Swami Vivekananda once rightly said “Educate and raise the masses, and thus alone a nation is possible”. Education is a liberating force which is capable of empowering a person, irrespective of his caste, race, sex or economic status. The great disparity between the rich and the poor in India gets a heightened expression in the form of its low literacy rate. In order to strengthen its literate population, the Parliament of India enacted the Right to Education Act, which gives importance to free and compulsory education for children aged from 6 to 14 years, as envisaged under Article 21 A of the Indian Constitution.
Keeping in tune with this provision of free education to children at the primary level, the government thought it wise to supplement it with free digital education for students of Indian universities, in order to especially benefit those hailing from the socially and educationally backward regions of the country. By the 11th five year Plan, the Ministry of Human Resource Development in February 2009, launched a Mission titled ‘National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology’ (NMEICT), with a total budgetary allocation of Rs. 4612 crores. It seeks to impart education to every student across the country regardless of their social and economic status. As per the Mission Document of the NMEICT scheme, “For India to emerge as a knowledge super power of the world in the shortest possible time, it is imperative to convert our demographic advantage into a knowledge powerhouse by nurturing and honing our working population into knowledge or knowledge enabled working population”. The three major components of this mission are-
- To provide high speed broadband connectivity to all the colleges,
- To provide low cost access and computing devices for students, and
- To provide high quality educational material in the electronic format.
Rather than making education a product that is available only through payment of expensive fees, the NMEICT scheme strives to make education a freely available commodity so as to tap the brightest minds of the country and not allow any talent to go waste. It emphasizes upon the easy accessibility to good-quality education for learners as well as researchers. Furthermore, the innovative use of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) is expected to attract the experience of India’s best teachers, who would be responsible for accumulating the requisite e-content and the educational video lectures. Thus, with the aid of the global technological advancements, it is an endeavour of this mission to enable the collective wisdom of the country to give adequate attention to innovation and scholarly research, apart from formal education. A few of the salient features of the NMEICT mission are as follows:
- SAKSHAT – The ‘One Stop Educational Portal’
In order to have access to all the electronic content available under this scheme, an online portal named ‘SAKSHAT’ has been developed. Such a portal would function as a delivery platform for the services rendered by the NMEICT scheme, such as the educational course materials and the videos, to universities and colleges in India.
- Encouragement to intellectual agencies
Non-Government Organisations are also encouraged to contribute to this mission by providing support to the development of the portal and uploading the content on it. Moreover, maintenance of various co-related activities on the SAKSHAT portal requires financial and technical support, which needs the help of such intellectual agencies.
- Building a knowledge network to make content freely available
Furthermore, approximately 60% of the budget for this mission has been allocated for ensuring the connectivity of these services to every region of the country. The responsibility of providing such services has been given to BSNL-MTNL.
- Access to low-cost devices
In order to make connectivity an efficient component, the access to low-cost devices is an added benefit. Under the ‘AAKASH IV’ project, the Ministry of Human Resource Development plans to distribute around 22 lakh tablets to the students of the Indian universities, through the Directorate General of Supplies and Disposal. Initially, it is planned to be distributed amongst engineering students at a subsidized rate. Though the project was initially headed by IIT Rajasthan (AAKASH I), the latest project would be spearheaded by IIT Bombay.
- Availability of e-journals
It is a well-established fact that the formal education is complemented by the informal education. Hence, apart from providing free access to e-books, the access to e-journals would encourage students to hone their research skills.
- The NPTEL scheme
Nowadays, sites such as ‘coursera’ are becoming popular worldwide for their high-quality courses, available with adequate content which are taught by professors of some of the most reputed universities around the globe. Therefore, the integration of education with technology has produced wondrous benefits for young minds that have a thirst for knowledge, yet are constrained by the financial difficulties. The National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) is a part of the NMEICT mission, and is a joint effort undertaken by the IITs and IISc. The main objective of the NPTEL is to provide free online courses for students studying in the engineering, science and humanities streams of education.
- Access to virtual labs
IIT Delhi is leading twelve other institutions to develop virtual labs for the students of science and engineering courses. The reliance on user-friendly graphics and simulation engines erases the divide existing between theoretical and practical application of skills with the help of user-friendly virtual labs. Additionally, an online spoken tutorial along with a ‘Free and Open Software for Education’ (FOSSE) to create a ‘virtual educational companion’ for students across the country is also a part of the NMEICT scheme.
Recently, BSNL Additional General Manager, K. Rajasekhar, the National Coordinator for the project, said that so far, 389 universities across the nation have been connected via the NMEICT scheme and 23,000 colleges have already been covered out of the total 32,000 colleges expected to get connected in the last three years.
The NMEICT mission can truly be an achievement for our nation as it strives to be a knowledge superpower. Many students in India stop their education after clearing their higher secondary due to various economic difficulties. Such an opportunity of studying engineering or other subjects of science and humanities stream, absolutely free of cost, is already being tapped by various colleges across the country. More importantly, the emphasis laid on easy availability, accessibility and connectivity ensures the successful implementation of this scheme at the grassroots level. In the end, the success of this scheme would depend upon how effectively it is utilised by students in India to achieve the zenith of their potential and create wonders with their knowledge.
-  http://www.nmeict.ac.in/Document/Missiondocument.pdf
-  http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/three-crore-students-benefited-with-nmeict/article6898481.ece
About the Author
Geetanjali R Kamat is currently pursuing her B.A LL.B. (Hons.) from National Law Institute University, Bhopal. Her hobbies include blogging, creative writing and sketching. She is passionate about writing research articles and papers on national and international legal issues that promote debate and discussion. Her other areas of interest lie in Constitutional Law and Criminal Law.