Developing Virtual School with Transformative Value
Mohan Menon, COL
School education in India is facing many problems and challenges. The process of globalisation and ICT use are making many demands from education, particularly of high quality and relevance. Indian school education is now getting stratified into four strata through international schools, private schools, public schools and Municipal & District Council schools. They form the quality and cost ladder and divide society. The State efforts of universalisation of primary education are still incomplete and many are still out of schools. Knowledge society now demands higher learning for everyone; particularly 12 year schooling with vocational training making secondary and tertiary education essential to enable to participate and benefit from the knowledge society.
India faces the problem of large numbers and many divides-social, rural-urban, economic, educational and now digital. Indian society respects education; and a family spends substantial time and resources on child's education at home. A parallel and supportive system of private and home tutoring is therefore a consequence of poor education given in most schools.
A group of individuals, public and private institutions came together under the initiative of Commonwealth of Learning and formed Indian Consortium for Educational Transformation (I-CONSENT). It is still in the making. Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Ltd (MKCL), a company created to develop new paradigm in education and avoid digital divide, is offering its total e-governance and LMS platform. (www.mkcl.org) to the I-CONSENT programs. Over the last four years, the MKCL has successfully built a network of 3500 access centers connecting about 25000 computers through total e-governance and trained two million learners in basic computer literacy course with current batch having enrolment of 167 thousands. The network covers all cities, districts and blocks of Maharashtra. The MKCL platform of network and centers enables to design and develop Technology Mediated Open and Distance Education (Tech-MODE) paradigm that can support mega-systems. Tech-MODE system enables to develop a new paradigm of school education and offer Best Quality Education For All. Based on this platform I-CONSENT has developed its first program of Virtual School and Learning Homes (VSLH), which is being launched from this year as a Pune Pilot in Pune city and district of Maharashtra.
Education can be a great equalizing force if offered on equitable basis with justice and enhanced support to weaker and disadvantaged. The Pilot is developing a network for partnership of private and public institutions and community for working together to achieve the goal of offering best quality education at each local access center.
The paper essentially presents the issues and concerns of Indian school education, approaches and plans developed in Pune Pilot for quality school education. Many approaches such as public-private-community partnership, consortium approach, Tech-MODE, teacher training for transformation, social mobilisation and participation, etc., find good application in the pilot. MKCL platform and Tech-MODE system for Distributed Education would be demonstrated at the PCF4 conference.
II. TARGET GROUPS AND APPROACHES
Target Groups Form Wider Social Cross-section
Maharashtra, the third largest state in India, is having school education system with 17.32 million students, 89 000 schools and 469 thousand teachers in a population of about 110 millions. Further, the system is supported by nearly half a million private tutor-teachers and 1-2 million parents. School education is also a concern of nearly 370 thousand Village Education Committee members associated with primary schools, and about 100 thousand Parent Teacher Association members linked with high schools. All this makes the school system quite a big part of society; and needs different approach for its development and transformation. The school system is centrally managed by the State Department of Education and is organized through 7 Educational Regions, 35 districts, 354 blocks and 5400 primary school clusters. A cluster includes about dozen village schools and a block consists of about 15 clusters.
The Pilot in Pune district would involves nearly 5085 primary schools, nearly 1000 high schools with 1.5 million students and 40 thousand school teachers spread over Pune city, 14 blocks and 376 clusters of the district.
Approaches For Inclusion And Quality
Design and development of Virtual School and Learning Homes (VSLH) employs technology quite extensively and incorporate following approaches:
All these should enable development of a paradigm shift and to achieve quality education for all along with cost reduction and locality development.
III. MKCL Platform and tech-mode
During the last four years, MKCL has developed technology-mediated framework to promote the learner centric system that can help establish a new educational paradigm. It has designed, developed and delivered eLearning, educational eGovernance and eEmpowerment solutions and services to a large number of users numbering a few millions. Main components of the Platform are;
All the frameworks and Distributed Classrooms have been integrated with MKCL's web-based Learning Management System and are used for the regular delivery of various courses. MKCL is also a service provider, in partnership with BSNL, a leading tele-communication service provider in India, for the Triple Play Broadband services being implemented first time in Pune city. Triple Play Technology could also be used in Pune city for the Pilot.
Technology Mediated Open and Distance Education (Tech-MODE)
Tech-MODE is a system of organizing and managing education and has following functional components:
All these functions would be managed by a group of I-CONSENT partners, who includes the MKCL. The management would be more functional, participatory, transparent and accountable through e-governance and through appropriate participatory mechanisms to be evolved in the process of development and deployment. One of the consortium members with specific expertise in a subject would be a nodal agency in all the development and delivery activities of that subject. The specific group of I-CONSENT members along with nodal agency would offer appropriate academic and learning support in the subject to all learner over the network. The experts and institutions from public and private sectors would support a partnership with `customers' in school learning and developing. This would form an important dimension in the working of VSLH.
IV. VSLH: PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES
Major Concerns and Issues of Existing School System
The existing school system needs radical change from poor to quality teaching, from content teaching to learning by promoting thinking, exploring, innovating and discovering, form training the best in the class to nurturing best in every student, from the same course & curriculum for all to interest and talent based curriculum, from competitive to collaborative learning, from school centric study to society and environment based study etc. The NCERT has also prescribed a new framework for school education, which introduces learner centric, project based methodologies. The Education Department of the Government of Maharashtra has introduced these changes in school textbooks and plans to complete changeover within 3-4 years. The State Department of education has also undertaken large-scale teacher training programme with conventional top-down cascading type training. Many of these reforms including the achievement of minimum levels of learning in each standard are failing because of centralized approach and culture. Further any radical change will have to be of mega size, scalable, inclusive and should provide competent alternative. It is considered that Tech-MODE would provide this.
VSLH: A Paradigm Shift
VSLH aims at generating a paradigm shift from the existing system to a new paradigm to be evolved through the approaches and strategies adopted. Tech-MODE enables many changes, some prominent among them are: asynchronous learning as against synchronous, mass-personalization as against mass education with same fit for all, multisourced content as against school instructor fed content, borderless collaborative learning instead of class and school limited interactions, learner specific content flow as against same content for all, offering chosen learning and developing paths as against linear and fixed paths. In view of the rapidly changing times, the learners' demand for enhanced learning has become the driving force for technology development.
The state of Maharashtra is fortunate to have many institutions, which have done innovative experiments in learning, teaching and evaluation methodologies in school education. Some of these institutions are already partners of I-CONSENT. Good resources are already available in areas such as science and mathematics, laboratory experimentation for exploration and discovery, learning through toys, language learning, zero cost experiments, talent search and nurturing, school scientists' movement etc. However the talent nurturing activities are centered at a few places, in two-three cities. Mobilisation of these institutions as partners, involving them in development and delivery and digitizing their content are the main tasks of I-CONSENT. Development of leadership and change agents at the state and block levels is also important function to be carried out by I-CONSENT for making VSLH successful.
Primary and high school will be considered in FOUR stages of primary (Stds. I -IV), senior primary ( V - VIII), secondary (IX-X) and senior secondary (XI -XII) schools. Students face two major examinations conducted centrally by the State Boards of Examinations at the end of Xth and XIIth standards, and forms a major constraint of existing system in the process of change. It has to be faced with an alternative of good teaching and online quality tests and exams.
One of the major issues is the change in existing culture and mind set. The initial programs of VSLH are to offer courses and activities for learning culture, IT culture and scientific and experimental culture. The programs are planned for teachers including parents and students. Learning will be enabled through web-based services, distributed classrooms and eEducation Resources to be made available in all access centers.
A Pilot Program in Pune city and district is being developed with 15 Block Lead Learning Centers (BLLC) with all Tech-MODE facilities for learning including distributed classroom and labs for doing experiments. The BLLC would be created and managed by a public as well as private entreprenuers. Initially MKCL block lead centers would be used for BLLC. Secondary stages covering 8-10 standards would be covered in the areas of science, mathematics, IT, environmental science and English language chosen for their difficulty in lerning. The goal is to develop reliable Tech-MODE models and processes for development and deployment of programs and activities at block, cluster and school levels. Initial 15 BLLCs would develop the models of services and their linkages with neighborhood schools and community.
Following processes and methods will be used for VSLH:
Each program and activity for teachers and students will be organized at three levels:
Levels for students: Foundational, Competency and Exposure or Talent.
Levels for teachers: Beginner, Intermediate and Expert.
Student education would be carried out through clubs and distributed classrooms. The club activity would be conducted in a group of 20-25 students for 100 hours per year with 50 % time spent on applications and fieldwork. All groups would be guided centrally by a team of experts and locally by mentors/teachers. This program would form a part of classroom activity or supplementary or complimentary education as is adopted by the school and students. Digital resources supporting each activity and lab would be developed and reached out to every group and learner through access centers. Various promotional strategies would be adopted, some of them being mass and class Olympiads, appearing for various award and talent search exams, project demonstrations etc. Collaborative learning would be promoted through clubs and field applications.
Teacher education programs consist of IT for teachers with developmental focus, eB. Ed program to offer further path for learning and developing, in-service teacher training for curricular methods in new school framework. The learning and working will be continuous and linked with development of students, classrooms and schools.
Learning homes would be an important component for transformation of school education, for parent and community participation in school development and for developing life-long-learning as a culture in learning and developing. Various issues such as understanding of child learning processes, role of family, school and community in child development, quality of education and tutoring child, etc., could form components for orientation programs for learning homes. Many of the topics could be included in joint teacher-parent orientation and training organized through distributed classrooms and carried out by forming local learning groups for school improvement.
Systemic Research & Development and Quality Assurance forms important function to be integrated with VSLH operations for evolving a paradigm shift for best quality education. The efforts would be directed to develop successful models to ensure access and success. The R&D would be carried out in partnership with universities and colleges so as to achieve high transformative value and relevance of the activities carried out in VSLH. The effectiveness of the program could be enhanced through international participation.
V. Consortium Approach and Partnership
The I-CONSENT has so far obtained participation of organisations of the type of Governmental Organisations (GO), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and associations. Out of the 22 institutions that have so far actively participated in I-CONSENT activities, there are 4 universities, 4 State supported institutions, 6 NGOs, 2 GOs, 1 company, 1 company trust and 4 organisations of teachers and scientists. Each one is having their programs linked with school education.
The approach taken is to offer Tech-MODE platform to each partner, which gives:
The goal is to take the quality, relevance and outreach of the partner programs and services through Tech-MODE to such a high level of quality and relevance that it becomes an innovation adding at least ten times higher value. Such a situation is possible with technology mediation. In the school education, it is essential to develop not only public and private partnership but Public-Private-Community (PPC) partnership to safe-guard the interests of all, particularly learners and to make education development centric. Evolving such a model on the basis of successful working of VSLH would be a great challenge.
VI. Resource Sharing for Best Quality Eduction
The VSLH program would therefore create open educational resources of high quality and relevance and offer quality-learning services to all learners by linking learning with development. This would increase value of educational products and services and opportunity for generating resources.
Sustainability of the program would be evolved on the basis of support from public and the state, which could be used for creating learning resources and facilities particularly for weak and disadvantaged, and on the basis of service charges used essentially for sustaining operations. Following services could be used to generate resources:
Development of high quality educational resources for all stages of school education at all levels for all school subjects is the key requirement to the success of virtual school and partnership approach. The partnership could be extended to the national and international institutions and agencies by sharing the use of the resources.
VII. CONCLUDING REMARKS
The program is quite ambitious and would succeed if it can create alternative of big magnitude. The Project implements many concepts and approaches proposed so far and could be useful to other developing countries. The greatest challenge is of developing new models and processes of working, developing and organizing new form and functions for a Virtual School and Learning Homes and for consortium. The Educational Resources, Tech-MODE technologies and practices could be shared with others interested in the program.
The authors would like to thank all its I-CONSENT partners and individuals who have contributed many ideas and programs, which form the core of the paper.