ICT stands for Information and Communication Technology. The implementation of ICT labs in schools was launched in 2004 and was revised in 2010 to provide secondary stage students an opportunity to understand in a better way from computer aided learning process. ICT labs in government schools are a component of Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).
In 2018, MHRD did a major revamp of all its school education programs by integrating them into the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan. The purpose was to revamp, revise and upgrade all aspects of government funded initiatives for the government schools for better and more integrated implementation and outcomes.
Along with reviewing all other aspects of school education, MHRD reviewed the usage, setup and historical learning outcomes from the ICT & RMSA scheme, where computer labs were set up at thousands of government schools across states over the last decade. MHRD noted that computers were not being used well at govt schools due to complex hardware, difficult maintenance and electricity dependence, blocking a seperate room, and other infrastructural challenges which usually happen at government schools. So they added a preferred option of tablets/laptops/chromebooks for ICT Lab as an attempt to solve some of these issues (more on this later).
ICT lab scheme for schools has four components:
- Partnership with government and UT administration
- Establishment of Smart Schools
- Teacher encouragement programs
- Development of E-Content
Benefits under ICT labs scheme for government and semi government schools:
Financial Aid to schools for ICT lab setup:
This part covers the first two components of the ICT lab scheme.
- Financial support is given to the schools affiliated with Central Institute of Education Technologies (CIET), State Institutes of Education Technologies (SIETs) and Regional Institutes of Education (RIEs) based on the approval given by the Project Approval Board (PAB).
- 6.4L of upfront ICT Lab setup expenditure is provided, plus an annual recurring expenditure of 2.70L is provided by the government for a period of 5 years.
- Central government has advised the State Government and UTs to set up 150 smart schools at the district level for which a total sum of 25L will be provided to each school and an additional recurring amount of 2.5L per year will be given to setup and maintain at least 40 computers in each school.
- The ratio of the project cost shared by Central Government vs State Government will be 75:25 percent with an exception to the north eastern states which will be 90:10 percent.
Benefits for teachers:
- Provision for a full time teacher and ICT lab assistant. The qualification requirement and recruitment of the teacher and the assistant is largely dependent on the capacity of the school and the level of students for whom the ICT lab has been setup (e.g for higher secondary students the minimum criteria for a computer teacher is a postgraduate degree).
- In service capacity enhancement training to all teachers so that they are able to become a bridge between ICT lab learning process/technology and students.
- A national level ICT award to motivate hard working teachers on teachers day every year.
Benefits for students:
- Management, monitoring and evaluation of the progress of each student. In the desktop version of the ICT lab, this was not possible so the central government is now encouraging schools to adopt Tablet based ICT labs.
- Implementation of ebasta portal for students to get easy access to digital content through audio-video medium.
- There is a provision to strengthen SIETs to contribute to e-content development.
- Government is also encouraging private players to participate in the development of smart e-content for ICT labs in government and private schools.
Challenges under ICT lab Scheme
Although the government is releasing funds and schemes every year to improve the condition of education in India, there are still some challenges on the ground that need to be addressed.
ICT lab challenge 1: Lack of motivation due to complex hardware
When it comes to handling the ICT lab hardware, the learning process is hindered by a number of barriers. These include lack of electricity, unreliability of equipment, lack of technical support and other resource related issues such as not using up-to-date hardware and softwares. Most of the schools use only one printer or scanner which are also rarely used. Forget about the printers and scanner, even the ICT labs are rarely used.
In a research done by Vikramjit Singh of St. Xavier’s College of Education, Patna with 1551 students from 87 schools of selected districts of Bihar in 2018 (report), the findings were even more eye opening.
When asked about how many times the students use ICT Lab in a week, 72.04% students reported that they never use ICT labs.
This report also indicates that during the initial years both students and teacher seem to be motivated but gradually they stop using ICT labs.
ICT lab challenge 2: Lack of skilled teachers in government schools
A majority of schools either do not have computer teachers or they lack the right kind of knowledge required to operate the ICT lab. This lack of skills is also a reason why the teachers are not motivated (and motivating their students) to learn from the ICT labs.
From the previous report, it is clearly evident:
This screenshot also shows that the marks are not improving because they are not using the ICT labs properly. A large number of students don’t even have an email id.
Steps taken by government to overcome these challenges
As mentioned in the initial paragraphs of this article, the MHRD did a major revamp of all its school education programs by integrating them into the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan in 2018. In the circular released it was clearly mentioned that instead of setting up furniture and blocking a room, setting up desktop based ICT labs and making the process complex, the schools should use tablet based ICT lab system which comes with lockable charging racks for the tablets/ laptops. These racks are not dependent on 24hr electricity supply and the tablets are also easy to operate.
A lot of social edtech organizations, NGOs and CSR Foundations which are working with government schools and setting up computer labs or ICT labs have experienced this gap of non usage after this big of an investment, and therefore had been proposing such shifts to use tablet based ICT labs in schools. Also, people working in digital education for government schools can strongly relate to these challenges and it is their ongoing effort and suggestion.
Here is the link to the draft document of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan which has gone to all the States and UTs in 2018/2019 as the revised policy document.
I will break down the major recommendations made by the government for setting up tablet based ICT labs for schools here which has been outlined in Chapter 7 from page 127 onwards.
On page 129 of the framework document, the hardware guidelines are outlined for ICT implementation.
On the next page it outlines the suggested approach to setup and usage of such hardware and charging racks in ICT Infrastructure.
Highlights of the key suggestions:
- Easy to use & manageable Digital Hardware: The policy now suggests that instead of only computers, the state governments and Union Territories should consider Tablets/Laptops/Notebooks/PCs along with other supporting hardware for easy to setup and usage.
- Storage and Charging Racks: Typically where fixed hardware, wiring and charging points were setup for computers, it is suggested that government schools use lockable storage and charging racks, which have inbuilt charging points for all tablets/laptops to easily store, manage and simultaneously charge all the hardware devices.
- Integration to Solar Power Units: It is suggested that where electricity connection and regularity is an issue, the charging racks of tablets/laptops can be integrated with a rooftop solar unit. Since tablets/laptops can run for hours once charged, therefore a solar unit source can make them completely electricity independent propelling regular charging and usage in all situations.
- Movable or Corner fixed Racks for a Smart ICT Lab to avoid new blocking new Rooms: Since space and infra is a constraint in majority government schools, therefore it is suggested that the charging racks of the tablets/laptops for ICT lab are either movable with wheels and therefore can be kept in the principal room or the existing ICT room, else it can be fixed to a corner in any classroom where maximum usage can happen on rotational basis. This will greatly simplify space requirement and maintenance issues of the ICT Lab.
Our Research and solution for Tablet based Smart ICT labs
When we found about the circular by Samagra Siksha Abhiyan, it was no less than an appreciation for our work so we were excited. At iDream Education we have been setting up Digital Classrooms for government schools for many years with CSR and Foundations.
We have deeply studied the practical and psychological challenges faced by the teachers, school administration and students in actual usage of the computer labs and even we had been advocating such fundamental shifts in the government guidelines and policies for digital hardware at government schools.
The Tablet based Smart ICT labs can solve the challenges faced by schools in following ways:
Solving Challenge 1 with Tablet based Smart ICT Lab:
Teachers have to go through a rigorous process before the PCs in the ICT labs start working and with students of lower and middle classes, it becomes even more complicated. And with unreliable electric supply, these ICT labs add another layer of complexity.
So teachers prefer to take shortcuts and explain everything without PCs working. This leads to lack of motivation in the students and so in teachers and also very less of actual ICT usage by students.
We reduced this complexity with Tablets as these are as handy as mobile phones and everyone (even the kids) know how to operate. We also reduced the dependency on electricity by providing charging and storage racks.
This step taken by us increased the interest in both teachers and students in the class and the ICT lab usage in schools have increased drastically.
Solving Challenge 2 with Tablet based Smart ICT Lab:
For a PC based ICT lab, you need a person who is handy with the desktops and/or laptops both in terms of software and hardware as these often face lags and operation issues.
With Tablet based ICT labs, the problem for the requirement of a computer teacher can be completed taken care of as tablets are operated on the same pattern as any android based mobile phone. So having only the subject teacher is sufficient for the class to progress.
Here is a teacher telling about his experience with tablet based ICT lab
And here is a live example of students using tablet based ICT lab completely hassle free.
To summarize, we can say that the revised ICT Scheme brings depth and hope of a digitally powered future for our government school students. Now the states hold the key in how well the scheme is actualized and how progressively the changes are accepted and implemented for the desired outcomes. States and UTs should delve deeper into the practical aspects discussed above and adopt Smart ICT Labs as the way forward.
We shall keep tracking the outcomes and keep sharing with a focus on our mutual goal of digital learning empowerment for every rural child and so we are very hopeful.