By Aditya Tripathi, Founder & CEO, MarkSharks
Headquartered in New Delhi, MarkSharks is an app based e-Learning provider which allows children to construct their own knowledge and learn classroom concepts by engaging with mobile devices in a truly immersive, multi-sensory and meaningful manner.
Recently the Government of India announced the third list of ‘Smart Cities’ to be developed in India. This announcement comes soon after the first and second lists of cities were declared earlier in the year under the Indian Government’s Smart Cities Mission which proposes to develop 100 Smart Cities over the next three years.
With an estimated investment of Rs 1.45 lakh crores, the Indian Government’s Smart Cities Mission is a mammoth task which, if successful, has the potential to be a true game changer for the country. The success of Smart Cities will not only catapult India as a domestic and global investment destination but also serve as an aspiration for other cities in India.
The definition of a ‘Smart City’ as quoted by the Ministry of Urban Development is, ‘a city that provides core infrastructure and gives a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ solutions’, essentially a city that will be interconnected and driven primarily by technology more than manual solutions. This vision of a ‘Smart City’ includes automated, inter-connected and digitally superior townships, hospitals, infrastructure, airports, malls, and traffic management systems, local and public facilities and so on. And while the discussions have started on every aspect of ‘Smart Cities’, a critical component has been left ignored, the question of ‘Smart Schools.’
Since Independence, the Indian education system has witnessed little or minimal change. Most changes or improvisations have been on the policy or curriculum aspect and less on the adaptability or overhauling of the system. Inch by Inch, the education system in India has moved forward but at a staggeringly slow pace. The challenges plaguing the Indian education industry are of quantity and quality- firstly, India’s large population and demographic inequality and secondly, delivering an effective education to those children who do get access to a school. While the first challenge of educating such a large population is a massive task, the Indian government has launched many schemes and initiatives to bring education to the doorstep of masses with a hope to slowly bring education to all its citizens irrespective of their demographics or origin, an encouraging move that has resulted in big improvements in enrolment numbers. However, while the number of children in schools is increasing, survey after survey describes the sorry state of learning outcomes among these millions of students.
A quick look around will reveal that most Indian schools still follow the traditional method of teaching, blackboards, notebooks and chalk; and this process carries on from the time a student enters the school till the time they pass out. In an age, where everything is moving from traditional to digital, it remains a puzzle as to why the education system has continued to follow the same methodology for decades.
Today, technology has revolutionised the way we live our lives, be it the way we work, the way we communicate, socialize, travel or even the way we cook or heat our food. Moreover, each new generation is more tech savvy than its predecessor. Today, young kids can handle tablets and smart phones with ease almost from the time they are old enough to hold one. Yet, with this massive technology influx entering our homes and our lives, there remains one aspect which has remain largely untouched, i.e. education. Despite using smart technology and gadgets at home, our youngsters come back to the traditional blackboard and chalk in their schools. A good technology-based intervention is absolutely necessary in schools, not only to keep up with the times, but to also make up for various other problems our schools face – student : teacher ratios, availability of science labs, teacher training and student motivation are just a few of them.
While the problem looms large, it should be said that many private and public educational institutions in India have tried to incorporate smart technology in their classrooms. The Smart Cities mission is a perfect opportunity for the Government and public-private institutions to come together to work towards digitizing education and building the first series of ‘Smart Schools’ in India. With allocated funds (since that is one of the key issues in overhauling schools) and Government backing, state and local Governments can build models of ‘Smart Schools’ that are not only smart in their infrastructure (hi-tech buildings, Wi-Fi on campus, connectivity etc.) but also in their teaching methodologies. To be able to implement this effectively, schools will also have to ‘upgrade’ the current resources available with teachers and equip them with more technology-enabled education solutions. Also, to ensure that students really benefit from technology-enabled education solutions, policy makers in these states must ensure an umbrella approach towards digitization of education - inviting various private and public partners to create more technology-enabled learning methodologies and solutions which can benefit the students.
The creation of this unique ‘Smart Education’ eco-system will not only benefit the students but the entire education system. The role of education-focused startups and entrepreneurs cannot be missed here. Some of the best innovations in education, as in many other spaces, have come from entrepreneurs. State and local governments need to partner with these start-ups and entrepreneurs to work on innovative learning methodologies that are not school or teacher-dependent and allow students to learn on their own. Such innovations will improve the quality of education students receive in school and can also allow students to learn, even if they are not able to attend schools.
A good, sound education system is the bedrock of any country’s progress and incorporation of Smart Schools within the overall vision of Smart Cities can prove to be a lighthouse for development of education system in this country.