“With great power comes great responsibility”
This is a line from a popular film but is quite apt when it comes to learning and technology in the present day scenario. The mobile and handheld device revolution and the spread of the Internet has indeed brought along unprecedented teaching and learning opportunities for the students and young adults of the country. When we take a look at the grave pitfalls and shortcomings that such technology brings along, however, we wonder if it is an advantage at all. Before we take a look at what smartphones have to offer by way of both advantages and shortcomings, let us take a look at the phenomenal rate of mobile and internet penetration in the country.
Recent news reports suggest that as of June 2017 there are over 465 million Internet users in the country. The report also pegged the overall Internet penetration in the country at about 31 percent. The easy availability and low pricing of smartphones in the country have made mobile phones the primary device used by Indians (77 percent of urban users and 99 percent of rural users) to connect to the Internet.
Another report says that mobile phone penetration stands at about 67 to 70 percent currently but by the year 2020 it is expected that about 90 percent of the population will be using mobile phones. Add to this the introduction of high speed 4G mobile internet made available by operators like Jio and it is quite clear why mobile phones have started to dominate every aspect of life in urban and rural India.
Learning Through Mobile Technology
One of the greatest advantages offered by mobile phones is the ability to learn in the convenience of your own time and place. This comes particularly handy in rural areas where specialized classes are distant and difficult to access. Add to this the advantages of the audio visual medium to traditional bookish learning. Social learning, learning through videos, real time interactions and digital access to texts across the world offer students top notch resources and educational initiatives – all at the touch of a smartphone. Various applications are designed by schools, colleges and academic institutions that fuel practical learning and virtual classrooms ensure no one misses out on any lesson or subject. The greatest advantage that mobile learning offers is to differently abled students, linguistically challenged people, and even to adult learners is immense.
It is precisely this potential for learning that the government has been trying to harness with its various digital learning initiatives. In fact the President of India launched some of the most innovative digital learning schemes in July this year. The SWAYAM is a Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) that offers digital classroom learning opportunities to students from the senior secondary level going right up to post graduate courses. All this can be accessed by mobile devices from anywhere across the country. National Digital Library (NDL), an online library with over 70 lakh books that can be accessed by students and readers from across the country. The mere fact that a student in India owns a mobile phone with Internet access qualifies him or her to access a multitude of educational resources and courses.
Does Smart Phone = Smart Learning?
While mobile phones may provide an easy and even excellent medium for learning, they are not without their own shortcomings. The commonest problem that is reported by teachers and parents across the country is falling attention spans among children and young adults. Games, films, and social media have brought a great deal of unnecessary distraction into the lives of students. This certainly does not make for great learning. Apart from these, common complaints include the lack of social outlook and empathy, cyber bullying, loss of innovation, failing linguistic stills, and loss of reading and writing habits.
Caution – Pitfalls Ahead!
The greatest threat that is posed by smartphones is the exposure to illegal and criminal activities and to elements that may harm the mental health of these children and young adults. The recent incidences of suicides due to the Blue Whale challenge amply demonstrate the level of control manipulators can exercise over a young adult with a mobile phone. Social isolation, impulse control, lack of learned behavior are all rising concerns from parents of children who are addicted to mobile phones. Terrorist recruiters also use Internet and Social Media platforms to influence vulnerable young minds.
Coming back to our original premise – mobile phones, technology, and the Internet have brought great power. It is up to us to use them responsibly.