Robots vs. Teachers – Who can salvage the future of education?

Akshita Manocha Words of Freedom Leave a Comment

In our last weekly poll, we asked you whether teacher-training facilities or developing innovative educational technologies should be the priority investment area to improve quality of education quickly. To this tough question, of the 21 poll takers, 62% vouched for teacher training facilities while 38% believed that precedence should be given to innovation in educational technologies.

The status of education in India is abysmal. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012-13, 53% of Class-V students cannot even read Class-II books. In 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released their triennial Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which ranked two states of India- Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu- 72nd and 73rd out of the 74 countries it scrutinized. Every aspect of education in India requires substantial investment- infrastructure, research in pedagogy, educational technologies, learning level assessment and teacher quality. The challenge for a developing country like India, however, is efficient and judicious use of available capital. Therefore, Indian administrators and educationists face the unenviable task of having to choose between various aspects of the education system to fund. If we take improvement in quality of education over the years as a measure of success in this task, then their performance so far has been poor. The enormity of the problem of inefficient utilization of taxpayer money can be gauged from the extent of scarcity of funds for the purpose. The budget for implementation of Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE) was Rs. 2,35, 000 crore, with a three year timeline. But even after four years, only less than one fourth of that sum could be allocated. Clearly, to prioritize expenditure based on its importance remains our biggest challenge.

Our expenditure-priorities must be based on two parameters: one, the maximum returns on investment and, two, the direct impact of the investment on the quality of education. But the government has instead been focusing on populist investments in order to accumulate political capital. Unfortunately, the attention of most experts too remains on the amount of money allocated to the education sector rather than the efficiency of the investments in actually improving the quality of education. To better understand the relative significance of teacher training and educational technologies as factors impacting the quality of education, we need to answer the question, ‘What contributes to quality education?’ The quality of education is dependent on how well children are able to understand concepts, the capabilities of teachers and the quantity and quality of learning aides.

With the advancement of information and communication technologies the number of high-quality learning aides has increased. Earlier, where children had the help only of a map on a two-dimensional chart, now they have access to hi-definition 3D images of the same.Imagining the movement of electrons in an atom used to be a challenge, but now they can visualize it with the help of multimedia productions. The list of new possibilities of this kind is endless.

In fact, technology has taken self-learning to a whole new level, where a student is able to introduce herself to a new subject or concept, understand it thoroughly and even assess her proficiency without the help of a teacher. Once an innovative technology is available, people further innovate on its utility.

Instructional videos by Khan Academy are now being made accessible to primary level school teachers in Punjab by SAHE through battery-powered, pocket-sized projectors.

Investment in teacher training, however, is unlikely to offer same levels on return on investment. The role of training in the quality of a teacher is limited. It is the passion and aptitude of the teachers that make them good or bad.

Contract teachers and para-teachers, who are generally untrained, have often been blamed for bringing down the overall quality of teaching in India. However, data speaks to the contrary. In their research titled “Para Teachers in India: Status and Impact”, Geeta Gandhi Kingdon and Vandana Sipahimalini Rao show that regular teachers, who are generally trained, stand on the same footing as para-teachers in terms of learning achievement levels of children. There is a saturation point up to which one can train teachers, but there is no limit to how technology and innovation can make learning more interesting and effective. Training teachers cannot provide the same level of advantage innovative educational technology can. While a reasonable amount of investment in teacher training is required, our priority has to be innovation of new technologies for education.

-Akshita Manocha
Research Associate, Centre for Justice @India Institute

The opinion statistics are based on the results of our poll – Weekly Your View- posted on our social media on 13th June,2014.