Upload in Progress — India’s Big Shift Towards Tech Education

Picture of Indian school kids working on a robot
Indian school kids working on a small robot

You may recall a blog I wrote back in November about the role of auditing in climate action. In that blog, I referenced an illuminating 2019 visit to EY’s Trivandrum office, where I was lucky enough to gain key insights into the way our friends and colleagues in India tick.

Today I’d like to focus on one striking observation that I made during my time on the subcontinent: India has updated its primary and secondary education systems to focus more on technology and innovation than the UK. And that was pre-pandemic, so this emphasis is now even stronger.

I had an enriching chat about this with my friend and colleague, Ram Sarvepalli, whose grandfather was actually the education minister to introduce free schooling across India — quite the claim to fame! India’s changing tech education landscape has also caught his attention.

Why India is updating its education system

So that we, in the UK, might learn a thing or two from the Indian experience, I looked into the reasons underpinning such a marked shift towards tech and innovation. Some years ago, India faced a severe learning crisis, with a high number of children living without fundamental skills. For example, 50% were unable to read at a basic level at ten years old. The closure of thousands of schools across the country in the face of Covid won’t have done the figures any favours

However, at the same time, the world is in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (FIR), with new technologies changing the world at a pace faster than we’ve ever witnessed before. Leading on from the Third Industrial Revolution, during which British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee (who I proudly sit alongside in the BIMA Digital Hall of Fame) invented the World Wide Web, the FIR has seen groundbreaking advances in fields, including AI and biotech, which promise to reshape almost every sector globally.

Confronted by transformation on such a vast scale, India has seized the opportunity to overhaul its primary and secondary education systems to adequately prepare pupils for the future we’re moving towards rapidly. The pandemic has merely forced the government to push the ‘techification’ of its curricula even further up its priority list.

How the government is making changes

In response to “rapid changes in the knowledge landscape, with dramatic scientific and technological advances”, the Ministry of Human Resource Development created the National Education Policy 2020.

The NEP seeks to reform India’s education system by 2040 so that it is capable of creating “a skilled workforce, particularly involving mathematics, computer science, and data science” to tackle huge global challenges like “climate change, increasing pollution, and depleting natural resources”.

Expanding on previous efforts under Digital India, a flagship campaign that aims to “transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy”, the NEP will establish an autonomous body called the National Educational Technology Forum “to facilitate decision-making on the induction, deployment, and use of technology” by providing various stakeholders with “the latest knowledge and research, as well as the opportunity to consult and share best practices”.

As I said, India was already pivoting in this direction before the pandemic, with Digital India and a number of other initiatives improving access to devices and software, quality of connectivity, and so on. For this reason, the country is well-positioned to integrate technology into all levels of instruction and the classroom.

The NEP not only aims to focus curricula on tech, but also to ensure the increased use of ed-tech (a booming Indian market poised for growth worth billions between now and 2040) to change the way students learn and improve educational outcomes.

My one concern

I’m keeping a close eye on India as it implements the trailblazing NEP, mostly as a curious observer but partially as a technologist with one major concern. As I’ve explained before, technology tends to work best in partnership with people and organisations, so I’m really hoping the government doesn’t go too far by replacing teachers and schools with devices. That simply won’t work — tech is a tool, not a magic bullet!

Looking at the wording of the policy (sentences like “improving teaching, learning and evaluation processes” and “supporting teacher preparation and professional development”), I get the distinct impression there won’t be a problem. But time will tell!

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