The importance of early education for children cannot be overstated. This has been a significant investment area for the government ever since Independence, and the outcome is that we have near 100% enrolment for early education in India (until age 6). While the access challenge to education has been addressed through investments in schools, the challenge now is quality of education. Surveys about quality, particularly by organisations like ASER-Pratham, indicate we have a huge problem—mathematics and English proficiency are significantly low. Traditional methods of fixing have not worked, and we need digital-led disruptions—smartphone apps are the obvious way forward in helping kids achieve education outcomes that India needs. Digital can play an important role in early years—up to 8 years of age—as the main focus of learning till that age is along language and cognitive dimensions, and not focused on more formal subjects as defined by curriculum. Some user surveys have indicated that 80% of parents have positive views on using apps and other digital media for learning and development of kids. However, there are also concerns that parents have towards using digital. The biggest is around whether exposure to digital results in kids getting distracted from physical or academic activities.
While some worries are genuine and parents need to set house rules about digital, a large part of the concern arises from the lack of understanding of benefits of digital. Parents, in general, lack awareness of how digital can influence leaning outcomes uniquely that traditional methods of teaching will struggle to achieve. Parents follow broadly defined milestones. So, by age 1, the kid should walk, by age 3 should know how to recognise alphabets, and so on. The challenge is limited awareness and attention to building “approach to learning” for their children. Approach to learning implies helping children improve abilities to (a) becoming active learners who understand the concepts introduced to them and (b) apply new knowledge so acquired to new settings. Approach to learning for kids is a science in itself—with education experts unanimously agreeing on interactive or multi-sensory learning as key methods to help kids learn better. In fact, Bloom’s taxonomy outlines learning objectives for a child beginning with remembering facts learnt, then laying out objectives to understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating, and finally creating using the knowledge so acquired.
Unfortunately, traditional methods of learning do not help a student achieve all the objectives. In a typical classroom setting (40-60 students), it is simply impossible to deliver this type of learning. Here, digital learning (videos, apps) can play a major role.
Research and feedback from thousands of users supports that digital environment combined with offline activities (games, sports, toys) can give children much-required added benefits. In fact, even as little as structured 15-30 minutes a day of interactive learning can have a remarkable impact on their learning outcomes. The critical factors when it comes to digital learning are access, affordability and impact. Inexpensive universal access to digital resources, at a low cost, has the potential to deliver learning outcomes in a highly measurable way. Today, even a Rs 3,000 Android smartphone has capabilities that can deliver interactive learning experience to a child. Recently, the World Economic Forum published a framework on “8 digital skills we must teach our children” which included concepts such as digital identity, digital literacy, digital emotional intelligence and so on. Building the Digital Quotient (DQ) of kids, clearly, is a priority today.
The author is co-founder & CEO, AppyStore, the provider of learning videos apps for kids