• By Prof Nageshwar Rao
The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has banned 59 Chinese apps invoking it’s power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act in view of the information available as they are engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.
According to the press release of the Ministry, it has received “many representations raising concerns from citizens regarding security of data and risk to privacy relating to operation of certain apps”.
The BBC has reported quoting the quoting the Government that reasons behind banning of Chinese apps could be “the compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures”.
The most significant Chinese apps that are found in the list of banned 59 apps are: Tiktok, Shareit, Helo, Cam Scanner, Clean Master etc. These banned apps like TikTok, Club Factory and UC Browser and other apps put together had more than 500 million monthly active users in May and 27 of these 59 apps were among the top 1,000 Android apps in India last month, according to techcrunch.com.
What we derive from the penetration of these Chinese apps in India? It could be due to the following three major factors:
Growing use of smart phones in India: According to the study published by Statista Research Department on Jun 25, 2020, on smartphone penetration rate in India from 2014 to 2020 as share of mobile phone users, it was predicted that by 2022, 36 percent of mobile phone users in the country would use a smartphone, up from 26 percent in 2018.
• Internet usage in India: According to the Internet usage in India – Statistics & Facts, by Sanika Diwanji, in Staistica, on 29th June 2020, with over 560 million internet users, India is the second largest online market in the world. It was estimated that by 2023, there would be over 650 million internet users in the country. Despite the large base of internet users, the internet penetration rate in the country stood at around 50 percent in 2020.
• Social Networking: It was estimated that by 2023, this penetration of social networks would be 3 1 percent of the country’s population, according to Indian Social Networking Penetration 2017-2023 by Sanika Diwanji, in Staistica, on 26th May 2020.
From the above facts, it is amply clear that there could be three major forces, which are instrumental in driving active usages of mobile apps and these could be because of increasing usage of smart phones, internet penetration in the country and its usage and popularity of social networking applications. All these factors together might have helped the Chinese apps to gain penetration amongst the Indian users.
Now, when the Government has banned the 59 Chinese apps which may have been associated with different domains of the society but none of them had any educational and enriching value which could have helped in enhancing education, training and skill development or value addition to the society in general. Now after banning of these Chinese apps, what are ways forward and how higher education institutions in India can play an instrumental role in connecting IT expertise to the mobile application development so that technical environment indigenous mobile applications could be evolved which could be termed as Indigenous Mobile Applications of India, by India and for India. The following arguments can throw some light on the evolving institutional-industry partnership in indigenous mobile application developments and these are:
• Institutional Collaboration with IT/ Application Development companies: India, being a major IT power, hence there is no dearth of technical expertise and organisations in providing the desired technical manpower, however, for exclusive for areas related to mobile application development, a collaborative strategy could be formed. The Higher Education and technical institutions offering computer applications and IT related courses can collaborate with IT companies in general like TCS, Infosys, HCL, Wipro etc. or organisations exclusively dedicated towards mobile applications development and offer joint certification of mobile application development courses. This strategy could have many advantages including enhancing employability quotient of technical programmes of the higher education institutions and availability of skilled and certified manpower for mobile application development in India. To be more precise, such higher education and technical institutions can dedicate some of their infrastructural and financial resources for mobile application development incubators, which can consolidate generation of innovative ideas, designing the related applications and its testing and launch. These incubators with active collaboration with IT industry, and more specifically, mobile application development companies can transform the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in this dedicated emerging area of mobile applications development.
Through this collaboration, a dedicated lab or testing facilities could be developed at the higher education and technical institutions on their unutilised physical infrastructure, which could be evolved as nodal points for research and development in the areas of mobile applications. It may also be possible that such higher education and technical institutions collaborate with IT industries for offering custom made certification courses exclusively in mobile application development, which could be combined with their regular UG level technical courses at BE/BTech/BSC levels. This initiative will have dual benefits i.e. the first being getting certified fresh pass out technical manpower in the exclusive domain of mobile applications and secondly, enhancing the employability quotient of technical courses with tremendous potential for campus placements.
• Collaboration with Sector Skill Council: The IT-ITeS Sector Skills Council (SSC NASSCOM) has identified high demand occupations, which can be referred as those job roles, where companies expect majority of hiring to take place. These four quadrants of high demand occupations by the Sector Skills Council are IT services, BPM, ER&D and SPD. Under the quadrant IT services, one of the areas for high demand skill manpower is identified as application development. There are many job roles already prepared by the SSC under IT services sub sector at the NSQF levels 7 and 8 and hence, there seems to be an urgent need for having a job role/s and required qualification packs for mobile application developers under IT services at NSQF levels 5, 6 and 7 leading to diploma, advanced diploma and BVoC level certifications with specialisations in mobile application development.
The higher education and technical institutions can therefore realign their existing course modules with the proposed qualification packs and job roles as identified by the sector skill councils subject to the approval from the regulatory bodies and statutory bodies of the higher education / technical institutions. This kind of collaboration will not only help in offering the employment-oriented courses but also it will be instrumental in developing skilled and trained manpower with due certification from SSC and higher education institutions.
The students undertaking these NSQF level programmes can have the option for lateral entry into the specialised technical courses in the technical institutions if credit transfer framework amongst the institutions and SSC could be worked out. This arrangement could have dual benefits i.e. the first, being having certification and required skill sets to gain employment or self-employment and secondly, these students could further enhance their knowledge in the specialised areas by entering through lateral entry route in the under graduate (UG)/post graduate (PG) courses of the higher education / technical institutions.
With UGC Online (Courses or Programmes) Regulations 2018, in place, the higher education and technical institutions in collaboration with SSC can devise collaborative online programmes on mobile application development provided it fulfils the norms as laid down in the online regulations and with due approval from the regulatory bodies. The online regulations mandate the four Quadrants approach for offering online programmes and these are Quadrant I- e-tutorials, Quadrant II- e-content, Quadrant Ill-web resources and Quadrant IV-self assessment. Accordingly, the higher education and technical institutions may need to undertake feasibility studies and readiness on the aforesaid four Quadrants approach before deciding on offering online programmes and courses in the domain of mobile application development.
• Institutional Innovative Practices: Many higher education and technical institutions are actively utilizing mobile application framework for giving support to the students and more specifically during prevailing circumstances due to Covid-19 pandemic. During this testing time under lockdown, the educational institutions have completely relied on the videoconferencing application such as Google Meet and Microsoft Teams etc for teaching the students through online mode. I would like to cite a moderate initiative of the Indira Gandhi National Open University, which facilitated an in-house mobile application for providing digital content to its students. This mobile application is known as IGNOU e-Content App with 500K+ downloads and the ratings of 3.9. The success of this application lies in the fact that over seventy thousand students of the University downloaded the digital study material through this application in the year 2019 itself, when it was launched by the University. More interestingly, this application is open to anyone for accessing the digital contents provided by the University. The University is also in the process of developing its dedicated mobile application for the comprehensive student’s support including online adrnissions and online assignment submission and its evaluation.
• Opportunities for Higher Education Institutions: Here, comes the opportunity for the higher education institutions to overcome challenges and dedicate resources to develop indigenously institutionalised videoconferencing application for providing online support to its students. Rather, a comprehensive mobile application for educational institutions is the current major requirement, which can combine the following applications:
• Videoconferencing application for e-learning/ e-tutorials;
• e-content including pre-recorded audio-video lessons;
• e-assessment for assignment / tutorials;
• e-registration / admission;
• e-forums for peer interaction; and
• Online examinations
Rather, it would be more transformational for higher education institutions to have mobile applications-based learning management system (LMS) covering every domain student life cycle management system starting with pre admission counselling and culminating at the final award of qualifications. These futuristic educational mobile learning applications could have tremendous potential to transform the entire landscape of the teaching-learning process not only in higher education but also in the school education. Imagine the number of downloads and active utilization of educational mobile learning applications could take place giving the enormous size and potential of education sector in India. We would rather rephrase the educational mobile learning applications as democratic educational apps with its underlying power of providing access and equity to education.
• Bridging the Digital Divide: To increase the internet penetration in the country from the current 50%, it is all the more important that such indigenous user-friendly mobile applications are developed which could help in bridging the digital divide. Again, educational institutions in collaboration with IT industries can play a vital role in designing and developing mobile applications which could bridge the digital divide by developing applications in the following areas:
Digital literacy: Mobile applications could be very useful tool for basic reading and writing applications and linked with relevant institutions / departments for assessment and certifications as Digital Literate Citizen of India;
Digital financial literacy: Mobile applications could also be developed for educating the population of the country for bank and financial related information including operating the Jan Dhan Accounts, using credit and debit card facilities, online payments including UPI based payments etc. After successful assessments, digital financial literacy certification could be provided.
These applications would be very helpful for farmers and labours in organised and unorganised sectors.
Recognition of Prior Learning: Under Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna (PMKVY), the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is largely refers to an assessment process used to evaluate a person’s existing skill sets, knowledge and experience gained either by formal, non-formal or informal learning. The five-step process ofRPL under PMKVY i.e. Mobilisation: Activities related to mobilisation of skilled but uncertified candidates; Counselling and PreScreening Test: test to ascertain the job role that matches their prior knowledge and skill sets; Orientation: 6 hours of domain specific training, 4 hours of soft skills and entrepreneurship and 2 hours of assessment methods;Final Assessment: Core and Non-Core National Occupation Standards (NOSs) assessment; and Certification, Marksheet and Payout: Awarding of PMKVY RPL Certificate, Marksheet and Pay-out can be integrated into one mobile application and thus mandate of digital/ online RPL can be achieved.
Our country has tremendous potential with ever growing talented young population with robust infrastructure for higher education and technical education and huge pool of skilled and technical manpower. If all these factors are combined with collaborative framework, no doubt, we will be having plethora of quality oriented indigenous mobile applications, which will cover the entire domain of our life and more specifically for socio-cultural and educational connectivity. This can be achieved through institutional-industrial collaborations and can be termed as win- win situations for both i.e. higher education institutions and IT industries too.
Author is a Vice Chancellor,
Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi