National Education Policy: Re-imagining India’s Thrust On Digital

After much delay, the new National Education Policy is finally in the public domain. The hundreds-of-pages-worth document aims to reshape the education landscape in India, and will set the agenda for the years and decades to come.

Education is increasingly going the digital way. But governments often tend to lag behind in their regulatory efforts. Issues arise when massive monopolies establish themselves in the digital space, making profits off the customers’ data.

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As education too goes digital, it is essential that governments lead and govern the digital education space. Too often politicians are fascinated by new technologies and shiny gadgets without understanding the ecosystem implications that such developments entail. The argument here is not for an over-regulation or for stifling innovation, but the opposite – an ecosystem that allows creative innovation and experimentation by a large number of interested and motivated collaborators necessarily needs to be open and free.

In the software realm, ‘open and free’ means to be open-source (so that everyone can see and edit the underlying code), and free from proprietary, closed, non-transparent and profit-oriented ‘solutions’.

Instead, a free and open-source software ecosystem must be fostered. Ultimately, students could write code for their own classrooms.

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India Can Champion The Cause Of An Innovative, Open & Free Software Ecosystem

India can become the global champion for such a creative, innovative, free and open software ecosystem. The Indian education space is huge. It is for this reason that profit-oriented, multinational technology giants have started to target India’s children. This profit is often channeled to shareholders in Western countries who generate their wealth from Indian children (and their parents).

The dangers of such an unregulated ‘EdTech’ market has been illustrated recently.

The world’s biggest education company, Pearson, has “conducted a ‘social-psychological’ experiment on thousands of college students in the United States — without asking for permission” as per The Washington Post. If we talk about schools as safe places, this must include safety in the digital space as well. This is best achieved if software is free and open-source and thus open to inspection.

What We Need Is Smart Regulation

We need a grown-up attitude towards technology. Yes, EdTech is fascinating. But it is not a toy. It has become a multi-billion dollar market that threatens the notion of education as a public good. But it does not need to be this way.

By enacting smart regulation, we can foster creativity, collaboration and safety for our children. The draft of the National Education Policy has loopholes that can be fixed. It states that “preferably” FOSSEE (Free/Libre and Open Source Software in Education) software should be used. This “preferably” should be changed to “only”.

What Smart Regulation Can Lead To

Such a change would give a clear signal to profit-oriented EdTech companies: you cannot make money off our children. If you want to enter the classroom, you must comply with our rules of transparency, freedom and education as a public good.

We have great IT institutions in our country. FOSSEE already has many esteemed institutes such as IIT-Bombay and IIT-Kharagpur as their partners. This list can be extended. Talented Indian youth can join this project of digital nation-building. India can become the champion of a new public good: software for education.

Propelling India Into the World

If India goes ahead with this bold step and stands up to multi-billion, multi-national companies, it would be a strong signal that India is confident and secure in its own strength. It would establish India as the technological frontier for the public good of the 21st century. Other countries would ultimately follow suit.

The world will be inspired by India’s leadership in information technology and will acknowledge this. The US and other Western countries who naively failed to properly regulate Silicon Valley, might ultimately join us on this journey towards a new common resource that allows collaboration and the exchange of ideas. This amendment would translate the idea of India into the digital age.

(Rakesh Kumar Rajak is a master’s graduate in social work from the Delhi University and is project manager at the Bihar Education Policy Center. He tweets @mannu_rakesh. Martin Haus is a master’s student at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and an advisory board member at the Bihar Education Policy Center. He tweets @MartinHaus93. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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