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ICTs to bridge the digital divide in higher education institutions in India

06 January 2009

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The National Mission on Education through ICTs is a new scheme introduced by the Government as a major intervention to increase enrolment and ensure access and equity in Higher Education institutions across India.

New Delhi: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) recently approved a new centrally-sponsored scheme called the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

The scheme, submitted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), will leverage the potential of ICT, in providing high quality personalized and interactive knowledge modules over the internet for all the learners in higher education institutions in 'Any-time, Any-where mode'.

This is expected to be a major intervention in enhancing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education by 5 percentage points during the Eleventh Five Year Plan period and in ensuring access and equity in Higher Education, as also recommended by the Oversight Committee and the National Knowledge Commission (NKC).

The Mission has two major components viz.: (a) content generation and (b) connectivity along with provision for access devices for institutions and learners.

An official from the HRD Ministry said, "The scheme seeks to bridge the digital divide i.e. the gap in the skills to use computing devices, for the purpose of teaching and learning among urban and rural teachers in the Higher Education domain, and empower those, who have hitherto remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy."

"It plans to focus on appropriate pedagogy for e-learning, providing facility of performing experiments through virtual laboratories, on-line testing and certification, on-line availability of teachers to guide and mentor learners, utilization of available Education Satellite (EduSAT) and Direct to Home (DTH) platform, training and empowerment of teachers to effectively use new methods of teaching and learning, etc.," he added.

The Mission will work in close cooperation and collaboration with other missions such as the National Translation Mission, Vocational Education Mission, National Knowledge Network and Scheme of ICT @ Schools etc., to avoid any duplication and attain synergy.

It would operate through inter-departmental and multi-disciplinary approach and create high quality e-content for the target groups.

On the other, it would also simultaneously extend computer infrastructure and connectivity to over 18000 colleges in the country including each of the departments of 419 universities / deemed universities and institutions of national importance on a single point rental basis through the Department of Telecommunications (DOT), in a manner that would permit their seamless interaction with a integrated National Knowledge Network.

The advent of very low-cost-low-power consuming access-cum-computing devices, would further enhance the reach of the network.
The peer group assisted content development would utilize the Wikipedia type of collaborative platform under the supervision of a content advisory committee responsible for vetting the content. Interactivity and problem solving approach would be addressed through "Talk to a Teacher" segment.

The Mission would also have a component of Teacher Empowerment through proper training and digital literacy of teachers to be able to use the e-contents. Renowned institutions would anchor various activities in their areas of excellence.

It seeks to enhance the standards of education, in Government as well as in private colleges. It will also cater to content for the higher education sector. National Programme of Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) Phase II and III will be a part of the generation activity.

The Mission would have a three tier committee system to monitor and guide its functioning. The apex National Committee would be chaired by the Minister of Human Resource Development.

It would decide on all policy and administrative issues and prescribe guidelines for the functioning of the other two sets of Committees. The 'Empowered Committee of Experts' (henceforth called as 'Project Approval Board') would be sanctioning individual projects and monitoring the overall progress through various peer reviews and concurrent evaluation.

The Ministry of HRD would enter into MoUs with State Governments for proper monitoring of the Scheme in their State and contribute 50 pc of the cost of hardware and 25 pc of the cost of connectivity in respect of the educational institutions maintained or substantially funded by it.

A similar MoU would also be entered into with Mentor institutions for private/self-financing colleges/institutions/universities for ensuring that the beneficiary institutions contribute 50 pc of the cost of hardware and 25 pc of the cost of connectivity and maintain and sustain the facility created under the Scheme after expire of 5 years.

"The projected results of the scheme would be to enhance access to quality education, making available knowledge modules in cyber space and optimal utilization of available resources by using of ICT for educating the masses, especially those inhabiting in remote areas and places at disadvantage", the official further said.

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