By J Ganesan and Aditya Chopra
In May, the Haryana government launched e-Adhigam, an innovative and ambitious tablet-based learning scheme for government school students. Under e-Adhigam, the government is providing free tablets to 500,000 students in grades 10th, 11th and 12th with pre-loaded personalised and adaptive learning (PAL) software, learning content and high-speed internet connectivity. The launch was a grand affair, with the CM and the education minister presiding over the function in Rohtak, and elected representatives with the local administration presiding over their own launch events across 22 districts and 119 blocks; close to 10,000 students received tablets that day. The scheme entails the single largest deployment of PAL-enabled learning devices in the country. But getting to this point was not easy or straightforward. It required strong political will and collaboration between the government, academia and private partners.
Two years ago, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, there were more unknowns than knowns. To ensure students don’t lose touch with learning, the government along with its partners, including Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Samagra, launched an online home learning programme to engage with students. Called Ghar Se Padhao, it was first launched on WhatsApp and EDUSAT and eventually through a student-facing mobile app. At the peak of the pandemic, the government was able to engage with over 90% of the 2.5 million government school students in the state through learning videos, worksheets and quizzes. The government was cognisant that technology couldn’t be a substitute for classroom interaction, but it saw the value of edtech as a supplement to classroom learning.
Thinking long term
The digital divide among government school students meant that every child was experiencing a unique socio-emotional turbulence coupled with learning losses. The government had to, therefore, come up with a sustainable strategy that could bridge the digital divide and enable personalised learning for students at home even after schools reopened.
Several options were considered—computer labs, laptops, smart boards, tablets, mobile phones, TVs. But each option presented pros and cons. The government decided providing tablets to students with pre-loaded PAL software. The vision was set by the state’s CM, whose support helped the Department of Education navigate difficult choices.
The essence of the Haryana tablets model is that each student should have a separate tablet, for learning at her own pace, and the tablet can be used at home or at school in the presence of the teacher. The student has access to at-grade as well as remedial content in the form of videos, games and practice exercises. Teachers have been provided internet-enabled tablets to assess student progress and receive feedback. The tablets also have a mobile device management (MDM) system that provides security, prevents misuse and enables remote handling of each tablet. MDM allows for seamless and over-the-air installation and update of software the tablets from a centralised admin console.
After the necessary budgetary approvals were in place and the programme design was finalised, identifying the most suitable PAL software at this scale was a challenge. The government designed a comprehensive process for procurement: (1) qualifying stage to filter-out software without adaptability, (2) technical evaluation on PAL effectiveness using a framework, (3) pilot programme with the PAL solution to get proof of concept, and (4) organisational capability of the PAL provider. The government partnered with NCERT’s Central Institute of Educational Technology and IIT Bombay’s Edtech Tulna research team to understand frameworks for evaluating PAL software products. With expert support, the government created a Haryana Tulna (comparison) evaluation framework and designed a multi-step procurement process to ensure technical quality evaluation and price discovery. The procurement process took about six months with multiple rounds of evaluations by a committee comprising government officials, members of academia and experts from Indian and global organisations.
The launch of the programme is just the first step. As tablets start getting distributed, it will be critical to ensure that students use the tablets regularly for remediation, practice and learning at their own pace, while teachers are able to seamlessly integrate tablet-learning into the classroom. In the coming months, the government will have to be open and receptive to feedback from students, teachers and parents, to ensure the vision of the programme is getting translated into reality. This will also require persistent efforts by the administration to keep all stakeholders, including partners and vendors, aligned on the programme’s objective. What has been possible in Haryana can be replicated in other states. This is the boldest edtech experiment that has been carried out in government schools thus far. It presents an opportunity to bring the latest technology to government school students at scale across the country and make them ready for the 21st century.
Ganesan is director, Secondary Education, Government of Haryana, and Chopra is vice-president, Samagra. Views are personal