There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the use of computers and Internet in school education, more specifically in the area of teaching/ learning processes. Several educators have addressed issues such as using the Net in preparing projects by students, quick and easy access of resource materials by teachers, dangers of easy access of undesirable materials by students, and so on. Others educators have predicted a revolution in the whole teaching/learning process due to the computer and Internet. Does Information technology indeed herald such a learning revolution?
I would particularly like to dwell on this second question, namely the possible revolution in the learning process. It is assumed that the easy availability of educational material on CD-ROMs and on the Net makes the student less dependent on the teacher, making the teacher more a facilitator and less an information dispenser. It is felt that information technology can provide each student the opportunity to have a self-paced programme of learning and take tests (probably on-line) whenever she is ready for them. The material is envisaged typically in the form of a hypertext along with animated drawings/pictures and sound, making it attractive to the student. All this is based on the assumption that such material could be readily made available to the student.
A closer look at this optimistic scenario shows quickly that such an assumption is not justified under the present circumstances, for two reasons. Firstly, we seem to confuse the two issues involved, namely the availability of high-quality materials and the medium in which these materials are made available. When we talk of the Internet revolutionising the learning process, we don’t seem to realise that it is the availability of highly flexible, well-structured materials that is far more important than the mode of delivery of such materials. For example, the highly successful rural education programme at Rishi Valley, which has taken a radically different approach to primary education, has its educational materials on a simple set of cards.
Our experience at the Rural Education Centre shows that preparation of such materials requires a very deep understanding of the impediments to the process of learning and also the mechanisms by which children learn. Such an understanding necessitates a close, unhurried, unbiased examination of the teaching/learning process over a period of several years. The next stage, namely the development and testing of relevant materials, is also a long drawn-out process. Producing such materials at higher levels of learning is even more daunting, necessitating the participation of a large group of talented and creative teachers over a long period of time. Therefore, it is important that we address this issue rather than hurry to place the same old material on the Net – like old wine in a new bottle. After all, you can’t download creative thinking from the Net!
The second reason for the predicted revolution probably not taking place is that the current thinking of most parents, educators and planners is exactly in the opposite direction. Education is increasingly driven by fierce competition for limited resources and avenues, and by the job markets. There seems to be little room for exploration and creative thought. Also, the increasing pace of change, doubling of computer speeds every year and hence of the Net (Moore’s law) has its flip side. Namely, the expectation that human beings too should perform similarly. Therefore, children are required to learn progressively larger amounts of curriculum at a progressively younger age. All this has put tremendous burden on children, especially in this country. It is most likely that in such an environment, educators would tend to use the new medium simply to serve the increased demands, for example in coaching students better and at a lower cost for competitive exams, rather than in radically different ways. The latter requires, not simply an individualised effort, but a collective will and effort.
Thus the anticipated ‘learning revolution’ of the ‘virtual classroom’ may just turn out to be a chimera – at least for the foreseeable future.