The World Bank estimated the levels of “Learning Poverty” across the globe by measuring the number of 10-year old children who cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school. In low- and middle-income countries “learning poverty” stands at 53%, while for the poorest countries, this is 80% on average. With the spread of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), 180+ countries have mandated temporary school closures, leaving ~1.6 billion children and youth out of school. 85% of children world-wide are affected.
It is no longer the If or How question, it is What Best we can do with Technology to avert the pause in human progress in the time of the continuing pandemic. I am not here to write about the neo-normal education system during the pandemic that created the need for adopting multiple modes of delivery of education using technology, be it offline, online, or blended (i.e. hybrid), etc. I am just sharing what, I think, are the unresolved challenges and what we can do better in the coming days with technology that promises to make the world a better place for mankind. But, to tap the fullest potential of technology for education, it sometimes goes beyond the realm of a technologist, then we seek the intervention from Government, Philanthropists, and the like.
Technology is the New Leader
So far, education has been an area of interest for economists, but their thought-leadership, most of the time, leveraged the blessings of policy-makers for any attempt to change the existing system. Keeping the sudden and heightened, pandemic-driven importance of technology in perspective, innovation in education technology can implement the dreams of development economists with a reduced burden on policy-makers.
Cloud Computing and areas of Artificial Intelligence have the potential to create an impact with “Education for All” promise across the globe.
Human Touch – Technology falters
Students moving to the Industry or Research fields that expect extensive hands-on exposure badly need the value out of their practical/lab classes. Augmented Reality-based simulation can be an option for practical classes but still falls short of the real hands-on experience of laboratories. It could be an area of deferred learning in finishing schools or in the way big Information Technology companies organize rigorous hands-on training during induction to transform the academic knowledge (for example, of data structure) to industry-usable coding skills (for example, with lists or maps of Python or Java Programming Language).
Can we undertake leadership training without participating in an in-person role play session? It is very difficult to create a human emotion with technology as it stands now. We should also think of Leadership training specifically meant for the virtual world.
Upcoming thoughts on “Phenomena-based Learning” may also need technological innovation to make it pervasive across the globe.
When a teacher is nurturing a group of toddlers, sometimes with helping them learn alphabets or add two numbers or chill out with singing a song together, it is next to impossible for current-state technology to simulate that human touch.
Technology can deliver Equity
Despite the above dreams are still unachievable for technology, the list of things that we can do better with technology in collaboration with policy-makers is long.
The Digital divide is a burning problem. All pervasive remote learning is impossible with the prevailing inequality in access to technology – Internet and Devices. “For instance, in households of primary-aged students in Africa, only 30% of the poorest households have a radio while 79% of the richest do. The gap is also evident with ownership of TV (4% of poor households own one vs. 82% of rich ones), computer (less than 1% for poor households vs. 25% for richest), internet (0.3% in poor vs. 22% in rich), and mobile phones (46% ownership in poor households vs. 97% in rich ones).” Source: www.worldbank.org
Pre-pandemic experiments about technology use in education created hope. During the pandemic, on the ground, to validate the experimental outcome, we realized that we need to do a bit extra to provide a tablet to every school-going kid with an Internet connection to households around the world.
Technology is fast changing the conventional view of disability. It is very encouraging to see what Syracuse University has achieved to beat the limitations of human disabilities. Watch this video with technology redefining disability. We can nowadays have live video calls with someone with difficulty in hearing. We can offer job positions to them. As an example, please see this job website: www.ourability.com. We need to put forward our best efforts to eliminate all drivers around all sorts of inequality with the empowering capabilities of technology.
Cloud Computing removes the need for huge upfront investment to create the infrastructure for educational applications. Cloud-based applications have ubiquitous reach – wherever there is the Internet, students can access those educational applications. Natural Language Processing, an area under Artificial Intelligence Technologies, has immense capability to beat the barriers of language, irrespective of it being spoken or written.
But, sadly, we are living in a society with human beings who are “Money Poor” for just bare existence, “Time Poor” for education after day’s toil for survival, “Technology Poor” to be left out of the digital progress. And, then comes the inevitable concern about education for the Malalas of the World. There is a mortality gap between people with and without a bachelor’s degree.
Can a technology model (or for that matter, an econometric model) optimize the grossly sub-optimal functioning of a society? Of course, not. But our best wishes and continued sincere efforts can make “Education for All” a reality. It may not be immediately, but sometime in the not-so-far future.
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