“Launch of National Repository of Open Education Resources (NROER)”
Address by Dr. Shashi Tharoor
Hon’ble Minister of State for HRD
National Conference on ICT in School Education, New Delhi, 13th August, 2013
Shri M.M. Pallam Raju, Hon’ble Minister for Human Resource Development, Shri Ashok Thakur, Secretary, Higher Education, Shri Rajarshi Bhattacharya, Secretary, School Education and Literacy, Prof. Parvin Sinclair, Director, NCERT, other senior colleagues from the Ministry of HRD, distinguished participants at this conference, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be here at the National Conference on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in School Education and at the launch of the National Repository of Open Education Resources (NROER). As Prof. Sinclair knows, I have been a staunch supporter of open education resources as a significant part of the response to the challenges that are faced by the education sector in our country and the launch of the NROER is a significant step in this direction. Reaching the unreached, including the excluded, has long been the priority for us in extending education to all. I am informed that the NROER aims to offer “resources for all school subjects and grades in multiple languages. The resources are available in the form of concept maps, videos, audio clips, talking books, multimedia, learning objects, photographs, diagrams, charts, articles, wikipages and textbooks.” The Ministry of HRD has been actively engaging with various organisations to propagate Education for All. This repository will most certainly help to open the doors of educational opportunity to those very little or no access to education.
This initiative is also a significant step towards inclusive education. Opening access to all requires a debate on the issue of ownership, copyright, licensing and a balancing of reach with legitimate commercial interests. This is particularly important for public institutions and public funded projects. I am glad that the NCERT has taken the initiative of declaring that the NROER will carry the CC-BY-SA license. I have been lobbied by Wikimedia and other advocates of open educational resources for this standard to be adopted, rather than the CC-BY-SA-NC which contains a more restrictive clause. This decision by NCERT is in tune with UNESCO’s Paris Declaration on Open Education Resources and will ensure that all the resources are freely accessible to all. To put it in the language of the Creative Commons—to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. But to ensure the smooth functioning of this repository, one needs to take support of the various ICT tools.
Incorporating ICT in education is a key step towards realising the goals of both the National Education Policy and the National Curriculum Framework. In this rapidly evolving world, where technology has a crucial role to play in education, ICT is a tool that will help enhance the way education is imparted in schools. It will open doors for new ways of interactive learning for the students and indeed for the teachers. However, this comes with an underlying caveat that in order to use this tool, students need to have free and open access to educational resources.
I have no doubt that ICT adds immense value to teaching and learning. While I believe that technology cannot replace a teacher, ICT can aid a teacher and can surely help make the teacher-student relationship more interactive. In a day and age of continuously evolving technology, it is important that various ICT tools are absorbed into everyday teaching. Though it is convenient to explain science through interactive technology, teachers need to use ICT for other subjects too. Imagine seeing a video that brings history to life—makes the past vividly real and not just a dry compilation of events and dates. ICT also contributes to enhanced learning. Usage of audio and video increases the scope of the means of learning for the child. This has been obvious for some time but technology is moving rapidly— faster than files move in our Ministry. Though the initiative was launched by our Ministry in 2004 and revised in 2010, we need to set up quick-reaction mechanisms to consistently monitor and evaluate the usage of ICT in our curriculum.
I also believe that in order to ensure that our ICT curriculum evolves with the changing technology we need to devise ways to measure the value addition of ICT in our educational system, and the return on our investment in ICT. We need to consistently evaluate and monitor these aspects. Apart from the collection of quantitative data related to the infrastructural reach of ICT, we need to ensure that we evaluate the quality of the content that is being delivered using ICT, and the effect of using this content in the learning process of our students.
Additionally, contrary to media reports that the Ministry of Human Resource Development has given up on the Aakash tablet project, we do believe that affordable tablets will make a difference to learning outcomes. It will bring far reaching changes in our education system through enhanced portability and connectivity to the most remote villages. We support the research ongoing to create a tablet with a processor which is as powerful as the first generation iPad, which comes with twice as much Random Access Memory (RAM), a USB port and a LCD touch screen. Though there have been issues with the timely delivery of Aakash, I hope that these are merely teething troubles and very soon we shall see inexpensive mass produced tablets emerge as a key force multiplier in the delivery of education.
We all know that connectivity is key to the usefulness of such devices. The Government has launched a Rs. 20,000 crore project that will take high speed broadband cables to 250,000 villages across India, facilitating e-services in diverse fields including education. This will bring e-governance to our villages, connecting the Indian villager to the global village. It will bring millions of Indians to information which can make a difference to their lives. Imagine how a young child’s life can be transformed through education reaching her from diverse quarters she would not normally have had access to, and give her the power to take advantage of the knowledge that the internet has to offer. This child can possibly teach her parents about the latest technologies in agriculture, make the family understand the value of e-commerce and allow them to have access to governmental services without being harassed by middle men. The democratic dissemination of ideas and pedagogic practices through the use of ICT in schools will make every Indian far more conscious of his rights and duties and far better equipped to exercise them. This will undoubtedly change our country for the better. Just as information technology has empowered the urban middle class in the last few years—something which we know some are even taking political advantage of— we can replicate the same model across the country with greater outreach and applicability to our rural areas.
With ICT becoming a part of the curriculum in schools, especially the Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs), it is bringing our students closer to the larger world, allowing them to understand that their potential and their dreams are not limited to the immediate radius of their villages, towns or cities. After significant efforts, the KVs have commendably been able to bring down the pupil to PC ratio (number of students per personal computer) from 53:1 in 2005 to 22:1 in June this year. ICT will help us modernise our educational technology, bring it at par with the world and allow us to offer our students education which goes beyond textbooks, helping us mould them with knowledge which transcends the traditional. The possibilities through ICT in our schools are endless and we will be enormously benefited if we can tap its potential right now to be able to increase the choices available to our students.
I am sure that this conference will deliberate upon the critical issues and best practices that will enable us to further fine-tune our efforts in this vital area of public policy. I look forward to your support as we step into the new century and take our education progressively forward towards a new and ICT enabled direction. The fulfilment of our national destiny demands no less.
Thank you, have a good conference and Jai Hind!