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E-learning in India: The electronic way to learning
India is embracing e-learning in a big way. E-learning has several advantages. However, one of the problems with e-learning in India is the lack of course content. Good progress is being shown by the government and industry. More can be done
INDIA IS embracing e-learning in a big way. India has learned lessons from the success of the e-way in the West and today the grim educational picture is being replaced by e-governance’s-classroom, e-tutorials. It is a matter of pride for the country in general and agencies in particular for the popularisation of the mission mode programmes on e-governance.

The major advantage of e-learning is that it is self-paced and learning is done at the learner’s pace. The content can be repeated until the trainee understands it. E learning is interactive too. With the growth of e-learning, more and more pupils will opt for it, as there would be no worry that the maths teacher will beat them for a sum gone wrong. Also, there will also be no fear of coming late to class and then standing outside the classroom waiting for permission to enter.

More and more working professionals would be interested in learning the e-way because of flexibility that e-learning offers. E-learning will soon become a great tool to enhance qualifications and getting promotions in the job market. So, to sum up, the future of e-learning is bright.

However, one of the problems with e-learning in India is the lack of course content, especially outside the mainstream focus areas  of IT education, English-language content and tutorial-like courses. There will be high demand for people who can develop multi-lingual courseware that addresses various topics. Statistics reveal that one of the top 10 positions among Global 1000 companies of the future will be that of an online learning designer.

However, there is significant knowledge retention. High quality e-learning solutions are being developed in India with the right technology and industry support in sectors as distinct as steel, IT, automobiles, cement and telecom. Industry watchers estimate that because of its advantages, India is bound to grow in stature as the hub for e-learning programmes.

Interestingly, many companies are booming up here in India for providing e-classes. Places like Mumbai and Bangalore are becoming prominent centres for providing e-tutorials. It's booming but the big question is what is the future of e-learning? Everyone be it educators, parents or students has this question in mind but no one is able to answer. To check it out, its imperative to look to the trends concerned with e-learning, which are already taking control in our world.

It seems imperative that e-learning would coexist with other technologies and ways of acquiring knowledge. And as soon as low cost PCs would be made available and broadband will penetrate deeper, particularly in rural areas, there are chances that e-learning will strengthen.

Over the past five years, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has been busy attaining the goal of making education accessible to every child, particularly among the marginalised sections in the rural areas. Also addressing the gap that exists between the market demands and the available skill sets among professionals through the participation of private sector in the curriculum framework.

Furthermore, the government is roping in as many colleges as possible under the ambit of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to upgrade their quality. The UGC and AICTE are also pursuing various measures to lure fresh graduates into research and teaching professions.

The government launched the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (ICT). An amount of Rs 4612 crore is being incurred during the 11th Five Year Plan for the scheme. There was a budget provision of Rs 502 crore for the financial year 2008-09.

However, the 11th Five-Year Plan has kept a target of raising the gross enrollment ratio to 15 per cent by the end of the plan year. This is where ICT steps in. Integration of ICT in education will give an impetus to our efforts to attain our target of increasing our gross enrollment ratio by widening the reach of education to the remote and marginalised areas of our country. The role of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) systems, which have accepted and integrated ICT in their functioning and outreach, particularly finds mention here.

In 2002, deliberations of various committees were held that led to the setting up of the UGC-INFONET towards the end of 2004. UGC also joined this crusade of introducing e-learning. Wholly funded by UGC, UGC-INFONET provides electronic access to scholarly literature available over the Internet in all areas of learning to the university sector in India.

Yet another project to provide web based training is the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), which is being funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD.) This was first conceived in 1999, to pave the way for introducing multimedia and web technology to enhance learning of basic science and engineering concepts, was launched in September 2006.

Significant infrastructure has been set up for production of video-based teaching material by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), the Bangalore based Indian Institutes of Sciences (IISc) and Technical Teacher Training Institutes (TTTI.) Gyan Darshan, which was launched on January 26, 2000, as an exclusive higher education TV channel to provide quality distance education by IGNOU, can be considered as an effective effort in India.

At the institutional level many institutes, mainly private as of now, have entered into online distance education and the much talked about NIIT Varsity offers training to 500,000 students annually across 33 countries. One of the world's leading management schools, the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta (IIM-C), amongst others, entered into a strategic alliance with NIIT, to offer executive development programmes through virtual classrooms.

Researchers, academics, teachers, and students worldwide are excitedly embracing blogs (web logs.) Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu, a state in South India played host to a bloggers' conference held at the TIDEL Park. CDAC and IGNOU are two of India's most esteemed organizations in their respective fields, which have held conferences in the field of e-learning every year.

It is very difficult for a person of my stature to issue a declaration on the issue but I suggest that higher educational institutions in India, which plan to venture into e-learning should take a lesson from this and must first follow the education and communication strategy of organisational change where the stakeholders should be informed as to how the change will affect them.

The government needs to stimulate a learning culture and e-learning must become a policy issue. Government must recognise the e-learning industry as a separate forum and not treat it as part of the IT enabled services (ITeS) or a sub sector of the IT industry.

(Sadaket Malik is visiting research fellow of University of Philippines and is writing about current educational policy parameters in India.)

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