Digitizing the educational landscape in India

There was a time when teachers from urban cities found it a task to explain the components of a computer. “A mouse? What does it do? Is there a cat as well”, an innocent ten-year old commuting seven kilometres to reach school everyday, in a village in India would ask.

The same teachers subjected to these naïve questions, who were bewildered and at the same time amused, are surprised by the places these children have reached today. From a simple background, a tattered school and used textbooks ten years ago, these children found themselves in universities only recently. With technology knocking at their door, beckoning attention for they would have a brilliant future, these children have LinkedIn profiles embellished with certificates and resumes listed with eye-catching skills.

With India already progressing towards a digital path, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi rooted for Digital India, education in its true sense has become more valued. Though special skills come in a few hours, without dedicated time or presence, the value that these skills hold for a boy in rural India is immense.

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is an absolute boon for these young nourished minds. At their convenience with several courses to choose from, MOOC has not only provided support to professional credentials but also has helped talented students from across the country find their true calling. MOOC has in fact been a future enabler for the professional life of the same students who were perplexed by the use of technology when younger.

India’s entry to MOOC came through SWAYAM or Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds. True to its acronym, SWAYAM which translates to self learning in Sanskrit has been a big hit.

Ajit Chauhan, vice chairperson of Amity Online Education, tells the Hindu that the biggest advantage of MOOCs is accessing study content taught by the best faculty at any given time.

“The biggest advantage of MOOCs is the convenience of learning. It helps deliver quality education to students, irrespective of their geographical location. MOOCs allow students sitting in the most remote corner of the world get access to the best of educational content at very practical and economical prices. Apart from study materials, students get to participate in live discussions which help them get their doubts clarified and interact with professors from top universities and colleges,” Chauhan said.

Elaborating on the MOOCs offered by Amity University, Chauhan said about one lakh students are already accessing them.

SWAYAM focuses on catering to native languages where students can pursue a course of their choice from various universities from anywhere. It also accommodates students to validate their credentials with their government ID, thus making it official.
India is fast growing as on the MOOC or e-learning landscape. With Coursera, the largest MOOC provider, currently at 1.3 million Indians on its platform, SWAYAM is not too far away, especially considering the convenience and accessibility to students, or young inspiring minds as they are termed, from across the country.

“I believe that India ultimately will be a much bigger market for MOOCs than the U.S.,” says edX chief executive AnantAgarwal, who also is an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science. Indian students crave advanced knowledge that can open doors to a more prosperous life, Agarwal says: “If you’ve been trampled all your life, now you find you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best”, in a talk with www.technologyreview.com.

The interesting factor to be considered here is, MOOC is not only limited to students where accessibility can be an issue. The program is growing wildly popular among professionals who are at midpoint in their career. The program which lets them pick specific regions where to need to specially work on, allows them to improve their skills on a need-based basis.

In fact, several professionals, especially those in the IT field, look forward to the LinkedIn tag that they can earn for their profile and schedule a few hours for the course every week.

With MOOC programs making such a dynamic difference in curriculum and mid-career resumes, the reach can only widen and the platform can grow to reach every corner of the country. With Digital India rolling and the use of computers being familiarized among all Indians, MOOC has the potential to play a huge role for young curious minds. Apart from this, an opportunity lies for teachers and professors whose eagerness to share knowledge can be mapped appropriately and the reach can be widened.

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