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Successful-Integration-of-Technology-in-Schools--Opportunities-and-Challenges
Sanjiv Pande
Thursday, December 30, 2010
It is very rightly said that ‘Nothing is permanent but change’. However if we look at how the world has changed around us in the last few decades, it would be right to say that more than change, the pace at which change happens, is fascinating to watch. One of the most important contributors to this mind-boggling change and its pace has been technology. As in other spheres of human life, the impact of technology in how we educate our kids or how they educate themselves is also of great significance. In this write up we shall dwell a bit on the challenges we face as well as opportunities that lie ahead of us in integrating technology successfully into our learning ecosystem in schools. The focus will be on private schools of India since the govt. K-12 education institutions are still in the infancy stage as far as integrating technology is concerned.

School education market in India: Opportunity paradox
There have been so many studies and estimates which have painted a very rosy picture of India’s School Education market. It is currently pegged at more than $40 billion promising a double digit annual growth rate. So far so good, however anyone who gets smitten by this side of story, needs to be highly careful. If we look a bit deeper we shall know that this sector may show lots of promise but challenges over-shadow the hope and opportunities that exist. Education continues to be a Not-for-Profit industry in India which makes many genuinely interested private players stay away from the core business opportunity of setting-up and running brick and mortar schools. At the same time, efforts by Govt.
through its schooling system have shown limited results. India’s 75000 odd private schools account for 7 percent of total institutions but enroll 40 percent of country’s 219 million students. About 142 million children are not in the schooling system.

Other major business opportunity exists in the form of tutoring and many mom and pop stores are making merry. How much does this appeal to the conscience of an interested corporate player has to be seen since tutoring is looked down upon by many. Lots of players are also operating in areas like pre-schooling, school ERP, text-books/stationery items and provision of other technology enabled learning solutions etc. Other business opportunities have just opened up and many players are entering these segments every day. Technology enabled learning solutions space has seen a lot of excitement in the past few years. More and more schools are experimenting with technology solutions to make use of tools that positively impact learning in schools. However, as happens with any great business opportunity, lots of small and big entrants try to make a quick buck by churning out unmindful and half-baked solutions, at the click of a button. Well meaning and well intentioned schools who really want to make a difference to the learning ecosystem for their students unfortunately end up burning their fingers. It is therefore extremely important for any institution to be very careful in selecting the right technology and consider its consequences in detail. They may not only end up wasting huge sums of money but also playing with the lives of hundreds of young minds whose future is trusted to a school by parents.

Challenges in successfully integrating technology solutions in schools:
‘Wonders of technology’ is a theme that every teacher and every student would have spent reams of paper writing on. However we need to understand that technology in itself in neither a genie nor a master. It is whatever we make out of it. NIIT has been involved in bringing up people and computers together successfully for over 27 years now. Our work in technology in K-12 education space in India over the past decade has given us some rare insights into kind of challenges that schools faces in integrating technology successfully:

Lack of integrated solutions
Schools as a rule always fail to see the bigger picture while trying to integrate ICT into their system. Their approach at best is piecemeal. Normally a school spends on setting up a computer lab and creates a small computer department that takes care of computer education program of the school. When it comes to automating the back-office operations, it is seen as a separate activity and without fail some local player holds the key to their administration engine. If it comes to integrating technology in classroom there will be another vendor vying their attention. There is a severe problem of lack of an integrated solution which can address the needs of all the stake holders like students, teachers, management etc with a single solution. A school as a result has to either deal with multiple vendors for different solutions or at times develop in-house solutions. This leaves the school management with the trauma of integrating the piecemeal solutions into their system and sub-optimal utilization of resources.

Lack of right pedagogy in learning solutions
For technology to make sense to its users in educational institutions, it is imperative to have a strong pedagogical framework. After all it is not about technology but about education. It has been observed that off-the shelf technology solutions end up impacting the learning ecosystem negatively by creating a passive learning environment. Technology over-shadows the real purpose of learning.

Hardware focus without emphasizing on content
Generally schools like to believe that more the hardware, the better is the solution. Nothing can be farther from truth. Be it in classrooms or in laboratories, the content, is the key to the effectiveness of a solution. Even in the case of content schools are led to believe that more the content the better it is. This happens to push aggregated content to un-suspecting schools under the garb of covering entire syllabus and all topics. Customers also tend to get carried away by look and feel. One needs to understand that quantity of hardware and content in a learning solution is the last thing that a school should look for. Aggregated content has obvious issues of irrelevance to the curriculum being followed by the school.

IT skilling and Change management
These are perhaps most critical factors for successfully integrating technology in the learning ecosystem of a school. It is easier to get children used to technology however the bigger challenge is to impact the mindset of teachers and support staff. A simple hardware support does not work. Teachers need a specific type of support which may be more academic than technical. While office staff may need detailed training and re-training on features of a solution. One size does not fit all is the mantra here.

Total Cost of Ownership
Many times a school, while going ahead to adopt a solution, overlooks the total cost of owning a solution. There may be lots of hidden costs involved in use of a solution. Sometimes even if it is considered, the cost is highly underestimated. These costs can include hidden costs like higher electricity bills, consumables, security etc.

Obsolescence of technology
Technology gets outdated very fast. It is very important for a school to consider before purchase, which is an appropriate technology to invest in. Newer technologies are being rolled out which reduce the impact of obsolescence. It is better if a school goes through an extensive exercise of defining the vision and scope of IT integration program and involve other parties who can help them in coming up with a well defined plan.

Sanjeev Pande
President - School Learning Solutions, NIIT
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