IT exploring education mart

Universities, technical institutes, colleges & large schools emerging as big users of IT

IT exploring education mart

An external view of IIT Kharagpur, one of the leading educational institutions using IT for its operational management

To promote education, over the years, all governments at the Centre have emphasised on it. The recently passed bill ‘Right of Children to free and compulsory education act 2009’, will also further the cause as it calls for free and compulsory education to all children of the State of the age between six and fourteen. But despite these efforts, there are major apprehensions about taking education to the rural people. Many students in rural India are not able to go to school as they have to work to feed the family. To improve the reach of education, government, industry, academic institutes and many NGOs are confident that use of IT can play a crucial role.

The market

According to a recent report from Springboard, India’s education sector is forecasted to step up its IT spend from an estimated $356 million in 2008 to $704 million in 2012, reflecting a compounded growth of 19 per cent in this period. Keeping in mind the huge market opportunity, IT majors, both domestic and multinationals, are developing tailor-made solutions for the education segment. Many start-ups re also cashing in on this opportunity and are involved in developing innovative solutions to facilitate teaching in a cost effective manner.

“A tremendous change has happened in how the institutes or universities function and new technologies continue to evolve and penetrate deeper. Institutions are using IT from their basic admission process, to classes, to administration, in conducting examinations and in teaching,” SunGard COO & Country Head Akila Krishna Kumar, said.

IT implementation does not just mean providing cost effective teaching solutions, but is a major catalyst in terms of administration and many other roles. It is very difficult to find institutions without a website these days, which means that IT has become an inevitable component of the education system. Content management and right content is another need which educational institutes look for. “We have implemented a DMS system for effective content management and distribution processes in many institutes,” points out Cisco India & SAARC Vice-President Rajesh Shetty.

As a part of their campus widening initiatives, even private universities are also looking to re-engineer their business processes to create a stable and auditable environment.
For creating this accountability and secure complaint with regulations, they also use solutions that will equip an IT system that will support its people-centred needs and multi-campus requirements.

For example, Sharada university has implemented a solution from Oracle PeopleSoft. The implementation will cover the university’s complete student lifecycle and also its back office operations, including human resources, payroll, inventory, purchasing and asset management.“New curriculum, technology brings in lot of compliance issues and IT can help in solving compliance and regulation issues. Our solutions help in end to end data management. In large institutions or universities different information sits in different systems, so a proper data management mechanism is needed to that,” opines Oracle India Head-Applications Growth Business Samik Roy.

A major tool

Institutes are also using ERP for data entry and the conventional register maintaining. These solutions help them in maintaining the enrollment process to everyday attendance tracking easy. With the usage of customised IT solution for administration of educational institutes can now reduce time taken to recruit employees, reduce paper and other direct costs. Such solutions also improve employee productivity, operational efficiency and inventory management.  Many elite educational institutions also use networking solutions to inter-connect their campuses with expert faculties around the globe and create a student-teacher network within a particular campus. Prof Basav, Professor at the IIM Shillong said, “the automation of student registration process, placement, payroll, CRM etc has been placed in our campus. The IT infrastructure created in our campus helps in ensuring transparency, student assessment and also in administration purposes. We also use video conferencing and other Microsoft tools for teaching and IT has made teaching easy.”

Using RFID technology and biometric identification for every student, IIM Shillong maintains book issue and return register in its library in the absence of of a librarian, Basav added. Besides ERP solutions, academic institutes use GPS technology, mobile tracking, bulk messaging and other methods for the safety of their students.  While talking about the use of IT in education, the oldest and most important element is the use of computers. Every school and college has computer labs, but the schools are not able to provide computers to all students as the number of students are more and the investments required are high.

Many PC makers and solution providers in the country are coming up with new ideas like desktop virtualisation which can solve this issue to a certain extent. “We are working with various state governments in the country. Union government is taking many steps in taking IT to rural areas and government schools,” Dell Country General Manager Sameer Garde said.

Another application used by colleges is in setting up virtual classrooms and video conferencing, that helps interaction and knowledge transfer on a real time environment. Computer aided learning or e-learning can be used in and out of the classroom. This provides people learning opportunity anytime and anywhere and guidance from experts.  As the competition among educational institutions grows, and the number of specialised streams that call for expert teachers and a quorum of students increase, there is a clear need to ensure that the technology solution addresses key need areas. A huge market and business opportunities in the education sector has prompted many companies to form joint-ventures in creating applications for the sector. A recent announcement was that of Cisco and Intel collaborating for the digital healthcare education model, through which they look at standardising medical and dental education in the country.

The companies will work together in deploying IT infrastructure and network connectivity in medical colleges and para medical colleges. IT also offer physically disabled children an opportunity for education, many institutes for physically disabled student use software with attractive visual and auditory features.  Meanwhile, IT is also used to provide content for both learning and teaching, leveraging this are firms like Educomp Solution.
The firm launched India’s first VSAT-based engineering programme across Tier II and III cities to allow students access to high quality coaching.

Educomp Solutions CEO & MD Shantanu Prakash  said, “our focus is on consolidating presence in the supplemental education space, which is currently among the fastest growing segment, with an estimated market size of $8 billion. We have created a new entity our supplemental education business which includes off-school services such as tutoring, counseling and assessment.”

Tough road ahead

Even as IT is changing the scenario in education, adoption is still mainly confined to large cities where PC and internet penetration is high. The spread of computerisation to schools, students and teachers in the semi urban and rural areas is negligible. Another reason for the slow adoption is the huge cost incurred in for high tech tools and scarcity of properly trained staff in schools and colleges.

It is the government who has to take various initiative and the Union government has sanctioned Rs 5,990 crore over 10 years to build a high-speed communication network to connect researchers in 1,500 educational institutions, which will enable applications that allow sharing of high-performance computing facilities, e-libraries, virtual classrooms and very large databases.

Demand for IT in education may also get a boost from foreign universities recently allowed by the government. Education sector in the country is sure to scale newer heights owing to the demographic advantage and a proper implementation of information technology tools could pave way to enhance this growth.

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