Varying and extreme gaps in learning levels within the classroom is a problem that is only recently receiving attention from policymakers. The focus so far has been on enrolment, with learning outcomes put aside to be dealt with another day. Thanks to the dearth of pedagogical innovation, standardised curricula exacerbate differences in students’ learning levels. Add to this myopic policies like ‘no detention’ under the Right to Education law—only recently scrapped—and India could end up squandering the human development potential from the massive jump in enrolment and narrowing gender gap in classrooms. To that end, the government—states and the Union—focussing on ‘teaching at the right level’ is a welcome move.
But initiatives like the Delhi government’s Mission Buniyaad, to ensure basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills amongst Class III-IX, are hardly the antidote, even though well-intended. They are both cost- and labour-intensive, and as the curriculum gets more ambitious with each successive grade and learning levels become more sharply fragmented, such methods become unviable.
Incorporation of educational technology (edu-tech), a recent study by Karthik Muralidharan of the University of California at San Diego, Abhijeet Singh of the Stockholm School of Economics and Alejandro J Ganimian of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development shows, can help accurately assess learning levels and customise pedagogical support to bridge intra-classroom gaps. Andhra Pradesh is pioneering tech-enabled pedagogy, and as an early-bird adopter of edu-tech, it will be leagues ahead of other states.
The southern state, from the current academic year, will be using Personalised Adaptive Learning (PAL), or software-based assessment of the academic standing of the students in a classroom. PAL will first assess the student’s comprehension levels and then prescribe targeted learning. Students will take the test online, and based on their individual reports, remedial coaching will be provided. Apart from facilitating tailored learning, PAL will also ease monitoring of impact of remedial classes via dashboards for individual students where teachers can track progress.
After tests in 56 schools proved successful, PAL is being rolled out in over 2,600 schools in Andhra Pradesh—while the bulk of the school will engage with PAL via laptops, the rest will do so over tablets. The initiative, as per a report in The New Indian Express, will involve intensive training of teachers, school administration and bureaucrats, and is expected to impact over 2.5 million children. Andhra Pradesh is, in fact, experimenting with edu-tech in a big way.
After introducing QR codes in non-language subject textbooks, the state is now doing the same for language textbooks for classes VI-X. Scanning the QR codes assigned to different chapters, students can access supplementary video lectures or tutorials. They can also use the QR codes to take quick, online assessment tests that will help them, their parents and teachers measure their actual levels of comprehension.
Such an ecosystem surely makes addressing gaps in learning levels easier than the conventional method, of remedial classes. Also, given boards like CBSE are now increasing reliance on schools’ own assessment of learning levels, by mandating compulsory internal assessment for boards, pedagogy propped by technology can be made to deliver more efficiently.