap for many Indian students. An already present inclusivity chasm, particularly for students with special needs, has increased with the lack of safe, appropriate school education. Sadly, children with special needs struggle to move beyond primary education, with only 9% completing secondary education and very few moving on to higher education institutions. This accessibility gap is evident in a recent UN report that found that 75% of India’s disabled kids never attend a school in their lifetime. This issue requires urgent critical thinking to find an effective solution.
So how can India help change this inequality in education and create a more level playing field for students?
One key aspect of implementing change in the education system is via educational technology (edtech). In section 23 of the NEP, the government sets out its intentions to integrate technology and set up an autonomous body, the National Education Alliance for Technology (NEAT), to manage the rollout of edtech to educational institutions. With the integration of edtech infrastructure and distance learning, updated methods of pedagogy focusing on inclusive education are a must.
Obstacles to education in India
In a country as large and diverse as India, providing adequate education that is more accessible can be a significant challenge. Geographically, accessing communities in remote areas and servicing their educational needs is difficult. Factor in the financial constraints of many people living in these remote areas, there is a large demographic of untapped potential scholars. This restricted access to education becomes even more problematic for students with disabilities who cannot travel to larger towns and cities to go to school.
Another important factor to consider is the extreme class divide and the lack of infrastructure in many parts of India. While many students do have access to laptops, desktops and tablets, many might just have one common family smartphone that doesn’t even have enough memory to run heavy apps smoothly. This is where an LMS that can be easily accessed on a browser on any device, from mobile phones to laptops, can help.
Using edtech to help provide more accessibility
A multifaceted tech-driven approach to improving students’ access to learning is vital if India wishes to provide educational achievement for its people. To better consider learner needs, institutions must look towards Universal Design for Learning (UDL).
As outlined in the NEP, inclusivity and accessibility in education are the key to unlocking the nation’s true potential economically and socially. As advances and technological innovations continue apace, now is the optimum time to maximise the value of edtech and improve the quality of learning nationwide.
An online learning platform such as the Brightspace learning management system (LMS) offers expertise, creative solutions and instructions that can guide educational institutions as they start to bridge the gaps and help make education more inclusive.
An LMS can allow educators to better reach students remotely through an online platform to provide access to lessons, offer learning support and grade assignments. By implementing an LMS, the institutions can help remove some of the geographical issues faced by many students, particularly those with limiting or specific learning disabilities.
Students will no longer be required to travel to a physical location to stay up to date with their schoolwork, and the flexibility offered by such platforms can help students work at their own pace or at times that suit them best. Bringing education to students is necessary, and the utilisation of technology is the most feasible solution for doing this. Scalable edtech solutions serve to help bridge the geographical gap and facilitate setting up online campuses anywhere in the country, thereby better supporting the diverse needs of students.
However, it not only helps remove geographical or physical hurdles but can provide extra assistance to students with other needs. The assistive tools can help students with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities in their learning.
With options to personalise content and adapt milestones to suit the learner, an LMS can help support students with diverse abilities and learning styles to attain their learning goals and participate in their education, providing more educational equity attuned to their individual needs.
Growth of edtech in India
With over 7,000 edtech start-ups in India, the education sector attracted approximately $1.4 billion USD in funding in 2020, as edtech became more of a need than a want due to the pandemic. An online campus experience is achievable with full-service solutions even on the most basic internet-enabled mobile devices or smartphones. They offer a suite of eLearning tools ranging from digital content to teacher training to technical assistance, helping to bring more accessible education closer to those in remote areas.
The increased use of edtech as a solution for schools and higher education can promote better inclusive learning for the millions of children and youth living with disabilities and other constraints. It can help those who would otherwise be left behind to better maximise their natural talents, have the chance to achieve academic goals and access their fundamental right to education.
As India works towards providing education for all, edtech is essential to integrate a more accessible, inclusive delivery of learning materials and resources to students and help educators better support their learners.
Companies such as D2L are working in partnership with organisations such as the International Disability Alliance (IDA), De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde in the Philippines, Vision Australia, and others to help learners have better access to high-quality learning experiences.
Through the implementation of online learning platforms and the utilisation of edtech, India can achieve its goal of offering more equal learning opportunities and help increase the overall standard of education in India.
With edtech, the confines of the conventional bricks and mortar classroom disappear; it becomes a global classroom with more opportunities that can offer sustainable development and scalability.
To learn more about how D2L supports customers in serving the needs of their members, please visit their accessibility page.