Comments on IT@School Vision Document
I have gone through the document and it's goals are certainly laudable. But I have doubts about the implemetation part of. I have been working in the field of IT for science reaserchf for the past 15 years and I have been interacting with the school/college teachers for the past 3-4 years regarding the usage of computers. This interaction has given me some idea about the ground realities and I would like to make suggetions on the basis of that.
Improving Existing Scenario
At the moment very few of our schools have computer facility. Some of the un-aided schools use it as a tool for attracting students and a for charging something extra in the name if IT. The student does not even learn the basic concepts of computer properly. On the other hand we have a good percentage of people who are computer literates.( In the sense they are able to draft a letter, print it, send an email and browse internet) We need to analyse how they have learned it.
There are hundreds of so called computer institutes all over Kerala. Most of them may not have good infrastructure or highly qualified teachers but almost all of them have around ten PCs and employ PGDCA holders for teaching.
We can classify them broadly in to three categories;
Those who offered entry level courses and charged moderate fees. Their fee was decided by the competition in the market. People who go there do not atach much importance to the certificates they issue.
The second category is the franchisees of bigger agencies. Charged high fees and promised a lot and now busted along with the dotcom bubble.
The third category try to survive on the basis of some government recognition. Most of the time it is just a ploy to attract the students just completed Plustwo or SSLC. Most of them does not have good infrastructure or faculty.
In my opinion, it is possible to channelize the existing infrastructure and expertize of the first category for an IT enabled Kerala. As far as elementary IT literacy is concerned, the government need not and should not setup training centers or recognize any. It should do the following.
Government should conduct Qualifying exams only. It should form the syllabus for two or three courses and publish it on the web. Establish guidance/ Exam Centre in each district. Anybody can register by paying a registration fee should be able to appear for an exam, along with practicals, after a stipulated time period. No training or support from the Centre. It only should provide the syllabus and exam facility. If it does not get degraded like our RTOs issuing driving licenses, we will have an IT enabled generation.
Once such a facility exists, all the unrecognized computer institutes will be forced to follow that syllabus. I am also enclosing a sample syllabas for an entry level course that is not biased to any particular operating system or program.
IT @ Schools
The vision document mentions "Using IT as a tool for teaching and learning" other subjects. This is done at places having good computer to student ratio. In developed countries, where it is tried, every class room is equipped with computers. In any case computer to student ration is a deciding factor.
How to improve the Computer to Student ratio
It means installing large number of computers in each school. It may sound impossible but it possible if you carefully study it. We need to address the issues of;
The cost of acquiring a PC
This include hardware and software costs.
Reduced maintenance cost will automatically increase the number of PCs over the years.
Hardware and Software Obsolescence
The compuer Industry moves at a fast pace and there is an impression that the machines are outdated fast. Partialy this is happening due to a nexus between hardware and software manufactures. The new softwares are written in inefficient manner and it demands newer hardware. This can be overcome if you define your objectives. Dot not look for the fancy useless features offered by new products.
Sticking to the standards is another important measure. For example, if a word processor writes the files in an undisclosed proprietary format, the vendor can force you to do an upgrade by making the documents created by the new version incompatible with the old. You need to avoid such products.
(A proposal to implement the computer lab at an school is atached along with this)
Another limited way of using IT for teaching is through demonstration programs. For examples, there are programs demonstrating the principles of scince. To show such things to a whole class, we need LCD projectors that are expensive at the moment.
Educational Software also falls into different categories.
There are packages claims to follow some school syllabus and heavily rely on animations etc. They just repeat what is in the text books in a different manner. There is nothing new in it. There are also packages that really improves the level of understanding, maily of the teachers. These are the products of various research laboratories and are available free of cost. For example there are programs to calculate and display the shape of molecules, programs to do mathematical manipulations etc.
About the Syllabus
The computer syllbus should only talk about the skills to be developed. It should not be linked to any particular operating system or program. In fact all the existing computers works on the same principles, both in hardware and software. The differences are just on the surface. (I have used and programmed under five different operating systems and observed it) If the syllabus only insist on the objective, the implementation can be done in the most cost effective manner. For example, I am writng this document on a disk-less GNU/Linux terminal costing less than Rs. 15000/- using the Star Office program, which is free. It could be done on a costly platform also. But the requirement is just wordprocessing. The same is true with programming and other activities. If you just specify the requirement, the implementation can be done in many ways and the best is going to survive.
I hope these suggetions are of some use. I would be willing to clarify them if required.
Ajith Kumar B.P.
Nuclear Science Centre
New Delhi 110 067
Syllabus (changes to that put on the web)
Functional introduction to IT. Hardware and Software parts of a computer.
Hardware: CPU , main memory(RAM/ROM) and secondary memory(disks),
Input (keyboard, mouse, camera etc.) /Output devices( monitor, priter, speaker etc).
Camera-Web Camera-UPS-Hardware and Software.
Hardware operates on 5V and 12V DC (Power Supply to provide it from 230 VAC)
Essential part. Interacts with the user - starts other programs -manages storage. Starting the OS - the booting process -
Single user and multiuser systems
Types of interfaces - command line - GUI -
OS Examples : DOS, MSWindows, Linux
Word processors, browsers, graphics editors, educational programs etc.
Interacting with a computer
Systems having GUI - Desktop - Icons and menus - How to start a program ( select it from the menu or using icons on the desktop-concept window (programs operate inside rectangular areas called windows) - window operations, minimize, maximize, move, resize etc. - the Home Directry (linux) / My computer (MSWindows) (where the files are kept) - creating Files and directories - copying, deleting and moving files using the GUI- saving and retrieving data.
Loading/ saving files. Selecting character fonts - changing character atributes like size, color, special effects etc. Formatting paragraphs - line spacing - justification , left, right, center and both side. Embedding pictures in documents. Drafting a letter . Printing.
Searching for patterns - cutting and pasting -( The above can be done using any wordprocessor supporting the features mentioned)
Basic HTML tags - chaging color , size etc. - inserting links to another HTML file ( this will make clear how WWW works) - make a simple web page - view it using a browser - can be hosted on an intranet.
A simple programming language - BASIC/LOGO (LOGO is designed for chidren) - algorithms to perform simple tasks like addition - generate a multiplication table - drawing geometrical shapes on screen - draw more complicated patterns .
Computers in Education
Simple educational tools - calculator - graph plotting programs - periodic table - various programs to demonstrate science subjects.