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Guest Post: “1 billion people, 17 million students, 500+ colleges and millions of eager learners”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Dec 2012

Today’s guest post is written by  Gwen van der Velden, Director, Learning and Teaching Enhancement at the University of Bath. Following a chat last night along our shared corridor on level 5 of the Wessex House building Gwen kindly agreed to write a guest post about her recent trip to India.

I work a few offices away from Brian Kelly and Paul Walk and other colleagues in UKOLN. We chat often in the corridors and today I told Brian about last week’s trip to Delhi, India. Because of my enthusiasm about what we found in relation to e-learning, new technologies and connectivity for the public good, Brian asked me to blog and share some of the inspiration. For context, when I say ‘we’ I am not being royal, I am just also referring to Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou, our Head of e-Learning at Bath who has the kind of international reputation that got us invited to India in the first place.

The Indian government works with the HE sector on increasing access to HE for learners who cannot access HE at the moment. The HE system in India is highly regulated and it isn’t a market where entry is easily possible. Many UK universities are working to establish themselves there, but this is far from easy. Moreover, there isn’t enough Indian faculty to grow the existing universities or establish new ones and student places are very, very limited considering the interest in university study that there is. We heard that for one of the Institutes of Technology, there are over 40 students for each available place. So, a different approach is required. Against this background there is a bigger drive to educate India out of poverty. Experiencing New Delhi, you can see what is possible. But driving into old Delhi, we saw what still is to be achieved. It is a country of zest, opportunity, large numbers (1 Billion people) and great economic and social challenges…

The Ministry of Human Resources Development which oversees HE, is investing $1 billion into growing HE. Crucial to their plan is the National Mission on Education through ICT. Growth is going to come through reaching all corners of India with connectivity, and that is why there is an incredible project of taking glass fibre cable into the farthest ends of India. A huge development, and often combined with putting solar energy provision in place, where no electricity existed before. WiFi connections are going to become available through 40 rupees a year subscriptions. That’s about 50 pence. It shows some clear government financial commitment. And it’s all for learning, how inspiring is that?

Aakash tablet (image from WIkipedia:

Aakash tablet (image from Wikipedia:

The second step is to have the learning platforms that connect learners to the curriculum, teaching and assessment. This too is addressed in the most imaginative way. You may have heard of the Indian invention of a $30 tablet, the Aakash (illustrated). I understood that Aakash means ‘clouds’, or ‘sky’, and that shows again how India is reaching for the sky here. The Aakash 1 apparently didn’t get past the pilot, but I’ve held the Aakash 2, played with it (thanks Prof Kannan Moudgalya) and sat in amazement at what a smart little thing this is.  It’s less than half the size of an i-pad but large enough to work comfortably with. It has some good processing power and I saw some software on it that allows you to do programming –useful for Comp Sci students and e-developers. The current pilot means 100.000 learners are testing it out, and we understood from government officials that another 1.5 Million are to be piloted in early Spring next year.

With connectivity and the technology platform under way, the content needs to get out there, and this is where our discussions came in. At the moment universities are encouraged to make as much content available as possible. They all do it in different ways. In some cases it is curriculum, sometimes just content and in some cases there is a larger or smaller effort towards designing materials for learning. Designing content for learning is clearly a developing field and again, full of challenges in India, such as the need for various language versions, cultural context adjustment and then there are also issues about what text/ expression/ content may or may not be used for cultural, religious or property right sensitivities. (On that note, this entry is not a statement sanctioned or approved by the Indian government or any partners we have worked with. It’s just my own account!)

Interestingly, at the conference – courtesy of the British Council and Indira Gandhi National Open University – the Ministry’s Secretary told us that developments now in universities have to be about quality, not quantity. It isn’t good enough to just put content online, if ICT is not used effectively to actually improve learning. Excellent.

The three step approach is incredible considering the size of the country: 1 billion people, 17 million students, 500+ colleges and millions of eager learners wanting to get ahead. We were impressed by the university colleagues we met from all over India. They were genuinely driven by seeing universities as a public good: educating the country out of poverty and developing the technologies to do it. It explains where all these inspired e-ideas are coming from. Watch that space, I can’t help thinking there is more to come from the East.

gwenGwen van der Velden
Learning and Teaching Enhancement
University of Bath.

Web page:
Twitter: @gwenvdv

Kyriaki Anagnostopoulou
Head of e-Learning
Learning and Teaching Enhancement
University of Bath.

Web page:

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy]

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