“Smart Classes”

A Landmark Initiative Towards Equitable & Concept Based Education

Education is the most potent tool for social change. However, in order to acknowledge its significance it is necessary to incorporate changes in the methods of dissemination of knowledge and synchronise it with emerging trends in all spheres of life.

Globally, education has been improved drastically from teaching methods to changing the environment, making it more susceptible to student learning, and meeting the educational, physical and emotional needs of students. Technology has been a big factor in this process. In the modern era there is hardly any field of life can keep away from the mainstream technology.

Quality education is an essential requisite in today’s competitive environment. State of Jammu & Kashmir is literacy starved state and is far behind in literacy rate and provision of quality education compared to other states of India.

Introduction of CAL/Computer Aided Leading) or smart classes as a modernized method in J&K education is a landmark and revolutionary initiative by the State Govt. that aims to provide enriched and concept based quality education to students and minimise disparity between Private Institutions and Govt. based Schools. J&K became among the pioneer states that introduced ICT (Information Communication & Technology) enabled teaching-learning initiative in Govt. Schools.

ICT is a “diverse set of technological tools and resources used to communicate, and to create, disseminate, store, and manage information. “These technologies include computers, the Internet, broadcasting technologies radio & television and telephone communication. It is a tool that can be effectively utilised to enhance, improve and complement learning-skills already in use that is the conventional methods of pedagogy that have been used so long.

Government of India had assessed the importance of the ICT intervention in education as early as 1984-85 with the introduction of Computer Literacy and Studies in Schools (CLASS) as a joint venture of the Ministry of Human Resource Development in collaboration with the Department of Electronics, wherein 12000 secondary and senior schools were beneficiaries. This project was later on adopted as a centrally sponsored scheme during the 8th Five Year Plan (1993-1998) as SMART Schools up-to 2003.

In 2011 the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT) started to holistically change the educational environment of the country by an aggressive campaign to introduce ICT-enabled education in India. Presently, ICT in schools have been subsumed under RMSA to act as major catalyst to bridge digital divide amongst students of various socio-economic and geographic al barriers.

In our state was introduced in the name of programme named ‘Smart Classroom with Computer Lab’ (SCCL) in 2015 in joint collaboration of RMSA/SSA and NIELIT J&K beginning with 220 schools approved by Govt. of India in its First Phase. It comes with web-based MIS portal that facilitates the designated Nodal Officers of the schools to update the supply and installation of equipment in their schools. In Second Phase (2016) it came with 440 (ICT enabled) schools with 20 schools from each district across the state.

What is smart class-room?

Concept of Smart Classrooms was developed around the ideology that, in order for technology to become an integral part of our routine teaching and learning practices in schools, it needs to move right in to the classrooms where the students and teachers spend most of the time. This will not only disseminate knowledge, but change the way of learning ‘from Cramming (sheer memorising) to Understanding’.

A smart classroom is a classroom that has an instructor equipped with computer and audio-visual equipment, allowing the instructor to teach using a wide variety of media. With the aid of school curriculum, smart classes bring in technology right next to the blackboard for teachers in the classroom. This makes learning an enjoyable experience for the students while improving their overall academic performance in school.

Smart class has a unique delivery scheme wherein a knowledge center is created inside the school equipped with the entire library and digital content. These include DVD's, PPT's, 3D animated modules, videos and more, all displayed through a data projector. The knowledge center may be connected to the classroom through internet. The classrooms are also equipped with custom designed electronic interactive whiteboards, projection systems, PC's where teachers can also create their own modules and allow them to teach a chosen lesson in a class, frame by frame, with engaging and instructionally programmed set of visuals while retaining complete control on the pace of delivery.

Approaches and Advantages

The approach of smart class combines both traditional methods and technology based techniques that reshape education both inside and outside the classroom. It places the student at the center of the educational experience giving them an element of self-confidence to shape their inherent ideas and enhance analytical thinking.

According to William Glasser (a renowned social scientist and educationist) children only understand 10% of what is read but 80% of what is experienced. It can be improved by giving students the opportunities to work with or experience the reading passage. It’s our common experience too that without the images to create meaning in the words, children will not read and as goes a famous Chinese proverb “A picture is worth thousand words”. Smart Classrooms also incorporate concept of “Total Physical Interaction” wherein all the sensory faculties of the learner are activated and in the process of learning.

The initiative of Computer Aided Classrooms/Smart Classrooms overcome various problems of traditional teaching and learning like effective time management, unavailability of textbooks, unavailability of teachers, ancillary objects like (chalk, markers, erasers & learning charts) etc.

Under the patronage of MHRD and intervention National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT) all NCERT textbooks and most reference materials are available on various Govt. and Non-govt. educational resource websites in digital form (e-books) that can be utilized and read more effectively by the teachers and students respectively. Currently the e-contents are available in Hindi, English and Urdu. Moreover, since smart classes use interactive boards in which all necessary drawing wand writing tools are present, thus there is no need of ink based markers, chalks and erasers which are hazardous and pollutants as well.

Similarly, unavailability of teachers or instructors due to some unavoidable circumstances is catered by turning to alternative like online learning/conferencing or attending relevant lectures from the digital repository of school or state or national knowledge network, thus compensating student’s classwork without sacrificing their precious time.

In order to make and deliver customised lessons there is a provision of downloading and viewing free relevant digital content for teachers such as e-books, animations and videos, interactive virtual labs tool etc from many Govt. websites .These educational reservoirs showcase and disseminate all educational e-resources including textbooks, audio, video, periodicals and a variety of other print and non-print materials through website and mobile app. They address the dual challenge of reaching out to a diverse clientele and bridging the digital divide (geographical, socio-cultural and linguistic), offering comparable quality of e-contents and ensuring its free access at every time and every place.

JKKN (Jammu & Kashmir Knowledge Network) is state’s own initiative to connect school children of J&K to world of knowledge through internet and providing quality education to maximum no. of students possible including those at remote locations. The Program is designed to enrich young minds, grow new skills and prepare students to become active contributors in the community, innovators in their respective fields and future leaders.

Challenges and Sustainability

Although, there are a number of reasons that impedes optimisation of ICT resources in our schools, but a pre-requisite for spread and development of ICT tools in our state is a steady telecommunication network. Others factors like intrinsic infrastructure-related shortcomings such as small-size classrooms, non-availability of continuous electricity or sometimes even technicians for maintenance, poor organisations of resources, sub-standard quality of hardware, inappropriate software or insufficient time also retard progression of ICT and related technological assets.

Another most important area of concern is the mind-set of certain teachers that ICT implementation may reduce or altogether eliminate the role of teacher-educators in the classrooms by substitution through computers, thereby creating a resistance to the digital revolution in educational technology. Thus, beside an ethical/spiritual revamping of their roles, on a more pragmatic level, teachers should be competent enough and be confident to integrate ICT into existing curricula.

Finally, in order to ensure consistency and continuity of government initiatives like CALs/ICT projects, they need to be linked to a self-supportive mechanism, whereby the beneficiary institution is empowered through different indigenous as well as outside channels to ensure pursuance of the project with the help of other stake-holders so that the programmes do not face closure/cessation. Multiple financing channels should be worked out for contingency support.

In this regard, an important aspect is the sustained interests of all the stake-holders that go beyond finances, because in a turmoil ridden state like ours, drop-out rates in education are alarming. A sense of alignment with the project needs to be fostered all the stake-holders including students, guardians, teachers, local benefactors, funding agencies, political parties.

BY: Firdous Ahmad Ahangar.

Originally the Article first appeared on Daily English Newspaper. Rising Kashmir dated: 03/08/2017