Anantha Duraiappah is the inaugural director of the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) based in New Delhi, set up in 2014. In partnership with Andhra Pradesh state government, MGIEP recently organised the Transforming Education Conference for Humanity (TECH 2019), which deliberated on the role of digital pedagogies in building sustainable societies. "We want to brand the TECH not only as a premier conference for knowledge generation, but also for capacity building and, in particular, teacher training," says Duraiappah. In an interview, over email, with FE's Vikram Chaudhary, he adds that education systems, the world over and not just in India, need to pay attention to equip learners with emotional intelligence. On the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the education sector in India, he says it implies the need for regulations over the use of student data and, in particular, to protect students from misuse of their data by external parties. Excerpts:
Do you think the current Indian education system needs to be reformed?
I always ask this question to myself: Does the current education system prepare young learners to develop more peaceful and sustainable societies? Sadly, the answer is 'no'. A majority of education systems, the world over and not just in India, focus on building cognitive intelligence, which is largely aimed at further building human capital. Instead, education systems also need to pay equal attention to equip learners with emotional intelligence.
And how can they do so?
They can do this by inculcating social and emotional skills such as mindfulness, empathy and compassion. Such skills, in fact, can help learners appreciate and understand different cultures and issues, and enable them to interact respectfully with each other.
What are the prospects of the use of digital technologies in the education sector from a policy perspective?
I am an optimist and a futurist. The young are digital citizens. They learn fast on digital devices. The challenge is to provide the hardware, but again I see countries allocating budgets accordingly for the purchase of hardware. Another important player are IT companies. They have been instrumental in supplying schools in India with infrastructure to narrow the digital divide. The same goes for bandwidth availability and the link with the internet. It is becoming widely available, and I believe within the next 10 years every one of us will be connected.
But with the use of the internet, comes challenges. Data privacy and ownership is an important issue. The rise of the use of artificial intelligence implies the need for regulations over the use of student data and, in particular, to protect students from misuse of their data by external parties. This is why we had a whole track in the TECH 2019 conference on this issue, and UNESCO is leading the initiative on the ethics of artificial intelligence.
What was the idea behind holding the TECH 2019 conference?
The aim was showcasing the role of digital technologies in enabling a shift from "transmissive pedagogies" to "transformative pedagogies", to create more peaceful and sustainable societies.
How important is it to teach the teachers in India?
Social and emotional training must be mandatory in teacher training. A teacher is seen by many students as a mentor, a person who is well-read and is a guide to help students expand their horizons. Teachers act as advisors for students' future careers. To live up to these expectations, the teacher must first be able to regulate her/his emotions, have the attention/focus that is needed when listening to students, be able to understand the student from her/his perspective, and last but not least have compassion and be kind. These are the qualities a 21st century teacher must have because the access and delivery of information is now easily done through digital forum. The role of a teacher will have to change going forward, from that of a person who merely transmits knowledge to a person who is more of a nurturer and life guide.