ICT in Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges

Ajit Mondal, University of Kalyani, Kalyani, West Bengal

&

Dr. Jayanta Mete, University of Kalyani, Kalyani, West Bengal


Abstract

Since time immemorial, education has been an important instrument for social and economic transformation. Presently higher education in India is experiencing a major transformation in terms of access, equity and quality. This transition is highly influenced by the swift developments in information and communication technologies (ICTs) all over the world. The introduction of ICTs in the higher education has profound implications for the whole education process especially in dealing with key issues of access, equity, management, efficiency, pedagogy and quality. At the same time the optimal utilization of opportunities arising due to diffusion of ICTs in higher education system presents a profound challenge for higher educational institutions. In this backdrop, the paper addresses the opportunities and challenges posed by integration of ICTs in various aspects of higher education in the present scenario.

[Keywords: Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Higher Education, Quality, Accessibility.]

Introduction

Higher education systems have grown exponentially in the last five decades to meet the demands of quality education for all. This aspect has further gained momentum due to swift advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Demand for skilled and competent labour is ever increasing in the contemporary globalised society. In this backdrop, access to quality in higher education for all has emerged as determining factor of economic growth and development. In order to increase the access to higher education and improving its reach to the remotest parts of the country contribution of open and distance learning facilities is on the increase. In addition, it is catering to life-long learning aspirations and that too at affordable cost. The last two decades have witnessed the inclusion of developments in ICTs in higher education systems around the world. Even then the challenge to develop a higher education system that is flexible and dynamic so as to holistically integrate the technology in the management and delivery of learning programmes is daunting. The first section presents briefly the present profile of higher education in India. Role of ICTs in higher education and the areas in which they can be integrated to play prominent role are discussed in the second section. The final section explores the challenges in expanding the role of ICTs for future development in higher education.

 

Trends in Growth of Higher Education in India

            Though higher education is very old in India, modern higher education in India began with the establishment of Hindu College in Calcutta in 1817. By 1855, there were 281 High Schools and 28 Colleges. To regulate them, three universities; Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were established in 1857 by then British Indian Government. The growth continued un-impeded and by 1947, there were 19 universities, 496 colleges with 2,40,000 students. University Education Commission, 1948-49 (popularly known as Radhakrishnan Commission) emphasized the need for setting up an apex body to coordinate the growth and development of education at the tertiary level and maintenance of standards in education. Thus, the University Grants Commission (UGC) came into existence by an Act of Parliament in 1956.

In the last five half decades, the growth of higher education presents a very impressive picture. There has been commendable quantitative expansion in terms of students’ enrolment, number of teachers, colleges, universities and research degrees.

Institutions

At the end of X Plan (31.03.2007), there were 363 Universities (20 Central, 229 State, 109 Deemed and 5 Institutions under Special State Legislature Acts) and 21,170 colleges in the country. At the end of the third year of XI Plan (2009-10), the number of Universities has gone up to 493 (42 Central, 130 Deemed and 316 State Universities and 5 Institution established under Special State Legislature Acts) and the number of Colleges to 31,324, thus registering an increase of 36% in the number Universities and 48% in the case of Colleges in comparison to the figures at the end of X Plan. The type-wise number of universities and colleges as on 03.03.2010 is indicated in the Table 1.

Table 1: Type-wise number of University/University-Level Institutions and Colleges as on 31.03.2010

Sl. No.

Type of Institutions

Number of Institutions

(As on 31.03.2009)

Number of Institutions

(As on 31.03.2010)

1.

Central Universities

40

42

2.

State Universities

231

256

3.

State Private Universities

21

60

4.

Institutions established through State Legislation

5

5

5.

Institutions Deemed to be Universities

128

130

Total

425

493

6.

Colleges

25,951

31,324

Source: Annual Report 2009-10, UGC

Students Enrolment

Enrolment in higher education has registered a steep hike in the last sixty years. During the academic year 2009-10, there had been 146.25 lakhs (provisional) students enrolled in various courses at all levels in universities/colleges and other institutions of higher education as compared to 136.42 lakhs in the previous year, registering an increase of 7.2 percent. Out of 146.25 lakhs, 60.80 lakh had been women students, constituting 41.6 percent. This rapid expansion of higher education, however, hides the story of the severe disparities that prevails in access to higher education across the states. Different states are at different stages of development. There are states wherein the access ratio to higher education is much lower than the national average of about 20%. As against this, there are 14 states wherein the access ratio is higher than the national average.

It is evident from the available statistics that of the total enrolment in higher education, 86% students are enrolled in undergraduate programs, 12% in postgraduate programs, 1% in diploma / certificate programs and 1% are enrolled in research programs. It shows a highly skewed picture of higher education. The size of the post graduate education as also that of research is a matter of great concern. The situations of diploma and certificate level programs, which constitute only 1% of the higher education, leave much to be desired.

Faculty-wise Enrolment

The distribution of students, across various faculties, during the academic year 2009-10 had been as under:

Out of the total enrolment of students (146.25 lakhs), 42.01% students had been in the faculty of Arts, followed by 19.30% in Science and 17.83% in Commerce / Management. Thus, 79.14% of the total enrolment had been in the three faculties of Arts, Sciences and Commerce / Management while the remaining 20.86% had been in the professional faculties indicating the highest percentage in Engineering/Technology (10.33%), followed by Medical courses (3.48%), etc. In a country like India, where Agriculture and allied occupations are the main occupations, the enrolment in Agricultural Courses had been just 0.55 percent and in Veterinary Science, it is miniscule 0.14 percent. Thus, it is evident from the faculty-wise distribution of enrolment that the ratio of professional to non-professional enrolment has been 1:4 and hence there is a need for an appropriate policy change which may rationalize and reduce the disparity.

Research Degrees

The number of research degrees (Ph.Ds) awarded by various universities decreased from 13,237 in 2007-2008 to 10,781 in 2008-2009, thus registering a decrease of 18.5%. Out of the total number awarded in 2008-2009, the Faculty of Arts had the highest number with 3496 degrees, followed by the faculty of Science with 3317 research degrees. These two faculties together accounted for 63 percent of the total number of research degrees awarded. In the professional faculties, the faculty of Engineering and Technology had topped with as many as 1141 Ph. D degrees, followed by Agriculture faculty with 423 degrees and Education faculty with 403 degrees. It is noted here that there is a decreasing trend in academic research in terms of number of research degrees awarded by the Universities during 2008-2009 as compared to the figures for 2007-2008.

Growth in Enrolment of Women in Higher Education

There had been a phenomenal growth in the number of women students enrolled in higher education, since independence. The women enrolment which was less than 10 percent of the total enrolment on the eve of Independence had risen to 41.6 percent in the academic year 2009-2010. The pace of growth has been particularly faster in the last two decades. As the data in Table 2 shows that the number of women enrolled per hundred men registered almost five times in 2009-2010 as compared to 1950-1951.

Table 2: Women Students Per Hundred Men Students

Year

Total Women Enrolment (000s)

Women Enrolment Per Hundred Men

1950–51

40

14

2009–10

6080

71

Source: Annual Report 2009-2010, UGC.

The above statistics reveal that out higher education system is so large. However, higher education is featured by many weaknesses today. They include continuation of the legacy of British system, over politicization of the higher education sector, mushrooming of institution, lack of leadership, mismatch between enrolment and infrastructure, overcrowding of classrooms, lack of motivation on the part of teachers and the students, rigidity in subject combinations, inappropriate recruitment policy relating to teachers, implementation of policies without sufficient preparation, poor efficacy of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, the contradictions between the ruled and the reality, government shirking its responsibility for providing necessary financial support, etc. It is felt that higher education is not yet higher in India.

ICT enabled Education: an Overview

            The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is an umbrella term that includes any communication device or application, encompassing: radio, television, cellular phones, computer, and network hardware and software, satellite systems and so on, as well as the various services and applications associated with them, such as videoconferencing and distance learning. When such technologies are used for educational purposes, namely to support and improve the learning of students and to develop learning environments, ICT can be considered as a subfield of Educational Technology. ICTs in higher education are being used for developing course material; delivering content and sharing content; communication between learners, teachers and the outside world; creation and delivery of presentation and lectures; academic research; administrative support, student enrolment etc.

In the current information society, people have to access knowledge via ICT to keep pace with the latest developments. In such a scenario, education, which always plays a critical role in any economic and social growth of a country, becomes even more important. Education not only increases the productive skills of the individual but also his/her earning power. It gives them a sense of well being as well as capacity to absorb new ideas, increases their social interaction, gives access to improved health and provides several more intangible benefits. The various kinds of ICT products available and having relevance to education, such as teleconferencing, email, audio conferencing, television lessons, radio broadcasts, interactive radio counselling, interactive voice response system, audiocassettes and CD ROMs have been used in education for different purposes (Bhattacharya and Sharma, 2007).

Table 3: The Four Rationales for Introducing ICT in Education

Rationale

Basis

Social

Perceived role that technology now plays in society and the need for familiarizing students with technology.

Vocational

Preparing students for jobs that require skills in technology.

Catalytic

Utility of technology to improve performance and effectiveness in teaching, management and many other social activities.

Pedagogical

To utilize technology in enhancing learning, flexibility and efficiency in curriculum delivery.

Source: Cross and Adam (2007)

            Today ICTs – including laptops wirelessly connected to the Internet, personal digital assistants, low cost video cameras, and cell phones have become affordable, accessible and integrated in large sections of the society throughout the world. It can restructure organizations, promote collaboration, increase democratic participation of citizens, improve the transparency and responsiveness of governmental agencies, make education and health care more widely available, foster cultural creativity, and enhance the development in social integration. It is only through education and the integration of ICT in education that one teaches students to be participants in the growth process in this era of rapid change. ICT also allows for the creation of digital resources like digital libraries where students, teachers and professionals can access research material and course material from any place at any time (Bhattacharya and Sharma, 2007). Such facilities allow the networking of academics and researchers and hence sharing of scholarly material. This avoids duplication of work.

In view of ICT, education can be classified in three main categories:

  • E-learning
  • Blended Learning, and
  • Distance Learning

E-Learning or Electronic learning is a general term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. It is commonly associated with the field of advanced learning technology (ALT), which deals with both the technologies and associated methodologies in learning using networked and/or multimedia technologies. It is also known as online learning. Distance education provided the base for e-learning’s development. E-learning can be ‘on demand’. It overcomes timing, attendance and travel difficulties. E-learning allows delivery, dialogue and feedback over the internet. It allows mass customization in terms of content and exams. E-education can provide access to the best gurus and the best practices or knowledge available (UNESCO, 2002). It is possible to leverage the online environment to facilitate teaching techniques like role-play across time and distance. It can also facilitate the development of scenarios, which can be rarely witnessed in practice. ICT can play a valuable role to monitor and log the progress of the students across time, place and varied activities.

E-learning allows higher participation and greater interaction. It challenges the concept that face-to-face traditional education is superior to it (Bhattacharya and Sharma, 2007). The web and the internet is the core ICTs to spread education through e-learning. The components include e-portfolios, cyber infrastructures, digital libraries and online learning object repositories. All the above components create a digital identity of the student and connect all the stakeholders in the education.

E-learning has the following advantages:

  • Eliminating time and geographical barriers in education for learners as well as teachers.
  • Enhanced group collaboration made possible via ICT.
  • New educational approaches can be used.
  • It can provide speedy dissemination of education to target disadvantaged groups.
  • It offers the combination of education while balancing family and work life.
  • It enhances the international dimension of educational services.

Blended Learning is the combination of multiple approaches to learning. It is usually used to define a situation where different delivery methods are combined together to deliver a particular course. These methods may include a mixture of face-to-face learning, self-paced learning and online classrooms.

Face to face Learning refers to learning that occurs in a traditional classroom setting where a faculty member delivers instruction to a group of learners. This could include lectures, workshops, presentation, tutoring, conference and much more.

Self paced Learning provides the flexibility to learn according to the availability of learners’ own time and pace, it occurs in a variety of ways such as : reading specific chapters from text book, studying course material presented through web-based or CD based course, attending pre-recorded classes or sessions, reading articles referred by faculty member, working on assignments & projects, and searching & browsing the internet.

Online Collaborative Learning involves interaction between learners and faculty members through the web; this interaction can occur in one of the following modes:

  • Synchronous interaction.
  • Asynchronous interaction.

Synchronous, means ‘at the same time’, it involves interacting with a faculty member and other learners via the web in real time using technologies such as virtual classrooms and / or chat rooms. On the other hand, Asynchronous means ‘not at the same time’; it enables learners to interact with their colleagues and faculty member at their own convenience, such as interacting through email.

Distance Learning

            It is a type of education, where students work on their own at home or at the office and communicate with faculty and other students via e-mail, electronic forums, videoconferencing, chat rooms, instant messaging and other forms of computer-based communication. It is also known as open learning. Most distance learning programs include a computer based training (CBT) system and communications tools to produce a vital classroom. Because the Internet and World Wide Web are accessible from virtually all computer platforms, they serve as the foundation for many distance learning systems.

ICTs also allow for the creation of digital resources like digital libraries where the students, teachers and professionals can access research material and course material from any place at any time. Such facilities allow the networking of academics and researchers and hence sharing of scholarly material and leads to quality enhancement in teaching and learning.

 

Table 4 : Benefits of ICT in education to the main stakeholders

Stakeholder

Benefits

Students

  • Increased access,
  • Flexibility of content and delivery,
  • Combination of work and education,
  • Learner-centred approach,
  • Higher-quality of education and new-ways of interaction.

Employers

  • High quality, cost effective professional development in the workplace,
  • Upgrading of employee skills, increased productivity,
  • Developing of a new learning culture,
  • Sharing of costs and of training time with the employees,
  • Increased portability of training.

Governments

  • Increase the capacity and cost effectiveness of education and training systems,
  • To reach target groups with limited access to conventional education and training,
  • To support and enhance the quality and relevance of existing educational structures,
  • To ensure the connection of educational institutions and curricula to the emerging networks and information resources,
  • To promote innovation and opportunities for lifelong learning.

Source: UNESCO, 2002.

            In absence of ICT, most of the responsibility of teaching and learning lies on the teachers. However, with the help of ICT one can transfer the responsibilities to the students so that they can self manage. It helps to individualize the teaching or guidance method as per the student’s need. It also boosts the confidence level and the self-esteem of the students who acquire the ICT skills through the process of being exposed to such kind of learning also puts forth the view that ICT-based registration, evaluation, and administration help to link different levels of information and facilitate an overall view of the whole educational setup. It facilitates the evaluation and examination of the learning process and results by the students and the parent’s in a flexible and convenient way. The globalization process has also created a large market of offshore students. To reach them, information technology is the only convenient medium, which can offer education as a service (Bhattacharya and Sharma, 2007). It increases education provision substantially and can contribute to mass education. It also creates competition among the institutions for providing education and hence improves the quality (Cross and Adam, 2007).

Initiatives of Use of ICT in Education

            India is making use of powerful combination of ICTs such as open source software, satellite technology, local language interfaces, easy to use human-computer interfaces, digital libraries etc. with a long-term plan to reach the remotest of the villages. Community service centers have been started to promote e-learning throughout the country (Bhattacharya and Sharma, 2007). Notable initiatives of use of ICT in education in India include:

  • Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) uses radio, television and internet technologies.
  • National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning : a concept similar to the open courseware initiative of MIT. It uses internet and television technologies.
  • Eklavya initiative : Uses internet and television to promote distance learning.
  • IIT-Kanpur has developed ‘Brihaspati’, an open source e-learning platform (Virtual Class Room).

Premier institutions like Calcutta have entered into a strategic alliance with NIIT for providing programmes through virtual classrooms. Jadavpur University is using a mobile-learning centre. IIT-Bombay has started the program of CDEEP (Centre for Distance Engineering Education Program) as emulated classroom interaction through the use of real time interactive satellite technology.

The UGC initiated scheme called “ICT for teaching and learning process” for achieving quality and excellence in higher education. Network facilities with the help of ERNET, Ministry of Information and Technology, Government of India were installed at UGC office to promote a healthy work culture. Along with this UGC launched a mega programme namely, ‘UGC INFONET’, a network of Indian Universities and Colleges, by integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the process of teaching, learning and education management. The network is managed by ERNET India and almost all the universities are its members. Information for Library Network (INFLIBNET), an autonomous Inter University Centre of UGC is the nodal agency for coordination and facilitation of the linkage between ERNET and Universities. Training programmes for the manpower were conducted to manage the ERNET facilities and other aspects of systems including electronic subscriptions. In addition, UGC is encouraging creation of e-content / learning material for teaching learning process and management of education in colleges and universities.

 

Role of ICT in Higher Education

            Swift growth of ICTs is taking place all over the world. They have emerged as powerful tools for diffusion of knowledge and information. Their introduction and unprecedented use in the higher education has generated varied response. The opportunities can be categorized as the aspects relating to role of ICT for access and equity in education, their role in pedagogy for quality learning and teaching at higher education level and in inducing innovations in approaches and programmes.

Access and Equity in Higher Education

            Presence of ICT in education sector is increasing steadily. In spite of the fact that education is a social enterprise and teachers are the traditionally mainstay of teaching learning process, ICTs are very powerful tool for diffusing knowledge and information, a fundamental aspect of the education process. ICTs can play enormous role for improving access and equity in education sector in general and higher education sector in particular.

11th Plan proposed to achieve the target of 15 percent GER by 2012 through the increase in institutional capacity and increase in ‘intake capacity’ of existing educational institutions. These efforts are also experiencing the push created in this direction through the consistent rise in enrolment at elementary level and secondary level. The demand for higher education is expected to rise steeply in the forthcoming years under these influences. ICTs lend themselves as an ideal mechanism to bridge this gap by complementing both formal education system as well as distance learning systems (Neeru, 2009).

E-learning is emerging as an important strategy to provide widespread and easy access to quality higher education. E-learning is a generic term referring to different uses and intensities of uses of ICTs, from wholly online education to campus-based education and through other forms of distance education supplemented with ICTs in some way. Although, presently the initiatives for development of e-learning in India are continuing in a sporadic manner, UGC is advocating and making efforts to enhance the quality of higher education by framing policy guidelines for their integration in classroom and other activities.

Role of ICTs in Pedagogy for Quality Teaching Learning

            Another most important dimension of higher education sector influenced by ICT integration is improving quality of teaching-learning. Also, the changes taking place due to globalization and internationalization attach premium to knowledge and information. Therefore, the integration of ICTs would not only help in promoting personal growth but also in developing “knowledge societies”. The call of the hour is the need to provide education for everyone, anywhere, and anytime. Life-long learning has become the driving force to sustain in the contemporary competitive environment. Therefore to strengthen and / or advance this knowledge-driven growth, new technologies, skills and capabilities are needed.

Conventional teaching-learning processes are undergoing a paradigm shift. Focus of instruction is now on education programs/practices that promote competency and performance. Such curricula tends to require access to variety of information sources, information forms and types; student centred learning settings based on information access and inquiry; learning environments centred or problem-centred and inquiry-based activities, authentic settings and examples; and teachers as coaches and mentors rather than content experts (Neeru, 2009). The shift towards development of educational programs is well supported by and encouraged by the emerging instructional technologies.

Apart from enhancing student’s learning experience, role of ICTs in capacity building/training of educational personnel has very large potential. National level institutes can provide leadership role in enhancing technical and managerial manpower in different disciplines through ICT networks and collaborations. Technology facilitated learning would result in preparation of staff regarding innovative pedagogic methods, new ways of learning and interacting, easy sharing of new practices among teaching community and result in widening the opportunities for their participation. The capabilities of competent and trained teachers/academic experts can be made available to larger audiences/students through flexible and virtual settings.

Innovative Approaches for Teaching

            ICTs have the potential to drive innovative and effective ways of teaching-learning and research. The inclusion of learning tools, easier use of multimedia or simulation tools, easy and almost instant access to data and information in a digital form which allows for computations and data processing generates possibilities which were otherwise not feasible. The possibility to diffuse these innovations and complement the learning content to improve quality in higher education through innovative pedagogic methods is high. The focus on ICTs to back quality research through utilization of rigorous research methodology and in-depth analysis is the call of the hour.

 

Potential Drawbacks-cum-Challenges to Using ICT in Education

While using ICTs in education has some obvious benefits, ICTs also bring challenges. First is the high cost of acquiring, installing, operating, maintaining and replacing ICTs. While potentially of great importance, the integration of ICTs into teaching is still in its infancy. Introducing ICT systems for teaching in developing countries has a particularly high opportunity cost because installing them is usually more expensive in absolute terms than in industrialized countries whereas, in contrast, alternative investments (e.g. buildings) are relatively less costly (UNESCO, 2009).

The four most common mistakes in introducing ICTs into teaching are i) installing learning technology without reviewing student needs and content availability; ii) imposing technological systems from the top down without involving faculty and students; iii) using inappropriate content from other regions of the world without customizing it appropriately; and iv) producing low quality content that has poor instructional design and is not adapted to the technology in use (UNESCO, 2009). Although ICT offers a whole lot of benefits there are some risks of using ICT in education which have to be mitigated proper mechanisms. They are:

  • It may create a digital divide within class as students who are more familiar with ICT will reap more benefits and learn faster than those who are not as technology savvy.
  • It may shift the attention from the primary goal of the learning process to developing ICT skills, which is the secondary goal.
  • It can affect the bonding process between the teacher and the student as ICT becomes a communication tool rather than face to face conversation and thus the transactional distance is increased.
  • Also since not all teachers are experts with ICT they may be lax in updating the course content online which can slow down the learning among students.
  • The potential of plagiarism is high as student can copy information rather than learning and developing their own skills.
  • There is a need for training all stakeholders in ICT.
  • The cost of hardware and software can be very high.

 

Conclusion

            The increasing use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has brought changes to teaching and learning at all levels of higher education systems (HES) leading to quality enhancements. Traditional forms of teaching and learning are increasingly being converted to online and virtual environments. There are endless possibilities with the integration of ICT in the education system. The use of ICT in education not only improves classroom teaching learning process, but also provides the facility of e-learning. ICT has enhanced distance learning. The teaching community is able to reach remote areas and learners are able to access qualitative learning environment from anywhere and at anytime. It is important that teachers or trainers should be made to adopt technology in their teaching styles to provide pedagogical and educational gains to the learners. Successful implementation of ICT to lead change is more about influencing and empowering teachers and supporting them in their engagement with students in learning rather than acquiring computer skills and obtaining software and equipment. ICT enabled education will ultimately lead to the democratization of education.

References

Bhattacharya, I. & Sharma, K. (2007). India in the knowledge economy – an electronic paradigm, International Journal of Educational Management Vol. 21 No. 6, pp. 543–568.

Cross, M. & Adam, F. (2007). ICT Policies and Strategies in Higher Education in South Africa: National and Institutional Pathways’, Higher Education Policy 20(1), 73–95.

Mishra, S. & R. C. Sharma (2005). Development of e-Learning in India. University News, 43(11), March 14 – 20, 2005.

S. Neeru (2009). ICT in Indian Universities and Colleges : Opportunities and Challenges, Management and Change, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2009, pp. 231 – 244.

UGC (2011). Annual Report 2009 – 10, New Delhi, UGC.

UNESCO (2002). Open and Distance Learning Trends, Policy and Strategy Considerations, UNESCO.

UNESCO (2009). ICTs for Higher Education – Background Paper Commonwealth of Learning, Paris, UNESCO.

Ajit Mondal is Research Scholar, Department of Education (IASE), University of Kalyani, Kalyani, West Bengal, E-mail: mondalajit.edn@gmail.com

Dr. Jayanta Mete is Associate Professor, Department of Education (IASE), University of Kalyani, Kalyani, West Bengal, E-mail: jayanta_135@yahoo.co.in

Bhatter College Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies, (ISSN 2249-3301), Vol. II, 2012. Ed. Pabitra Kumar Mishra. Available online at: http://bcjms.bhattercollege.ac.in, published by Bhatter College, Dantan, Paschim Medinipur, West Bengal, India. www.bhattercollege.ac.in. © Bhatter College, Dantan