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TECHNOLOGY
Technology : The new education Enabler
The Right to Education Bill is bringing about a lot of innovation and opportunity for technology usage in education says Ms. Rita Shukla.

A school had always been about books and blackboards - till computers came into the picture. But computers too were a luxury for few, being restricted to a few public schools.

If a couple of desktops did find their way into the government schools, they were mostly for administrative purposes, rather than educational ones. However, with Right to Education Bill finally passed, and education made compulsory, our country has no other option but to change our methods. Given the sheer magnitude of areas to be reached and numbers to be educated, smart education is the only way out.

And technology is the only plausible solution. Two of our IT giants joined hands today to provide affordable technology access to schools. Announcing an alliance, Microsoft and HP are all set to bring to market solutions and supporting hardware that allows cheap and easy ways of e-learning.

While Microsoft announced its Windows MultiPoint Server 2010, HP announced its MultiSeat Computing Solution based on the operating system with immediate availability in the Indian market. The hybrid solution multiplies the power of one PC several fold without a matching increase in cost could go a long way in alleviating the education situation in India.

The solution allows multiple users to simultaneously share one computer, thereby increasing access to affordable computing in educational scenarios like classrooms, labs and libraries. Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 is an operating system that allows multiple stations to draw their processing power from one traditional desktop PC, providing each student an independent monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Talking about shared computing technologies, Karan Bajwa, general manager, public sector, Microsoft India explained, A few years ago, Microsoft researchers in India developed a technology that would allow multiple mice to be connected to one PC, transforming the power and impact of one machine. This paradigm was called MultiPoint, and it is today being implemented in schools across the world. The potential of MultiPoint combined with our customers in education telling us that to help fulfill the amazing promise of technology in the classroom, they needed access to affordable computing that was easy to manage and use has inspired us to work on other shared computing technologies. Windows MultiPoint Server is a solution that meets these needs and delivers an up-to-date, trusted Windows experience.

The solution allows upto 10 stations to be connected to one traditional PC via a simple USB device Linksmart. With this solution, a school in India can now look to increasing the power of its available computers at half the cost it would take to buy and run a conventional set-up.

The on-line education market is booming the world over, and is currently considered a growing sector. In fact, surveys conducted by leading global market research firms have indicated that on-line education will follow a upward moving graph and that more and more organizations and individuals will implement this mode of training. Studies have shown that close to 92 percent of large organizations will implement network (intranet, Internet) training in 2009. It is also indicated that 41 percent of global majors have placed at least one course on-line for employees. In terms of products, systems and new service offerings, there are at least 516 such offerings available in the market for on-line and technology mediated learning.

The key contributors to the growth of this segment will be Fortune 500 companies that will be spending increasing amounts on Knowledge Management within their organizations. The other key driver for growth would be education and training where mid-career professionals would be reskilling themselves on the Web. According to Peter Drucker, the growth in education spending won’t be in traditional colleges and universities, but instead, would be ramped up by Web enabled continuing adult education.

Surveys meanwhile have also indicated that 95 percent of schools will have some form of on-line learning by 2010 and over two million students are expected on-line by the same period. The trends also show that colleges are moving into cyberspace. These include education stalwarts such as Stanford, Columbia , the University of Phoenix and University of Maryland to name a few.

The Indian scenario

The computer training market in India has been an extremely vibrant one and maintains a close nexus with the software sector. Considering that the training industry provides the crucial skill set for the end user organizations (and to some extent for the software sector), both the industries have been working in close coordination over the past couple of years. In fact, some of the leading names in the software business are also active in the training segment and vice versa.The training segment of the Indian IT industry had a good year during 2008-2009. Growth took place both at the level of student education as well as professional/corporate IT courses. According to industry estimates, about Rs. 1,750 crore or US$ 400 million worth of revenue was generated by the training segment, representing a growth of 34 percent over the previous year. As all industry segments, including the Government go in for large scale computerization, and as the software industry booms, the requirement for skilled manpower is also correspondingly shooting up.

Some of the areas where major activities on the training front may take place are high-end platform specific certification courses, corporate and Government oriented education programs and offerings for SOHO/home users.

Yet another trend observed in the Indian training segment is that of globalization of the country’s training houses. Most large private sector training institutes, bolstered by their success on home soil, are now venturing overseas. The leading education companies in India already boast extensive franchisee networks, particularly in countries in the Gulf and South East Asian region. Training services, therefore are emerging as a major growth opportunity for this segment of operators.

Drivers of virtual education

As with the other segments in the IT industry that have been greatly impacted by the revolutionary changes taking place in the areas of technology, the training market too is getting affected by some of the new developments.

Advances in technology are altering training delivery. Developments in hardware, intranets and the Internet, multimedia software and videoconferencing have created a tremendous potential for multiple-site delivery and bringing training to people’s work sites.

With the Internet, intranets and extranets proliferating both at the level of the global and Indian domestic market, one is witnessing the rise of a new form of training delivery E-training or on-line education.

On-line education is the next generation tool that has already started developing its roots in India. It is expected to allow both corporates and the Government to deliver state-of-the-art training to company personnel, students and home workers, and enable them to create the kind of skilled computer workforce required for the next millennium.

This kind of virtual education is being catalyzed by the continuing decrease in costs related to technologies, particularly computer hardware.

The demand from all types of learning for more equitable access and service is also fueling the trend.

The Web as the enabler

On-line education, or Web-based training implies that courses are delivered partly or completely via the Internet, an intranet or an extranet.

The factors that are driving demand for virtual education are essentially need and availability. "There’s the need to train more people on more topics, to do it faster, to do it on a worldwide basis and do it cheaper," says Brandon Hall, editor and publisher of the Multimedia & Internet Training Newsletter and author of the Web-Based Training Cookbook.

On the availability side, the technology now allows for providing training anytime, anywhere, to allow people to go through it at their own pace, to skip the sections that aren’t relevant to them and to repeat sections if they need to. More than 1,600 companies, including nearly half the Fortune 500, maintain corporate universities, according to Corporate University Xchange Inc., a New York City-based consulting and educational research group. Nearly all such programs offer at least some classes in the traditional way—based on set schedules and led by instructors in classrooms. But 90 percent have gone virtual, offering at least some classes on-line, primarily through the Web, but also via videoconferencing, CD-ROM and other technologies.

On-line Education in India

The On-line education market in India is showing marked potential and is expected to be a significant revenue earner for the industry in the years to come. Already a number of key initiatives are being taken by the industry to incorporate Net-based training as part of their curricula. Steps are also being taken by various State Governments in India to incorporate Net based training into their IT agendas. Some of the developments taking place in the on-line education market are as follows:

Growth in the education to home market: The Government has shown interest in this segment of the computer education market. An example are the Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Governments who have initiated pilot programs involving education dissemination through the television, with student responses coming back over the Internet.

Distance learning: The concept of distance learning is being adopted by leading private and Government funded educational institutes as a means of reaching a wider and more remotely located audience. Leading private sector computer institutes have already launched Net based courses which students can follow through a self paced regime.

Foreign University-Indian training institute tie up. Yet another trend has been of foreign Universities tying up with leading Indian education institutes for offering Net based education. At the end of these self paced programs, students give an exam over the Net and receive a certification from the foreign university. Courseware too is usually free over the Net.

Collaborations between Indian Universities and Indian training houses. In the recent months a number of computer institutes have tied up with Indian universities to jointly offer Net based training. The tie up of IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) with Satyam Infotech is a case in point.

Collaborations between some IITs, CMU, IIITs and IISc for imparting distance education

On line training: the enlarging impact

On line training is not just the prerogative of the computer sector. The impact of such training is going to be all pervasive and will extend to various segments across a variety of industries. Such a mode of education will be used to reach out to students (both at the level of schools, colleges and institutes of higher learning) and even corporates to enhance the base of skilled manpower within their set ups. In fact, in the latter case, already a number of leading organizations are using tools such as video conferencing and on-line, self paced learning modules for employees to expand the ambit of their knowledge.

Similarly, a host of education portals have come up to offer various levels of courses that are targeted at segments such as students, teachers and even professionals. India ’s leading computer education houses such as NIIT and Aptech have also diversified into the on-line training space and boast sites that provide courses which can be administered on the Web.

Opportunity for India

It is important that India takes the plunge into the on-line education waters. A number of opportunities have opened out with the arrival of the on-line training trend in India.

These are as follows:

Skilled manpower generation: The demand-supply gap for skilled manpower is still fairly wide. Demand constantly outpaces supply and India is constantly looking at ways and means of bridging this gap.

On-line education opens up a major new avenue for training manpower and for meeting the manpower targets. Using on-line training Indian educational institutes can address the manpower issues both at the level of the domestic market as well as the global markets.

Technology and content for global markets: India has the opportunity to develop technology and content to capture a share of the global on-line training market as well.

Conclusion

The online education market in India is poised to take-off. The advantages of training over the Internet far outpace the conventional means of disseminating computer education. Online education will enable both private and Government run institutes to reach a wider audience and rapidly expand their base of both student and professional users.

As technical roadblocks such as bandwidth limitations recede and as telecom infrastructure improves in the country, online education is likely to receive an additional boost. It is an opportunity that needs to be exploited for complete benefit.

Though there have been similar efforts from tech giants in the past too, the education scenario in India has changed too much.

However, with the government waking up to the fact that technology is the only medium through which education can reach the masses, things might improve.

There are a lot of vendors in the education space now, and if this effort is to translate into action, then primary school education can be a huge opportunity for the tech industry.

 

Dr. Anurag Dubey

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