TBY talks to Ramesh Pokhriyal, Minister of Education of India, on reform of the system, adopting new technologies in the classroom, and the teaching of coding to young students.

India passed its ambitious and wide-ranging education reform in July 2020. What is your vision for the role of technology for this reform, both in implementing NEP and as a focus of NEP itself?

Technology has become an integral part of the Ministry of Education. With each passing day, the scope of technology is set to widen like never before. With regard to NEP 2020, the Education Ministry embarked on a digital consultative process throughout the country, with over INR2.75 lakh direct consultations, both online and offline. As proposed in NEP, technology will play an important role in education processes and outcomes. An autonomous body, the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), will be created to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration, and so on, both for school and higher education. Furthermore, a rich variety of educational software will be developed and made available for students and teachers at all levels. All such software will be available in all major Indian languages and will be accessible to a wide range of users including students in remote areas and Divyang students. NEP also recommends key initiatives such as conducting pilot studies for online education; the creation of open, interoperable, and adaptable public digital infrastructure; a concentrated focus on content creation, a digital repository, and dissemination; providing training and incentives for teachers; and online assessment and examinations, among others. Existing platforms and ongoing ICT-based educational initiatives such as SWAYAM, Diksha, and the National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) will be optimized and expanded. The future of education is a blended mode of education. The ministry has already started various initiatives in the same vein, be it PRAGYATA guidelines, Learning Enhancement Guidelines, or the education learning apps as mentioned above.

What is your ministry's strategy to further adopt the various available education technologies during COVID-19?

The unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has set off an accelerated move toward online teaching that may lead to a shift away from the traditional textbook-based classroom. Digital learning tools and technology have helped us enrich the teaching-learning process. Digitalization in the education industry has changed the learning and teaching process to a great extent. The school closures necessitated the incorporation of multi-modal methods of teaching and learning to ensure no child is denied of education. In view of AtmaNirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India), the policy emphasizes leveraging the advantages of technology to meet current and future challenges in providing equitable and quality education. Accordingly, the ministry will further augment initiatives like DIKSHA (One nation, one digital platform), Swayam Prabha (One class, one channel), online education, and others under the E-Vidya initiative of Atmnirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

How would you describe the current ecosystem for Indian start-ups in the edtech sector and the level of communication/collaboration between the private edtech sector and the relevant public authorities?

NEP proposes major transformation for digital education and supports edtech. NEP proposes the formation of an autonomous body, the National Educational Technology Forum (NETF), to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration, and so on, both for school and higher education. The aim of NETF is to facilitate decision making on the induction, deployment, and use of technology by providing to the leadership of education institutions, state, and central governments, and other stakeholders the latest knowledge and research as well as the opportunity to consult and share best practices. In a recent development, CBSE Skill Education and Training partnered with Google to enable 1 million teachers in 22,000 schools to deliver a blended learning experience, namely a combination of online learning and classroom approach. CBSE also partnered with Facebook to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and Augmented Reality (AR) for students and educators across India. To make e-learning more constructive, NCERT and Rotary India also digitally signed an MoU for e-learning content telecast for class 1-12 overall NCERT TV channels. In other initiatives, the government of India also launched a national program VidyaDaan 2.0 to invite e-learning content contributions. Steps have been undertaken to ensure quality, accessible, and inclusive education for all. This is just the start; India will definitely establish itself as a knowledge superpower.

The Ministry of Education is also administering the new Academic Bank of Credit, which, among many other things, should greatly enhance the access and viability of online education. What is your outlook on the long-term impact of the ABC?

During COVID-19, forecasting the needs of the future, we have already shifted to enable massive open online course (MOOC) of SWAYAM for credit transfers while ensuring the three cardinal principles of the NEP—access, equity, and quality. The courses delivered through SWAYAM are interactive, prepared by more than 1,000 specially chosen faculty and teachers in the country and are accessible to any learner free of cost. Upon successful completion, the grades secured in this proctored examination can be transferred to the students' academic record from the host institute. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has issued UGC Regulation 2016 advising universities to identify courses where credits can be transferred to the academic records of students for courses done on SWAYAM. The step is in line with the recommendation of NEP to establish an academic bank of credit (ABC) to digitally accumulate the academic credits earned from various recognised HEIs so that degrees from an HEI can be awarded taking into account the credits earned.

Starting from Class 6, coding as a subject has been added to the national curriculum. What impact do you foresee this having for India's human capital in tech and general competitiveness in the 21st century global economy?

As mentioned in NEP, math and mathematical thinking will be extremely important for India's future and its leadership role in the numerous upcoming fields and professions that will involve AI, machine learning, data science, and so on. Thus, math and computational thinking will be given increased emphasis throughout the school years, starting with the foundational stage, through a variety of innovative methods, including the regular use of puzzles and games that make mathematical thinking more enjoyable and engaging. Thereby, activities involving coding will be introduced in the middle stage, upskilling students as per the needs and demands of the 21st century.