India has been an epicenter of academic excellence since time immemorial. Our scriptures and manuscripts indicate that the pedagogical evolution started back thousands of years back before the BC. Scholars from far flung areas including Far East and European countries used to come to India, that time known as Bharat, for advanced studies. India has achieved many feats to its name – for example, Sushruta is known as the father of medicine as per Indian believes, similarly, Pāṇini is considered as the father of linguistics and Aryabhata was the mathematician-astronomers who spoke about relativity of motion at that time.
The system has gone from using palm leaves along with quill and natural colour as education material to use of papers to use of computers in institutes to whiteboards and computer aided education. This system, which we call ‘gurukul’ in the old times has embraced new ways of imparting education.
So, the country has always adapted to industry evolutions. During the advents of paper, the country adopted paper and when computer got introduced, the institutes adopted computers and computer – aided education sporadically. But now since we are encountering with a weird situation of Covid 19 pandemic, where students are not allowed to attend classes and access study materials, we have to do something about it.
Indian has the largest students head count in the world as it touches 315 million in 2019 –approximately 75 million more than that of China. The country has only 8 to 9 lakh teachers compared China’ 15 million teachers. It makes completely disproportionate in terms of number of students therefore one can well imagine the quality of education in many of the institutes. Although India’s spend on education is higher than China which is 4.6% of its total GDP in India whereas for China it is 4% of GDP for 7 consecutive years. Mind it: China’s GDP is US$ 14.3 trillion last year compared to India’s US$2.94 trillion in the same year. So, it means spend on education in China is almost 5 times compared to India.
With one of the lowest ratios of teachers against the students how can there be quality education. This visible gap can never be bridged anytime soon. It requires a concerted effort around the education mechanism and investment from the government.
In this situation, Industry 4.0 offers a nice opportunity to bridge the gap. Specially in this situation of Covid 19, Industry 4.0 can make inroads into education sector without much of resistance from various socio-political think tanks.
Today, every household has access to smart phones and many urban and sub-urban households have laptops too. What the institutes should do is that they enable the teachers and students with e-learning and collaboration platform. Many schools have of course started this in urban areas ever since the lockdown happened in India. Now the onus is on government that they step up the initiative in other areas – specially in government schools, which happen to enrol maximum students in rural areas and urban areas.
What other aspect Industry 4.0 advocates is integration of bigdata into the system so that the system can churn students’ profiles and make the education more personalised than generic. The purpose of Industry 4.0 is to bring optimise the education system and harness the individual capabilities because every student cannot become a doctor or engineer or a coder. If a student good in biology is put in an engineering class or becomes an engineer, he will never be a good engineer. We must have watched Amir Khan starrer blockbuster movie 3 Idiots. The message of the movie is that the parents should make kids free to choose or pursue their own education and career. So bigdata and analytics can exactly do that. It will bring out the innate quality of the students and push them to pursue that education, which he/ she will enjoy. Similarly, AR & VR can open up new vistas of pedagogical possibilities.
The other tenet of Industry 4.0 in education is understanding students’ behaviour. It means tracking students’ activities and body language. With the help of health bands integrated with AI at the backend, the system can monitor what is the mood of the students. Is he exhausted or unwell? Of course, there is a lot of security challenges and privacy aspect into it. By integrating tracking device, one penetrating one’s privacy but then there has to be a process and confidentiality.
The students can access the whole world of information in google and other rouses of repositories apart from their own library. Although the traditional libraries would become e-libraries.
Imagine the students who are deprived of accessing study materials properly, how beneficial will they be. It would truly achieve the democratic principle of ‘right to education for all’.
Of course, there is a challenge of conducting practical classes and tests, but yes, these can happen in physical environment. All the engineering and medical classes, which are R&D intensive will have a different level of Industry 4.0. They can have hybrid classrooms – meaning computed aided classrooms, which would be blend of digital and physical classrooms. There are many western countries which are experimenting with robotic teachers to take classes. These days robotic technology is coming with huge AI and Cognitive technology, which are far better than the physical teachers. I am not of opinion that robots would replace the teachers, but they can certainly complement teachers. This can also impel our teachers to push their capabilities and expand their horizon of knowledge, so they become more compelling for the students.
On our way to making the education sector digitised, there are certain small challenges. First and foremost: the devices for accessing content – be it laptop or smartphones, needs to be affordable, as in case of laptops or e-books, the pricing is still at a higher side compared to our average per capita income.
Secondly, quality internet connectivity. India may be the second largest consumer of smart phones; as the data suggests, 158 million units of smart phones were shipped to India in 2019, yet due to the poor data quality the output of the devices certainly gets contracted. Data quality in case of e-education is much more important than anything else. The audio-visual materials broadcasted over internet and collaboration among the students and teachers needs to offer live classroom experience. Therefore, the Telcom service providers need to step up in providing quality service. At the same time government needs to expand its broadband connectivity beyond the sub-urban areas. Government plans to take internet to rural households need to execute on a war footing.
On the other hand, India’s television penetration is nearly 650 million in 2019 against the population of 1.35 billion. This network can be integrated to the smart learning mechanism through some VSAT or other technology. Of course, 5G is just around the corner, once the technology comes in full capacity, it can be a stimulus to the e-learning.
Industry 4.0 in education is a viable project for the country looking at the present context. Not only would it improve quality of education but also help improve our environment by not producing paper -based study materials and documentations. At the same time, the overall cost of accessing good education would be minimized. So be ready for e-lerning or digital learning or distance learning, which will become new normal.