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Digital University

  • 10 Feb 2022
  • 7 min read

This editorial is based on “How A Digital University Can Transform India’s Education System” which was published in Hindustan Times on 10/02/2022. It talks about the arguments in favour and against the establishment of a digital university.

For Prelims: National Education Policy 2020, PM e-Vidya Scheme, SWAYAM, SWAYAM-Prabha, National Digital Library.

For Mains: Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Learning, Ensuring Universal Access to Digital Learning.

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly affected the education sector. But even before the pandemic, the lack of an adequate number of universities led to limited options for aspiring students. This created a need to reform the way in which we impart higher education.

The surge of digital technologies provided a whole new view to imagine teaching-learning methods, university governance systems, higher education goals, and how future universities are perceived by employers.

The Budget 2022-23 announced the establishment of a digital university. This is a decision of great significance as a digital university will provide better access to high-quality higher education in multiple languages and also aligns with the vision laid out in the National Education Policy, 2020.

The Prospect of Digital University in India

What has been Proposed regarding Digital Universities?

  • The central government will set up a digital university to impart “world-class quality education” and promote online learning in different Indian languages.
  • To address “learning loss” due to school closures, the government will also expand the ‘One Class One TV Channel’ initiative under the PM e-Vidya scheme.
  • The proposed digital university and the expanded TV education programme will lead to a modern, pioneering and practical blueprint for steering India in the Amrit Kaal.

What are the Arguments in Favour?

  • Inefficiency of the Current Model of Learning: There is an increasing recognition that the current university model is rigid and that traditional universities have failed to customise education to take care of needs, interests, financial capabilities, and diverse cognitive abilities of students.
    • Thus, the educators and policymakers feel the need to create flexible educational systems to provide customised high-quality “anytime/anywhere” education.
  • Economic Advantage: Such pre-packaged education by academics would help in achieving the economies of scale required in India.
  • Being Updated with Technology: With emerging technologies driving information economies, it also becomes necessary for those employed to acquire new skills relevant to their changing roles. The current model is of little help in this context.
  • Contributing in Scientific Advancements: Since the digital university will be built on a networked hub-spoke model, it can develop cutting-edge information and communications technology platforms and digital content, using emerging technologies such as AI, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, and blockchain.

What are the Arguments Against Digital Universities?

  • Online learning via digital universities raises questions about how far will online education help support greater access to and success in higher education among those who are on the margins.
  • Online teaching should not be confused with meaningful education. It may provide some engagement when schools are closed, but is pedagogically inferior to in-person learning within the learning community of the classroom and the school.
  • The first-generation aspirants have no cultural capital to bank on while struggling their way through college.
    • These students are also from the other side of the digital divide which makes them vulnerable to a double disadvantage if digital modes become the mainstay of education.
  • Digital learning is further associated with a plethora of socio-economic problems ranging from intermittent Internet connectivity and frequent power cuts to financial constraints in procuring a high-speed Internet connection and limited access to digital literacy and devices among college goers in the country.

What is the Way Forward?

  • Online and Offline Learning to Complement Each Other: If universities have to remain relevant for students, they need to recalibrate their functioning to resonate with the priorities of their non-working and working students.
    • While digital forms of learning have the potential to enable students to pursue independent learning, conventional and digital forms of education should not be considered mutually exclusive.
    • Online learning needs to be understood as one strand in a complex tapestry of curricular communication that may still assign an important central role to direct human engagement and social learning.
  • Opportunities Presented by Digital Universities: The digital university can integrate all the components of the learning value chain, from the admission process to providing learning material in the digital format, online interactions, continuous evaluations, and awarding of degrees.
  • Digital Hub for Education: The digital university can integrate the existing capabilities such as SWAYAM, SWAYAM-Prabha, ePG-Pathshala, eGyanKosh, National Digital Library, and Virtual Labs into one organic entity.
    • This hub can then collaborate with the best public higher educational institutes, such as the IITs, IIMs and central universities to provide an affordable world-class teaching-learning ecosystem.
  • Supporting the First-Generation Aspirants: The first generation aspirants need to be provided consistent hand-holding and backstopping from teachers and peers, otherwise they will tend to remain on the margins and eventually drop out or fail.
    • It is therefore necessary to think deeply and introduce effective measures by which digital education, even if it becomes a mainstay, does more benefit to these students rather than isolating them from rest of the tech-savvy generation students.

Drishti Mains Question

Discuss the opportunities offered by the establishment of a digital university, especially when the covid-19 pandemic has disturbed the functioning of the whole education system.

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