By Ananya S Guha
Technology dominates the teaching learning discourse today when it concerns people like me. I am a passionate advocate of technology for education because all education is mediated. In fact, in our generation in school we were always motivated to watch good literary or historical movies hoping that in the process it would add to our knowledge set apart from something called infirmation, which seems to be the catch word today. Knowledge for us was intrinsic in not only what we read but also what we heard or saw. The radio was another effective means of communication and an eye opener to what was happening in the world around us and in our surroundings. Surroundings and a response to it are very important for sharpening sensitivities and responding to things happening to us in a sentient manner. This should always be taken into account while preparing school curriculum or for that matter the syllabus in colleges. How and why does a child respond to surroundings? Is a child sensitive to his / her surroundings? In other words what do our surroundings constitute, and how do our surroundings impinge upon our day to day living and realities. For example, every year there are devastating floods in states like Assam, do school children feel for it or are they `taught`™ to respond to it in as sensitive and even emotional manner as possible? They must be made to think that children like them there peers are victims of the floods. Unless we sensitise children to some basic knowledge of life simply rote learning or text book learning is redundant and truly does not educate a person. After the post Godhra Riots followed the carnage in Gujarat. Did children feel for their counterparts there, or more significantly did teachers wonder as to what was happening to other children remoter from their immediate surroundings, in Gujarat? I am asking these questions because now I am deviating from the premise that technology mediated education can be successful only if it is human mediated. Technology is a means to an end and perhaps not an end in itself when it comes to education or is it? In other words, is technology, the internet or the radio and the television enough for learning? Who substitutes the teacher then? Or is the teacher the person who mediates on the internet for things like e-learning which seems to be getting more and more commodious or expansive. Many argue that the human factor or the teacher mediated ontology in education is its only face. In other words whatever modes of learning we might use today such as e-learning or mobile learning, podcasting or broadcasting we need close human interface in the form of the teacher friend philosopher or guide. We remember our best teachers with pride and nostalgia.
I am raising all these issues because I am come to a stage where I think education is at cross roads. There is so much talk of technology, smart classrooms, e-learning modules, video conferencing, the virtual classroom etc but who is the teacher? From which vantage point does the teacher operate? Is there a phenomenon called the invisibility of the teacher? Negroponte once made the prophetic remark that distance is dead. Yes distance is dead and the world is a global commuinity, there is cross border interaction in minutes if not seconds but where is the teacher. This is an identity discourse if not an identity crisis. In his writings Prof. Amartya Sen has mentioned again and again that the bane of the Indian education system is teacher absenteeism. What about the travails of such children? Or to extend it further what happens to street children, children who roam the streets of New Delhi selling newspapers? Does not then talk of technology and computer aided instruction become meaningless. In a country like India even a 70% literacy is not enough for the population to be educated or get the benefits of education. Many are aligning literacy with computer literacy. Fine, but how will we provide computers to all? Has the Right to Education been implemented in letter and spirit? Are the much vaunted mid day meals for school children actually going to them. One hears horrors stories, and I think one is better off for this as taking refuge in fiction is much more pleasant than taking refuge in hard gory facts and has a salutary effect however temporary or transient it might be. When I worked in the Indira Gandhi National Open University in its New Delhi campus we had to implement an EDUSAT programme for school children in Central India by which school lesssons were transmitted to the students and teachers via the television through a hub located at Jabalpur. I hardly got time to monitor these lessons, most of the time was spent on clearing insurance bills for the Receive Only Terminals (ROTs) which were consistently pilfered and stolen, and the school authorities refused to help saying that they were helpless! And mind you this was a Government of India, ISRO and IGNOU project! Where was the teacher; in this case, as these schools were plagued by Prof. Amartya Sen`™s ghost `“ teacher absenteeism, and where was technology then?
And then to those unfortunates in the age group of 6-14 was supposed to derive the benefits of free and compulsory education. A lot of noise has been made about common schools and neighbourhood schools. Unless these are implemented by the respective state governments and strictures given to the private schools this concept will only remain a ghostly myth. In Shillong where I live the problem of street children is becoming everyday an acute reality.
Can teaching be absolutely technology mediated?
And where is the teacher? Is he or she so invisible? And, for that matter where are the schools, let alone the computers Akash, or no Akash, OLPC or no OLPC?