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Online Education: How Prepared are we for Embracing the Revolution?

Situation One: Mihir Rakshit is a student of B. Tech. in an engineering college situated in Greater Noida area near New Delh

i. He is excited about a new online course on Artificial Intelligence that is offered by two eminent Professors from Stanford University, USA. The course is offered free across the globe, and around 1.5 lakh students got registered for the course. Today is the first class scheduled. But since morning the electricity has gone off, and there is no power back- up in the hostel. Mihir is worried.


Situation Two: Sukhram Hansda is a student of standard Eleven in a remote corner of Jharkhand state. He heard about a website called www. khanacademy. org where videos of mathematics classes are available for free. He tried many times to access it, but the internet speed is too slow to run the videos at his residence.

Situation Three: Madhur is a teacher in a secondary school in a village in Chattisgarh state. He did MSc in Physics, and is a good teacher. Now, he wants a bigger audience for his classes. He wants to initiate online classes, but the internet speed is too slow at his village.

Also the power supply is very erratic.

In the middle of December 2011, the news of free online training courses by Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT) appeared in front page of many leading newspapers. In a sense this is a revolution.

Internet is probably the most significant invention in recent times that has changed the way we live, communicate, trade, and most importantly learn.

Widespread use of internet in education has significantly changed the way teachers teach in classes, and also accessibility to knowledge resources. However, there are still miles to go.

The pertinent question now arises is about Indias preparedness as a country to adopt and embrace these changes. Firstly, when the world class education is at our doorstep and that too virtually free of cost, will our citizens living at the remotest part of country be able to take advantage of it? Secondly, are the leading Indian educational institutions capable enough to spread their wings, and take advantage of this change? The answer to both the questions remains: a lot needs to be done.

What are the roadblocks? A common factor is obviously, poor penetration of Internet, and availability of other infrastructure required for accessing this knowledge pool. Though, lots of improvement have taken place in last few years,

we all know how much yet is to be done. Can a student in the remotest part of our country access website of say, MIT or Yale or Stanford and take lessons? The answer is probably no. We must improve our infrastructure first to take advantage of online education.

What is the biggest factor on which the success or failure of a course depends? Probably the faculty himself ( herself). Since the ages of Dronacharya, India was blessed with extra- ordinary teachers who bestowed the successive generations with wide- reaching knowledge and wisdom. Quite a few of the world renowned academicians, scientists, Nobel Laureates received their basic and early education in Indian schools and colleges.

The advantage of online education is that a student can go through the classes as many times he ( she) wishes. The disadvantage is lack of physical presence of faculty. In many circumstances like, clearing of doubts, solving problems, etc, physical presence of faculty plays a very positive and crucial role. The ideal combination may be online teaching in combination with classroom interaction. Do we have adequate number of competent faculty members in India, who can play a complementary role in providing world class education? The answer is again probably in the negative. The issue is whether we are taking adequate steps towards improving intellectual capital of our country? The strategy may have two prongs. Firstly, the basic infrastructure should be developed so