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Issue of August 2005 
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IT in education

IT in education

As technological advances are introduced in education, the promise and potential of IT in enhancing learning is attractive, but the lack of initiative has hampered its progress, says Vertika Yadav

Educational institutions are getting smarter. Technology is changing the way faculties teach and students learn. It enables one to spend less time setting up learning frameworks and more time on actual learning. Investing in technology has become an imperative in imparting complete education and spreading literacy.

The Cause of Literacy

Simulation Games at
S P Jain Institute of Management

Marstat (Harvard)
Marketing Strategy
MarkOps (Harvard)
Marketing Operations
Beer game (Harvard)
Logistics & SCM
French Paradox (France)
Sales & Marketing
Dynatrain (Reutlingan)
Business Policy

IT is seen as a critical component of the educational experience, creating opportunities for students. Many software companies are developing educational software to facilitate teaching.

Tata Consultancy Services has devised technological support to accelerate the efforts of the National Literacy Mission to spread literacy through the Computer-Based Functional Literacy (CBFL) programme. CBFL relies on the cognitive capabilities of individuals to associate complex visual patterns representing words in Indian scripts with their meanings as well as phonetic utterances.

The Centre for Rural Systems and Development, an NGO, has been running a literacy campaign using CBFL in a village called Inamagaram (Sholavaram) in Tamil Nadu for two years now. Women who participate in this adult literacy programme are part of a self-help group working for their empowerment. The literacy levels among them are close to zero. According to the group facilitator, Suguna, “The women here can’t even travel because they cannot read the bus route numbers. I wanted the women to be independent at least in trivial matters such as these.” Suguna, who herself is only a 10th pass, is determined to make this campaign a success.

Livening Up Learning

S Krishnamachari
Country Manager, Macromedia

Macromedia has been developing programmes for schools. “Students never got interested in what was being taught. They found textbooks dull and boring,” informs Shriram Krishnamachari, Country Manager, Macromedia. The software designed using Flash and Dreamweaver is interactive and visually attractive. A Delhi municipality school has been using the software for teaching its students subjects such as maths and science, and has observed a growing interest in subjects usually considered tough.

IT Helps the Deaf & Blind

Computers are used not just for routine teaching, but are also put to use in innovative ways, as in the case of the Helen Keller Institute for the Deaf and Deaf-Blind (HKIDB).

Students never got interested in what was being taught. They found textbooks to be dull and boring

The educational curriculum at HKIDB aims to develop a student’s literary and academic skills, including reading and writing, cognitive skills (reasoning, attention to tasks, memory, retention, cause and effect), motor skills (hand-eye co-ordination), perceptual skills, orientation and mobility. “So far, these skills were taught the old-fashioned way using books or charts in Braille. Today, computers have become an important part of the educational process at the institute,” explains Beroz Vacha, Founder, HKIDB.

Software with attractive visual and auditory features is used to encourage low vision or hearing-impaired children to work on their residual vision and hearing—larger fonts (type sizes) enable children suffering from low vision to read comfortably.

A section of HKIDB is pioneering the Computerised Mini Braille Press project, set up in January 2002. Here, the deaf and deaf-blind are trained to use computers and undertake computer-related programming and designing. This computer training unit-cum-mini Braille press produces a variety of materials to suit the needs of the deaf-blind, blind and low vision or hearing-impaired individuals.

“The deaf students are trained in graphic design to produce tactile graphic educational material. The blind who are proficient in Braille help in proofreading,” says Vacha.

A newsletter, Deaf-blindness in Asia - A Communication Link is composed and published by the Braille Press, and is circulated among all centres for the deaf-blind in Asia, Europe and other parts of the world.

A software called JAWS (Jobs Accessing With Speech) enables the blind (who have normal hearing) to use computers by listening to the audio interactions; it is also essential for synthesising text or commands on screen into Braille, which then appear on the electronic Braille display board. People who cannot hear, but have normal vision, work on graphics using CorelDraw, while the printing and packaging jobs are looked after by the deaf-blind.

Futuristic learning at Pathways

Many schools aren’t riding on the IT wave yet, but Pathways International School, a residential school located in Aravali Hills, 30 kms from Delhi, has invested over Rs 2.25 crore in creating its IT infrastructure. The school spends about Rs 35 lakh towards annual IT maintenance and services. “In terms of IT, we no longer see computers as a subject, but as a tool to help us do anything and everything in education,” explains Prashant Jain, IT Head at Pathways.

The school’s campus boasts of Wi-Fi connectivity that gives students better interactivity, mobility and 24-hour access to relevant resources. It has Microsoft Exchange for e-mail, with the Exchange Server residing within the campus. Students are given a lot of assignments that they can work on using computers to conduct research. The school has 24x7 controlled Internet connectivity with bandwidth and traffic managing and monitoring software.

The school’s library is totally automated with a solution called Destiny, a Web-based software from Follett. Students can look for a book and reserve it online. “Our students can browse through the library even from home,” informs Jain. They can also communicate with other students and teachers at anytime. A Web-based ERP is now being implemented to help parents track the progress of their wards anytime from anywhere.

 

Technology As An Aid To Learning

This is the issue at the heart of institutional and personal decisions related to the adoption of technology-infused teaching and learning.

Few would argue that an understanding of computers is necessary in today’s workplace. Employees are required to do inventive thinking, have digital literacy, communicate effectively, and work in teams. “Acquisition of these skills can be facilitated by technology,” says Professor Sunil Rai of the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR). The institute uses simulation games from Harvard (such as Marstat and MarkOps) to teach students the concepts of marketing strategy and operations. “Through these games students put their knowledge into practice and learn; they are not just learning theory,” comments Rai.

Technology, particularly the Internet, is a tool well-suited for learning. Although our understanding of how we learn has advanced tremendously, the impact of technology on learning is still lagging. Many institutes are not using computers for anything beyond routine administration. Even when computing is taught as a subject at primary levels, the courseware rarely ventures beyond BASIC and the Binary System.

Technology has great potential to enhance student achievement and teacher learning, but only if sufficient attention is paid to its importance and benefits. Many of the top schools consider IT infrastructure spending as an expense rather than an investment. Some are oblivious to the advantages that IT can bring to a school. Only a thorough understanding and an open attitude will help.

vertika@expresscomputeronline.com

 
     
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