Views on NKC’s recommendations for OERs

National Knowledge Commission IndiaWhen it comes to India’s plans for becoming ICT-friendly to attain national development goals, I am a big skeptic. Despite nation-wide success stories of IT firms, I seemed to think that these are just a result of a bunch of factors like Indian students’ math and science intellect, ability to be cheap and make technologies for cheap (no offense meant – I am proudly cheap, too), strengths in English, the country’s geographical positioning, some policies from the 1991 liberalization-globalization-privatization move, etc. that fell in place to allow this one industry to grow. Go ahead and call me a noob – I now think I was wrong (not still entirely sure). After reading Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India and listening to Sam Pitroda, India’s 80’s golden telecommunications boy, speak live in Singapore, I realized that there always were some really ambitious, intelligent and entrepreneurial minds advising the Indian government to make the right moves to allow this industry to happen. They were probably always silent in the background – creatively and cleverly determining the fate of ICT in India.

Today, one of the bodies that is crucial in playing this role is the National Knowledge Commission (NKC), which is being chaired by Sam Pitroda himself. Before I heard Sam speak, I was expecting the chap to have a very superficial understanding of ICT today – I mean come on, PSTN is history, and these guys probably think of that as the coolest thing since slice bread. But to my utter amazement, not only did Sam come out as an enterprising visionary, but also a meticulous technocrat and engineer. This inspired me to visit the NKC’s website (which he did a good job at promoting) and see read their reports for various sectors. I was keen on reading what the NKC proposed on the state of education in the country. Not only had they published recommendation reports on specific recommendations on higher and primary education, but also published an entire report on Open Educational Resources (OERs).

Even though only 1/4th of the entire report is actually the information on state of affairs on OERs inside and outside India along with the set of recommendations, the rest being the appendices, it does not fail to impress anyone with a fair bit of understanding into the subject. The report is a result of careful analysis into models for sustainable OER initiatives mainly in the US and a critical look at existing Indian OER initiatives. Here are the highlights of matters discussed in this report:

  • Discussion of the role of OERs and Open Access (OA)
  • Current OER initiatives in higher education in India (NPTEL, Eklavya, and E-Grid) and in the US
  • Concern for OER production in areas such as “agriculture, teacher training, basic and applied sciences and engineering, technical education, liberal arts and social sciences, communication skills, ethics and values, public health, and high end skills including management” (I think I smell 21st century skills here :P)
  • Supporting existing OER production and leveraging the knowledge created by Indian institutions
  • Large scale e-curriculum production
  • Developing a “network-enabled delivery infrastructure” to support use of Learning Management Systems and enable a service-oriented architecture (wow – someones thinking forward!)
  • Need for developing a “faculty and institutional development program” (very impressive and interesting)
  • The importance and relevance of Open Access resources
  • Need for digitization of local research work and books, along with OCR and open distribution

I was certainly thrilled to read these clear and concrete recommendations. How and whether or not they are implemented: I have no idea. If these are to be achieved, the role of technology partners in the for-profit industry is going to be very critical. I would be interested in seeing the Govt. of India having these discussions with Google.

One thing I must point out I wasn’t very impressed with was the fact that these OER initiative recommendations were focused more or less on higher education, despite many informed individuals being fully aware that Indian education’s biggest pain point today is K-12, and NOT higher ed. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why this was so – the working committee is dominated by researchers from leading higher ed institutions in India. I have not read through their recommendations report for School Education, but from their recommendations’ summary, it doesn’t seem like OERs have been made a priority at all. Sad.

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