Internet impacts education and the impact in India is significant. India has a rich tradition for learning and education since ancient times. The Indian Constitution (article 21-A) provides for free and compulsory education for all children in the age group of six to fourteen years. The literacy rate in India by the end of British rule in 1947 was not even 20 per cent. However, the recent census (2011) shows that India’s literacy rate has grown to 74 per cent, but gender disparity is wide. The numbers show an improvement in the higher educational levels, but they are still quite low as only 4.5 per cent of the population in the country is graduate or above. Internet can improve the situation.
According to the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs), “Higher levels of education and literacy lead to a greater awareness and also contributes in improvement of economic and social conditions. It acts as a catalyst for social upliftment enhancing the returns on investment made in almost every aspect of development effort, be it population control, health, hygiene, environmental degradation control, employment of weaker sections of the society”. Though India has progressed in terms of its GDP and literacy rates, much needs to be done to develop the pool of well-educated and well-skilled workforce. Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy in one of his recent speeches remarked that ‘India needs to revamp its education system as 80 per cent Indian youth is not suitably trained for any job which in turn affects entrepreneurship’. Internet can help improve this situation.
India with about 462 million internet users is only behind China in terms of the highest numbers of internet users in the world, surpassing even USA. Internet has reached even the remotest corners of our country but the quality of service (speed & connectivity) is still very poor. It is below average even in the metro cities let alone the rural areas. A recent study by the Delhi-based NGO, Consumer VOICE found that the average 4G internet speed is India is not even 5 mbps and the most recurring problem reported by the respondents with respect to their internet services is ‘low speed and poor connectivity’. The study also identified factors relating to ‘Education’ that are impacted by the quality of internet and are given below-
Access to information & global databases
Enhancing skills & learning
Performance/ result improvement
Attending online courses and live tutorial/ chatting
Taking competitive exams/ tests
Preparing projects/ assignments/ reports
Providing online material to students
Ease of data collection
This study interviewed a sample of 52,000 internet users in 18 states and found that over 85 per cent of respondents believed that quality of internet impacted education processes. They rated ‘Ease of data collection’, ‘Preparing projects/ assignments/ reports’ and ‘Access to information & global databases’ as the most impacted aspects of education by the quality of internet service.
Another study conducted in US, as reported by Forbes, found four elements that make millennials thrive in a learning environment, which are- collaboration, feedback, technology and mentorship. All these factors are considered to be more readily available on internet than in traditional classrooms. Indian universities are also making some progress in this direction by making most of the information related to admissions, assignments and examinations available on their websites – however, most of them are laggards. India’s premiere University – Delhi University is still struggling to set up and offer online learning platforms even after a decade of efforts. Students can also access free study material and take free online classes for many courses. Other than the public institutions, many private players such as ‘Coursera’ and ‘edX’ are providing a number of courses from various universities across the world. Many of the courses offered by them are free and the rest cost an affordable fee.
Internet has revolutionised the way education is being imparted. Students nowadays want to attain skills by getting flexible, faster and affordable education. It also helps in reducing financial barriers to education as classroom education overtime has become very costly. This is more useful in the field of higher education as working professionals can easily take some time out of their busy schedule and take online classes anytime and anywhere. In many cases, students are also offered the flexibility to take exams whenever they want. In short, education through internet provides independence and flexibility to people in achieving desired knowledge and skills and promotes a healthy learning environment.
To reap full benefits of expanding education, the internet infrastructure needs to be improved in India. Telcos claim $G technology with promises 100 mbps speeds, while the actual average speeds are below 10 mbps, ‘Digital India’ still seems to be just a dream. For a positive impact on education, internet speeds must cross the 4G threshold of 40 mbps- which is good for audio-visual content and streaming. Recently, Consumer VOICE started a petition calling upon Trai and Union ministry of Telecommunications to take steps to ensure minimum levels of internet speeds by regulation, which has been signed by over 150K consumers as of April 2018.
(Disha Negi is senior research fellow, Paramjeet Singh is director-research and Prof. Sri Ram Khanna is principal researcher and managing editor of Consumer VOICE)