Time to teach the digital way

Written by Diksha Dutta | Diksha Dutta | Updated: Jul 9 2012, 05:33am hrs
Private schools are encouraging lesser use of pen & paper and larger use of computers. As classrooms get digitised, the bigger question is will this lead to better education

This is the right time to be a school student. Yes, this is what one would feel after realising how digitisation in schools is affecting education. Everybody from telecom firms and manufacturers (such as Vodafone and Micromax), education companies (such as Pearson and Educomp), private schools and IT companies are collaborating to encourage the concept of digital content, digital textbooks and digital classrooms. Past few months have seen major tie-ups and acceleration in this area, but still there is a long way to go.

First, the fact sheet: The market for digitisation of classrooms is as big as R1,500 crore in public schools and R25,000 crore in private schools. The demand for digitisation is around 7,50,000 classrooms and, at present, only 80,000 classrooms are digitised. The classroom digitisation industry is growing at a rate of 50% year-on-year. Unfortunately, only 10% of the classrooms are digitised in our country as of now.

But the good news is that the ecosystem is working together. Last Month, education companies Pearson and Everonn tied up with the telecom firm Micromax to make relevant content available for the students in K-12 schools. The electronic device Funbook will be available at 1,00,000 retail outlets across 50 cities in India.

Says Max Gabriel, senior vice-president and chief technology officer, Pearson India, Of the 80,000 digitised classrooms, Pearson owns 18,000. Six months ago we had only 11,000 of them digitised. Thus, this industry is growing at a rate of 50% year-on-year and we are also growing at the same rate. We entered the information and communications technology (ICT) business 2.5 years ago when we acquired Tutorvista. Digitisation of classrooms includes curriculum on smartphones, digital content management and infrastructure to support technology.

Gabriels aspirations are high for the future. He feels that digitising the content is equally important and students in schools need to get used to reading such content. Even for digitisation of content, our target is 15,000 schools and we must have already covered around 1,000 schools. In our second phase of digitising classrooms, we plan to have device makers as partners in the smartphone and tablet space, he adds.

Susha John, director and CEO of Everonn Education, too feels the importance of digital content. We believe that digital learning facilitated through tablets will revolutionise the educational space. Everonn is committed and has invested in developing content. To start with, we will offer our school curriculum-learning modules, IIT/JEE test prep module and @home live tuition products on the Micromax device. Students can now have access to good teachers, educational content and a great learning experience any time, anywhere.

Educomp, which has been in the smart classrooms business since 2003-04 and caters to schools in Delhi such as Modern School, Barakhamba, and Delhi Public School, RK Puram, has a similar story to share. Abhinav Dhar, director, K-12 business and operations, Educomp, says, We have digitised 10,000 schools across the country. Some of these schools have 300 classrooms each and some of them start only with digitising 10 to 12 classrooms. These deals are usually on a five-year contract with schools. For this, the students have to pay a nominal instalment of R100-150 per month.

Rupesh Shah, the CEO of InOpen Technologies, says, At InOpen, we are focused on being educational content generators. We are passionate about creating content which is simple, engaging and fun. For us, digitisation is only adding the right technology to our content. Here I must add that the role of e-content providers in a country like India is important because of the diversity in culture, language, lack of teachers and schools. The content providers have been focusing on creating content which suites the Indian scenario and a cost-effective curriculum for the academia. They also lay a lot of emphasis on understanding the education needs of the audience, which is important. He also adds that e-learning should be adopted not because it is fashionable but because it meets the educational needs of the society.

The dark side

India has 10,00,000 schools and 90% of them are public schools. That means 1,00,000 are private schools, and of which only 80,000 are digitised. Moreover, companies like Pearson and Educomp target either the tier-1 schools that have a fees above R4,00,000 per annum per child or the tier-2 schools. Nobody really concentrates on the small-town schools and government schools.

Although there is a ray of hope but the way to go is quite long. For instance, two months ago Vodafone started an initiative with Pratham Education Foundation in which, starting with 300 schools in June 2012, the digitisation project shall be implemented in a phased manner targeting low-income schools only. The project will be implemented in government schools and low-income private schools in urban and rural areas where the medium of teaching is English. Vodafone has committed R14 crore to provide the Learning with Vodafone Solution across 1,000 schools in India over the next three years. A successful pilot project has been conducted in schools across Karnataka and Vodafone India Foundation looks at building on this and replicating the same success in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Delhi.

In spite of major challenges, we hope that the digital form of education reaches every school child in every small town of India. Because, that is where it is needed the most!

Step by step

* Pearson and Everonn have tied up with Micromax to develop relevant content for students in K-12 schools

* Vodafone has committed R14 crore to provide the Learning with Vodafone Solution across 1,000 schools

* Pearson owns 18,000 digitised classrooms. Plans to grow at a 50% year-on-year rate

* For digitisation of content, Pearsons target is 15,000 schools and has already covered 1,000 schools

* Educomp has digitised 10,000 schools across the country

* Students have to pay a nominal instalment of R100-150 per month for digitisation