Dr. Abhay Jere is the Chief Innovation Officer, Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India. Before joining MHRD, Dr. Jere was Chief Scientist- Life Sciences and R&D Head for Persistent Systems Ltd. As Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Jere is responsible for promoting all innovation related initiatives in higher education institutions. He is also the brain and driving force behind MHRD’s Smart India Hackathon initiative which is now recognized as the world's biggest open innovation model with participation from thousands of education institutions, lakhs of students and hundreds of industries.Dr. Jere is instrumental in conceptualizing the first of its kind Atal Innovation Ranking framework (ARIIA) for ranking all education institutions on innovation achievements. Through MHRD, Dr. Jere has now established Institution's Innovation Councils (IIC) across 1000 institutions to facilitate creation of local innovation ecosystems in these institutions.Under guidance of Dr. Jere, MHRD is conceptualizing Student’s Startup policy, which will now allow students to start their own start-ups while studying. Recently, he was also instrumental in conceiving a very unique MBA program in ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ announced by All India Council for Technical education (AICTE).Dr. Jere is committed to popularizing the need for innovation and entrepreneurship amongst Indians, hence he routinely writes columns in renowned English and vernacular newspapers. He has also conceptualized ‘India First Leadership Talk Series’, which is telecasted on Lok Sabha TV.
Question:Currently things are changing, right from the way we work, how we learn, how we conduct things. Is this going to change the face of education in the long run?
It is certainly going to change the face of education. As demonetization gave a big push to digital economy similarly the COVID crisis is going to change the way education is done in India. Now large no. of schools and colleges will move to digital platforms. For example- my son’s school has started using Zoom and WebEx to continue with the classes, so this tectonic shift has started to happen and will continue to happen. One thing is for sure, COVID crisis has given huge impetus to adopting technology in Education. Another thing that is going to happen is this will give big push to edtech startups which are offering solutions based on personalized/ adaptive learning. These companies are going to be far more relevant in the post COVID world. We; MHRD and AICTE were very happy with some of the edtech products so we decided to partner with them. Three months back we launched a very unique initiative called NEAT scheme (National Educational Alliance for Technology)- we received multiple applications from different edtech companies- we screened the best ones, told them that we shall help them promote, and the company will have to give us 25% of the business made by government’s efforts. Then we shall distribute these licenses in the lower socio strata of the country and help technology reach the grassroot level. This will help students in remote areas get access to the best of edtech products free of cost.
With this initiative, we are getting huge traction; many companies are offering their products for free. Currently we have more than 70000 registrations for such edtech products.
Question:A Harvard Study suggests that we might have to follow Social Distancing on and off until 2022, which means coming back to traditional mode of education might take a while, are we technology and mindset wise ready to go with online education?
What I have realized is that youngsters can adapt to situations very fast, so it won’t be difficult for the digital natives, yes some faculty members might have a problem- MHRD and AICTE; we have taken notice of that, and we shall impart training in that direction. But one thing is sure that online education cannot replace one on one classroom education. Although digital platforms are important and will have their relevance, replacing it with classroom experience is not happening anytime soon. Students should come to the campus, learn, hangout – that is equally important.
As you rightly said, Social distancing norms will have to be followed atleast till end of 2020. What Harvard says , I don’t really know, also I am not sure if that would be applicable for India, let us give sometime for things to evolve. Blended learning is one of the aspects, it has started to happen. I don’t think any University or College is planning to go fully digital- they have adopted blended learning and that will be the way forward. However, now scheduling of things will be different- If we have a class of 60 students currently, we might have to reduce it to 20!
Question:The universities world over are running their education with ease since they had accepted online education as a concept long back. What was holding us from formalising online mode of education for so long ?Where was the bottleneck?
Yes I agree that we took sometime, but if you see, Doordarshan has 32 channels dedicated to education, so we have evolved. Large number of students who were preparing for JEE and NEET used these channels to learn. Then we had SWAYAM, one of the biggest MOOC platforms, it was being used by 1.3 crore student even before the COVID crisis- so SWAYAM was evolving.
But I will agree with you that large number of colleges or higher education institutions were not aggressively promoting these edtech products. There were multiple reasons to it- first, many of those products are expensive- Technical education is costly and adding edtech makes it costlier! Second, large numbers of professors were apprehensive towards these products- they felt that their relevance would get reduced, if students move to edtech products.
Now this crisis has forced everyone to adopt technology, I am sure we will see a rise in adoption very soon.
Question:How are we planning to reskill the teachers for this shift in mode of education?
We are currently having multiple schemes, and as you rightly pointed out, teachers sometimes can end up being the weakest link in the entire education sector. We have five meters for training the faculty members, there are many training courses that MHRD and AICTE are initiating to train teachers.The training will ensure that the right kind of methodology in pedagogy gets benefitted, we are also focusing on outcome based and leadership based training . MHRD, AICTE and UGC are taking enormous steps to ensure teachers are well trained.
If you look at promoting innovation and entrepreneurship, teachers were the biggest bottleneck. In colleges that are grade and marks driven, we often found that many a time teachers would brush aside the idea brought by a student. So we have planned to train 6000 teachers in Technical Education as innovation ambassadors, we have already trained 2500 teachers, rest we shall train post COVID crisis. During the meeting, we sit with faculty members and explain to them the importance of celebrating and appreciating good ideas. If we want our country to move forward, we need to inculcate problem solving skills in youngsters! Currently, a large number of students are incapable of solving problems- they are good in academics but they lack problem solving skills; their design thinking skills, cognitive skills and problem solving skills are bad. So we need to actually sensitise teachers. We are putting efforts in that direction; you will see some good changes happening soon.
Question:We have allowed only top 100 institutions (789 Uni, 37204 colleges and 11,443 stand alone ) to offer online education, rest institutions do not have the license to conduct online courses, what plans does the government have in this regard?
Government was taking some steps in that direction, but COVID certainly has forced us to open in a big way. We were little slow, but we had started NEAT six months back, which was before COVID. There were many Edtech companies coming to us and asking if we would promote their products- but as government we were not sure how to do so. However, what we realized in the later stage was- we were being unfair to our students by keeping them away from good edtech products/platforms.
So, we decided to join hands with these edtech companies in a formal way so as to push good products at the grassroot level. We called for applications, received 380 companies’ applications, screened them in three rounds- making sure that the product that government of India is recommending are state of the art products- good quality and relevant. Now we have listed 17-18 different edtech companies.
If you see, SWAYAM is being used by students of different institutions- and this includes not just the top 100 institutions, but other institution too. Also, now a large no. of Universities have started to accept courses of SWAYAM as credit courses.
Things have started to happen, and were happening but now people have started to notice!
Question:Do we have a mechanism to make sure that new universities/colleges trying their hands with online education for the first time, have the requisite advice/support?
As government, we are talking to many digital companies. For example, CISCO is closely working with us to support schools and colleges. There are giving out a large number of free licenses to many of these institutions so that it becomes easy for them to get on the platform. As you rightly mentioned, we are hand holding them- government is facilitating these institutions and colleges.
We partnered with companies under NEAT, and came up with open for all courses, government is paying to these companies and these companies have offered it for free to everyone. The courses are related to communication skills, English speaking, a couple of basis courses for engineering, etc. Also, we are having meetings to understand how we can use these 32 SWAYAM PRABHA channels to offer courses, because connectivity is still a problem in remote areas- so everything cannot be based on Internet.
Not just these things, MHRD is announcing many competitions where institutes and Universities can share their unique initiatives with the government- to keep them motivated!
"As demonetization gave a big push to digital economy similarly the COVID crisis is going to change the way education is done in India. Now a large no. of schools and colleges will move to digital platforms. For example- my son’s school has started using Zoom and WebEx to continue with the classes, so this tectonic shift has started to happen and will continue to happen. One thing is for sure, COVID crisis has given huge impetus to adopting technology in Education. Another thing that is going to happen is this will give big push to edtech startups which are offering solutions based on personalized/ adaptive learning", said Dr. Abhay Jere, Chief Innovation Officer, Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India while speaking to Rana Jyoti, Associate Editor, India Education Forum.