education for all

Education for all: A virtual classroom

How much can technology aid in education? This is a question that has been regularly asked for the past many decades. But the context changes every few years with relation to what is the technology and what needs to be taught. When I was in school, technology was limited to scientific calculators and the first set of PCs. Computer education in school was mostly flowcharts on the notebook made in the presence of a PC. But that did work well and most of my classmates are doing well for themselves in the IT space.

Now, things are different. Everyone has access to a computer … or, I should say, a computing device. Millions of students now learn everything from alphabets to artificial intelligence on the smartphone everyday. They might be accessing knowledge via search, listening to classes on YouTube or just sharing notes with friends on WhatsApp. But technology is still not a formal part of how we teach.

Recently, Apple organised an event in Chicago where the tech giant launched a new iPad aimed at students and education. iPads have been a good tool for education since the time they were launched, so the new iPad was a bit of a marketing spin aimed at what could be the largest segment of users for the tablet format. Apple also lowered the price of these devices to make it more accessible. However, the interesting story here is the software behind it. Schools that adopt a device like the iPad can now push their entire course material on the cloud and push it down to the students. Even that is not really new, but now teachers can gauge the progress of students real time and have customised lessons and homework for those who are ahead or lagging behind.

Interestingly, some schools have started pushing their expertise in the form of course material for the rest of the world to use for free. A lot of these content could be accessed by students in schools that don’t have access to the best teachers or other resources. There is a lot of stuff happening in the app space, too. One example that comes to mind is Froggipedia by Ahmedabad-based Designmate. The app lets students practice dissection on a tablet without actually killing another amphibian. The app also brings in strong elements of augmented reality (AR), so that students can get close with a frog within their own surroundings.

AR is another feature that will aid education in a big way and it is a good thing that more and more devices are becoming capable of dabbling in AR. For instance, apps like GeoGebra AR make a subject like algebra much more accessible for students by bringing it to life in front of them. Then we also have Byju’s learning app that has taken high quality higher education to literally every smartphone screen across the country and is slowly replacing the tuition teacher for students in remote parts of India. Access to language education, for instance, has been democratised like never before with apps like Duolingo. You no longer need to spend a few years in China to learn Mandarin.

But where does all this lead to? We still don’t know how good, or bad, the generations of children who come out of digitally-enabled classrooms will be. One thing is sure, the digital natives learn differently, and quickly, when they get access to technology. I would not be surprised if, in a few years, we have to change conventional education’s streams because students are learning whatever interests them and not what they are supposed to. It is certainly going to be an education for all of us.

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