Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu Calls For Inclusive Online Education, Says ‘Digital Bridge Should Not Become Digital Divide’

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The Vice President, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today called for an inclusive approach to online and distance education and cautioned that issues pertaining to access, quality and affordability might get accentuated with the pandemic and exclude many students in the process.

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While noting the power of online education as a ‘digital bridge’ for people in remote areas, he stressed that care must be taken not to exclude students from socio-economically weaker sections and create a ‘digital divide’.

To improve the access and affordability of the internet, especially in rural areas, Shri Naidu underscored the need for expeditious implementation of projects such as Bharat Net. The Vice President wanted institutions that undertake CSR activities to prioritise providing electronic devices to school and college students from socially and economically weaker sections. Instructure Helps to Fill Remote Learning Opportunity Gaps,

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Shri Naidu also noted the paucity of online courses in Indian languages and called upon private players in the educational technology sector to offer content in more regional languages. In this context, he recalled the tool developed by AICTE recently which translates English content online into 11 Indian languages and called for more such efforts. “Online education should not remain the privilege of the few, but rather become the ultimate tool for real democratisation of education in India”, he stressed.

Virtually addressing the first “Foundation Day” celebration of Central University of Andhra Pradesh, Ananthapuramu, the Vice President noted how higher education can be a great economic catalyst for the community, bring development to a region and even spur growth of the country. In this regard, he expressed hope that the Central University will accelerate the educational and economic development of the State and unlock the potential of the Rayalaseema region.

Noting the positive externalities of higher education, Shri Naidu called for pushing towards more ‘internationalisation’ of the Indian universities. He gave the instance of top global universities which attract international talent every year and have been thriving as centres of excellence, delivering economic benefits to the host nation.

In order to achieve internationalisation of the universities, the Vice President stressed the need to promote diversity among faculty and students as also to collaborate proactively with reputed global universities. He suggested encouraging Indian universities to open global campuses, which will also improve the brand value of Indian education. “All these initiatives will generate enormous job opportunities, increase access to education in our country and act as growth accelerators for our economy”, he said.

Recalling that India was once known as “Vishwaguru” and attracted students from all corners of the world to renowned institutions such as Nalanda, Takshashila and Pushpagiri., the Vice President said “We must regain that intellectual leadership and emerge as a global hub of learning and innovation again”.

Referring to the stress on multidisciplinary and holistic education in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, Shri Naidu called for strengthening education in humanities and social sciences in all universities. In this regard, he advised universities to update students of all disciplines with the latest technological developments such as Artificial Intelligence and Big Data and not engineers alone.

Observing the change in pedagogy over the years, Shri Naidu said the NEP is a visionary document that encourages hands-on activity and community engagement to ensure overall development of the child. He said students must be exposed to real-world problems through industry-institute linkages and added that solving problems was the only way for students to learn the principles of their fields of study. Similarly, he wanted universities to engage and work with local communities, utilising their area of expertise.

The Vice President complimented the Central University for adopting six villages under the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan and expressed confidence that the University will excel in producing well-rounded personalities.

Appreciating the state government’s efforts, Shri Naidu advised that all states should speedily implement the provision of NEP. He stressed the need to allocate more funds for infrastructure and suggested all possible support should be given to universities.

Dr. Subhas Sarkar, Minister of State for Education, Government of India, Dr. Audimulapu Suresh, Minister of Education, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, Shri Talari Rangaiah, Member of Parliament, Ananthapuramu, Prof. S.A. Kori, Vice-Chancellor, Central University of Andhra Pradesh, Prof. Appa Rao Podile, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, professors, faculty and students of the University and others were present during the virtual event.

Following is the full text of the speech:

“Friends,

I am indeed very happy to address you on the occasion of the Foundation Day celebration of the Central University of Andhra Pradesh, Ananthapuramu. The Government of India has, through this University, fulfilled one of its promises to Andhra Pradesh with respect to the establishment of national institutions in the state. I also have a personal connection with this University. I recall that years ago, I urged my fellow Minister of Human Resources and Development to expedite the setting up of the University by resolving the pending issues. I feel very happy that all our efforts have bore fruit today with the first ‘Foundation Day’ of the University.

This institution of national importance can also accelerate the educational and economic development of the State and unlock the potential of the Rayalaseema region, a land of great history and dynamic people.

Brothers and sisters,

The idea of ‘education’ has gone through a sea of change since colonial times. From being a mere medium for static transfer of knowledge, it is now widely acknowledged that pedagogy should be an interactive and dynamic process, where students are the most important stakeholders. Interestingly, we now recognise that our ancient holistic system of education, which emphasises community engagement and hands-on activities, is the best way to ensure the all-round development of the child.

The National Education Policy 2020 that came in this context, is a visionary document that recognises the importance of holistic education. The policy is also futuristic in its orientation and seeks to train our youth to make them employable in the globalised market. It is rooted in the age-old Indian ethos and seeks to transform India into a vibrant knowledge society.

With cross-pollination among disciplines being stressed in today’s education, borders between disciplines have become porous. This multidisciplinarity is stressed by the National Education Policy too and I am happy to know that the University proposes to strengthen education in the Humanities and Social Sciences in tune with the thinking that a University “is a place of universal knowledge”. In the age of technology, universities have to be committed to the task of updating and keeping the students of all disciplines - not just engineers - abreast with the latest technological developments such as Artificial Intelligence and Big Data.

Further, in a mission mode, industry-institute ties must be strengthened in universities so that students may be exposed to real-world problems. Solving these problems is the only way students may learn the principles of their respective fields of study. It not only improves the employment prospects of the students, it offers fresh perspectives for our industry too. It's a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Friends,

The pandemic has necessitated education everywhere in the world to go online. This may be temporary and schools and colleges may resume soon, but it has given us valuable insights into the future of education.

While distance and online education included people cut off geographically so far, there is an imminent risk that issues pertaining to access, quality and affordability may be accentuated with the pandemic and exclude many students in the process. While we are building a ‘digital bridge’ in education, there is a serious problem of ‘digital divide’.

We need to enable children of all economic and social backgrounds to access online classes. Access and affordability of the internet must be improved upon, especially in remote areas through expeditious implementation of projects such as Bharat Net. Institutions doing CSR activities must prioritise the initiative of providing electronic devices to school and college going children from the socially and economically weaker sections.

While National Education Policy 2020 allows for online education as a mainstream delivery mechanism, we must not compromise on quality and affordability. Standardization and benchmarking of outcomes is key here.

Similarly, we need to correct the paucity of online courses in native languages. I am glad that there are many efforts in this regard. Recently, I witnessed a presentation on an AICTE tool which translates English content online into 11 Indian languages. Private players in the educational technology sector must also strive for offering content in more regional languages, while ensuring affordability. Online education should not remain the privilege of the few, but rather become the ultimate tool for real democratisation of education in India.

I am happy to note that colleges and universities in India have started to offer technical education in regional languages too. The recent decision of 14 engineering colleges across eight States to offer courses in regional languages is a significant moment for education in mother tongue in India.

Friends,

Higher education can also be a great economic catalyst for our country. There are many positive externalities for the local community, for development in the region and benefits for the macro-economy. The top global universities, for instance, attract international talent every year and have been thriving as centres of excellence, delivering economic benefits to the host nation. I am told that despite the pandemic, they have attracted a record number of international students this year.

For these reasons, we have to push more for internationalization of Indian universities. Our higher educational institutions must work on improving international diversity- both in faculty and students and collaborate more proactively with reputed global universities. We must encourage Indian universities to open global campuses, which will also improve the brand value of Indian education. All these initiatives will generate enormous job opportunities, increase access to education in our country and act as growth accelerators for our economy.

India was known as “vishwa guru”. We had great institutions like Nalanda, Takshashila and Pushpagiri where students from all corners of the world came to learn. We must regain that intellectual leadership and emerge as a global hub of learning and innovation again.

I am happy that the National Education Policy acknowledges the importance of global outreach and the NIRF ranking framework too gives weightage to the internationalisation component of a university to evaluate it. I hope Central University, Ananthapuramu will also strive and make efforts in this direction and earn an international reputation in the coming years.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I would like to remind that the most important task of our educational institutions is to bring out well-rounded and compassionate human beings and not mere degree holders. We must seek to bring out the best in each individual, with a strong foundation in moral values. Like I often say, education without values is no education at all.

I am confident that Central University, Ananthapuramu will excel in shaping up brilliant minds and well-rounded personalities in the years to come. I am happy to know that the young University, which began with four undergraduate and two postgraduate programmes, introduced five more programmes, including M.Tech in Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, in the academic year 2021-22, and plans to add four or five academic programmes every year.

I am told that this university has adopted six villages under the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan. This is a welcome initiative. Educational institutions must try to engage with the local community and bring transformational change in people’s lives, leveraging their area of expertise. Students must take an active participation in such endeavours.

Finally, I would like to congratulate Prof. S.A. Kori, Vice Chancellor and the entire fraternity of the University for laying a strong foundation for this temple of learning and appreciate their efforts to make the young institution a centre of excellence. I am sure the university will scale greater heights in the coming years and win more laurels. My best wishes to the faculty, non-teaching staff and all the students.

Friends,

Let us recall what Swami Vivekananda aspired for education to do for our society. He observed: “Education is the manifestation of perfection already present in man. We want that education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, intellect is expanded, and by which one can stand on one’s own feet.”

Let us strive together to achieve these exalted goals. Let us build a Bharat that brings out the ‘manifestation of perfection already present’ in each individual- irrespective of their social and economic background. Let us together stand confidently on our own feet.

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