At least 15 million college students pursuing higher education will be able to share information, lab experiments and classroom content as the Union cabinet on Tuesday approved a proposal to connect 572 universities, 25,000 colleges and 2,000 polytechnics as part of its mission to promote technology usage in higher education.
This approval will merge the National Knowledge Network, promoted by the erstwhile National Knowledge Commission, and the National Mission on Education through Information Communication and Technology (NMEICT).
With this, all colleges and universities can hope for seamless connectivity that will enable e-learning, and enhance e-content repository and sharing of best practices.
“The ultimate target is to provide last-mile connectivity and provide high-quality e-content to be used with the connectivity being provided to the universities and colleges across the country,” Ambika Soni, Union minister for information and broadcasting, said after a cabinet meeting.
In colleges and universities with Internet access, the technology will be upgraded to optical fibre cables from copper wire-based connectivity, the cabinet note says. Every institute will have a “provisioning of 400 nodes of LAN (local area network) on an average.”
Initially, the government had approved connecting 18,000 colleges and 419 universities. The addition of polytechnics is a part of the government’s push to promote vocational and skill education to bridge the demand-supply gap for efficient human resources in the country.
The government has not specified the amount to be spent on the initiative.
Since 2009, only 11,600 colleges have got Internet connectivity—a success rate of 47%, according to data from the human resource development ministry. States that have benefited include Haryana, Punjab, Kerala and Karnataka.
Once seamless connectivity is established, students will have complete access to the e-content being generated under NMEICT.
Several hundred hours of lectures of Indian Institute of Technology professors will be available for free. In addition, the ministry is promoting a virtual lab and an interactive online audio tutorial.
In October, the government launched a low-cost computer for students. But both government and private experts have said such devices will not drive a change in learning unless college have access to the Internet.
With the latest decision to improve connectivity, the $35 computer can be used better despite its several configuration limitations.
Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal had said the device ‘Aakash’ will help eliminate digital illiteracy, but the country needs high-quality study content to be made accessible to students online.
Private universities say the move is a good step, but Internet connectivity and e-content need to be integrated for students to benefit.
Aman Mittal, deputy director at Punjab’s Lovely Professional University, said the facility is unlikely to be free.
“This is a good step as students and professors can now access a lot of information available outside their own campus. But what is required is to boost the e-content repository and clear framework on how to use it better,” he said. “But anyway, availing IIT lectures will be of help to students.”
Colleges and universities that have already adopted technology will benefit more, he said. “But I believe there should be some agreed framework on the usage. If a lecture series is happening at any IIT or a leading varsity, we can benefit if there is some broad agreement on content sharing.” India has some 130 private universities, according to official statistics.