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Education-For-All-An-Industry-Perspective

Education For All – An Industry Perspective

Since the beginning of human evolution, each generation has sought to ensure immortality and pass on learning to the next generation. Humans have endeavored to leave behind value systems, cultural & social mores, religious doctrines, traditions and most importantly skills to the next generation. Throughout pre-history there are evidences of informal modes of instruction like poems, folklore, legends and songs being used. As societies evolved, youth started receiving instruction in a more structured, formal setting. Elders of the tribe would take it upon themselves to impart this education. Rituals, initiation ceremonies which imparted specific skills led to the evolution of higher education, as we know it today.

Recognizing this need, UNESCO in 1990, had launched a global movement, aiming to meet the education needs of all by 2015.

With the advent of writing systems, around 3500 BC, education underwent a metamorphosis. Instruction could be more accurate and less constrained by geographical boundaries. Ironically, though, this period also increased restrictions on education. Now, the changes in society were reflected in the access to and the quality of education. This was because the increased size of communities and cities, led to society becoming more divided in lines of social classes. Social stratification meant that a person's class, gender or caste determined or limited the occupation and therefore the education the person might receive. For example, in Ancient Egypt, literacy was concentrated among an educated elite group of scribes. So, though Pharonic Egypt was one of the earliest users of the written word, the rate of literacy is estimated to be between 0.5% & 1%. In ancient India, on the other hand, education was freely available. In fact, the gurukul system of education was free. A voluntary gurudakshina was paid on completion. All the same, as the caste system evolved, education also became discriminatory.

So, today, the reality is that access to quality education for all is not integral and needs legislation and strategy to implement.

Recognizing this need, UNESCO in 1990, had launched a global movement, aiming to meet the education needs of all by 2015. With a 6 point goal sheet, 155 countries had pledged to make Education For All a key priority. While UNESCO leads this effort, globally, local support from NGOs, Governments, Development agencies, Civil Societies and media is crucial.

Now the question arises, what does Education For All actually mean?

  • EFA is a right. Several countries have legislations in place to assure access to education for every child.

  • Education allows us to reach our full potential as human beings. Better health, better living standards, safer, sustainable environments are only possible through education. In other words, education is a development imperative

  • Most importantly EFA is really for ALL. Statistics show that more than 55% of out-of-school children globally are girls. Over 2/3rd of adults without access to education are women. Merely increasing the opportunities to standard education for distinctive groups like women, tribes, differently abled, street children will not meet the needs. Exclusive and precise efforts need to be made for these groups.

  • Education should also be relevant and responsive to learners needs.

Education in India is, undoubtedly, one of the imperatives for the country and the investment made over the years has contributed hugely in propelling India's growth in the knowledge economy. The combination of quality content, partnerships, training, and broad access-complemented with the most appropriate technology to author, distribute, teach, and connect can transform education.

So, what is the role that technology must play in addressing the challenges posed in providing EFA?

Access

Taking knowledge resources to the door step of the learner, technology helps provide access to all. This is where industry efforts to drive affordable computing will support this key imperative. In a large number of schools in most developing nations, a single computer is shared by multiple children, often with ratios of as many as 5-10 children to a PC. Multi Point is a paradigm in which individual access is provided to each child around a shared computer. This results in increased educational value and greater engagement, and also effectively multiplies the value of each PC by providing simultaneous shared access. With tools like Microsoft Multi Point SDK 1.1, education developers have a platform to build unique, collaborative applications for students across all subjects. The solution will enable teachers to assign and distribute work assignments based on each student's level and need, or establish a consistent experience, depending on the needs of the class. Students can work on individual projects and at their own pace, while finding, using and sharing information effectively, enhancing their productivity and learning experience.

Additionally, software programs like Microsoft Dream Spark program help keep students on the cutting edge of technology. A software giveaway for qualified students in the country, Dream Spark aims to provide students with access to the latest Microsoft developer and designer tools at no charge to unlock their creative potential and set them on the path to academic and career success. The program aims to equip a new generation of technology leaders with the knowledge and tools they need to harness the magic of software to improve lives, solve problems and catalyze economic growth.

E-learning also has a very key role to play as a powerful tool to provide standardized quality and equality of access. E-Learning must be used as an effort multiplier for providing access.

Finally, in enhancing the accessibility of learning solutions, development of interfaces for other cognitive faculties which would also help physically challenged learners is extremely important.

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Peer Collaboration

The role of technology to support and facilitate peer collaboration is unique and impactful. Technology can provide for connectivity and supply access devices. Most importantly, technology can support content generation. Tools like LCDS and Semblio help faculty develop innovative material that can increase education effectiveness. Key to faculty success lies in supporting peer-mentoring, once again through the use of technology. Using ICT to provide a platform to share ideas, build a community and pool knowledge resources, will be the way forward in the future.

Digital Empowerment

The power of technology in education can be felt most when it is used to bring about self-reliance through digital literacy. In other words, teaching students and teachers to use technology effectively, helps them access online content and web-based learning which in turn increases the quality of the education imparted and finally implemented in the workplace. Microsoft Partners In Learning program has posted tremendous results proving these surmises. This global initiative is designed to actively increase access to technology and improve its use in learning. Supporting schools gain better access to technology, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy, support teacher professional development and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement and manage change, is the aim of this initiative. The role of technology, therefore, in driving Education For All is immutable.

All of us, as a nation need to put our minds and might to this crucial imperative. We need to join hands, to transform education through a grass root level change through community partnerships and inclusion. Using the local language, creating and leveraging on local partnerships with stakeholders, leaders and resources, we need to personalize the change agenda for the benefit & development of local communities through vocational programs. Next, we need to use ICT to transform teachers in to coaches. Technology can also be used to support migration of talent across schools and colleges, promoting new ideas and fresh perspectives and best practices. Most importantly, we need to use technology to build the best and standardized digital content and make this content repository available for teachers on the cloud. Using robust cloud platforms like Azure, we should help distribute this content in a personalized manner and in scale across all schools. In conclusion, therefore, I would like to reiterate the indisputable role played by technology in ensuring access to quality education for all.

About the Author

Pratima Amonkar is the Director, Academia for Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) at Microsoft India based out of Bangalore.