Digital Education at National Scale – Cloud Computing may be the Key
Akash 2 is getting decent media attention and Akash 3 is already on the way. State governments are eagerly announcing their plans to distribute free laptops to students, and some have even fulfilled the promise. Such events represent the prominent initiatives by India’s government machinery to make digital education accessible to students across regions. These digital computing devices are being heralded as vehicles for knowledge and learning.
However, are these well-intentioned initiatives sufficient to deliver the intended goods? Sadly, no; we still require last-mile (rather many miles) effort in terms of building the ecosystem that makes digital education easily accessible in a country as huge and diverse as India. This is not a cynical rumination, as low-cost/free availability of laptops/tablets for students is an essential milestone for mainstream adoption of digital education solutions. Rather, the intent here is to engender the debate on whether smart devices (laptops/smart phones/tablets) alone can drive this transformation in the digital education space. In fact, even without the government’s direct support, the market for smart phones and tablets may expand exponentially across economic and social strata. The area where the government’s focus (and funding) is much needed is to build the ecosystem that will allow students to leverage low-cost computing devices for knowledge acquisition and enhancement.
The ecosystem here includes e-Education solutions, knowledge databases, and the infrastructure to support them. Many private enterprises in India (including some not-for-profit corporations) have been producing innovative e-Education solutions, but adopting them on a large scale is a difficult task due to the huge CAPEX costs associated with the supporting IT infrastructure (servers, databases, data centres, etc.). The education institutions that do make the requisite investment in infrastructure often see their focus digressing from core education innovation to IT operations management. Such initial hiccups might have deterred the expansion of digital education in spite of its proven benefits. However, of late, there have been some influential voices advocating cloud computing paradigm in education sector, as an optimal solution to address these common challenges associated with IT infrastructure investments. While the choice of the right technical platform (to support e-Education solutions) requires a professional technical analysis, some widely acknowledged benefits of cloud computing – scalability and accessibility on incremental basis – align well with Indian education landscape.
The need of the hour is to match the pace with the thought leadership currently shown in the e-Education space. Thus, it is imperative for the government to embrace disruptive technology innovations like cloud computing on a national scale; else, the benefits of technology/e-Education will continue to elude many students, especially those dependent on government-aided educational institutes.
The initiatives to provision the ‘vehicles’ of knowledge are laudable, and let’s hope a robust ‘pathway’ to support it is in offing.