Union Minister of Education, Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Dharmendra Pradhan said the benefits of digital education could be fully utilised only when every student in the country secured access to digital devices.
“The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has a special focus on digital education. The next few years will transform our digital education system,” Pradhan said, while delivering the keynote address, 'NEP: Approach, Opportunities and Challenges', at the Manoramaonline Techspectations Educate Digital Summit on October 23.
'Ensuring Equitable Use of Technology' is one of the focus areas of NEP 2020. The digital divide should be eliminated through concerted efforts such as the Digital India campaign, he said.
The campaign was a major initiative to bridge the digital divide in the country, Pradhan said.
Twin schemes to ensure equality
Pradhan pointed out two initiatives rolled out with the specific intention of bridging the divide. PM eVIDYA program and the Vidyanjali portal. The first is for universal online classes and the other is for asset creation to build digital infrastructure in the rural and underprivileged areas of the country.
Pradhan described PM eVIDYA as 'one class, one channel'. “It provides multi-mode learning assistance to parents, students and teachers to achieve this objective,” he said.
The minister said a participatory and cost-effective approach had been adopted for asset creation. Technology leaders have been asked to give back to their schools and villages. To connect schools across India directly with their alumni, Pradhan said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the Vidyanjali portal.
“Those who are today's leaders in the tech industry were once students of primary and secondary schools,” he said, and used the Techspectations Educate Summit to make this exhortation: “I invite all of you to gift education technology back to your schools villages and towns through the Vidyanjali portal.”
Nonetheless, even while attempting to root out digital inequity, the minister also wanted the country to be alert to the pitfalls of device addiction.
"We recognise the importance of leveraging the advantage of technology while at the same time acknowledge its potential risks and dangers," he said.
The NEP 2020 also flags this danger. It calls for carefully designed and appropriately scaled pilot studies to determine how the benefits of online education can be reaped while addressing or mitigating the downsides.
UPI of education ecosystem
The National Digital Education Architecture (endearingly called NDEAR), according to the minister, has been evolved to achieve the twin objectives: universal digital access and risk mitigation.
"NDEAR will energise the entire education ecosystem," Pradhan said.
"It will enable a common set of principles and approaches to be followed for building, using and reusing technology for education. It will ensure autonomy and participation of all relevant stakeholders," he said.
The prime minister has said that NDEAR would act as a "super connect" between various academic activities in the same way the UPI (United Payment Interface) revolutionised the banking sector. (Developed by the National Payments Corporation of India, UPI facilitated instant transfer of money and cashless payment.) NDEAR hopes to seamlessly link major stakeholders in education: students, teachers, parents, administrators and community members.
Consult, share and grow
The creation of the National Education Technology Forum (NETF) will further strengthen the process of dovetailing technology into education.
"It will provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas and the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration and several other aspects of school as well as higher education. It will facilitate decision making on the induction, deployment and use of technology," the Education Minister said. He said the NEFT would assess the best practices available in the country and strategise how these could be adapted to other areas.