By Ankur Bansal
Innovation has disrupted every sector, including education. With learning outcomes dominating discourse on educational reforms, technology is being relied upon to improve student-teacher dynamics. But the unwavering focus within edtech has been on tech-enabled pedagogy and in-classroom activation. While these fulfil a definite need, more resources and thought must be directed towards using technology to improve education governance and upgrading administrative systems, thereby making a large-scale impact on the quality of education.
States like Himachal Pradesh have realised this potential. Supported by Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the state has invested in creating enabling technology that helps the administration to deliver quality education. It includes developing technology platforms that help improve teacher training, strengthen review and monitoring, and streamline procurement processes. This has resulted in more efficient allocation of resources, and empowerment of teachers and administrative officials at all levels.
The state has created a dashboard called Samarth that captures student assessments and competencies in a standardised and understandable manner. It enables teachers to pinpoint learning gaps of each student. Also, complimentary training content has been developed for teachers that is delivered to them through the TeacherApp. The content is designed for remedial teaching to address learning gaps. The delivery of training material on teachers’ smartphones is better than the traditional, once-a-year offline training, which was unable to account for the varying skills and qualifications of its participants and required teachers to spend time away from their schools and students. The training received through the TeacherApp, in contrast, is customised, and does not take teachers away from schools.
Similarly, to empower its administrative staff, the state has developed the Shiksha Saathi app. It aids block officials in on-ground data collection in schools using evidence collection with pictures, real-time data capture and geolocation marking. This on-ground digital collection of data has started giving rich information on the state of schools, which, when aggregated, identifies systemic issues in education administration. This data is then used by officers at district- and state-level review meetings to come up with solutions. This intervention has ensured that accountability mechanisms have been put in place at various levels of the bureaucracy, with regular follow-up and action-taken reviews. The result: In the last two years, over 240 review meetings have been held, where more than three-fourths of the identified issues through the Shiksha Saathi app have been resolved.
Besides deploying mobile apps and dashboard, Himachal Pradesh has relied on WhatsApp to streamline communications between teachers, block-level officials and the education department. Where communication would take weeks, it has been cut down to a few hours. To ensure organised communication, each of the 128 blocks and 12 districts have separate WhatsApp groups, and two state-level WhatsApp groups have also been created.
User-friendliness has been the underlying theme for the state all along its efforts to adopt technology in education. The earlier version of the Samarth dashboard was a complicated and time-consuming process. The state simplified it by making minute changes, such as using standard OMR sheets in place of typed excel files. It cut down the time for the process to about two months, and allowed for timely gathering of quality data, in a standardised format, from across schools, sans human errors due to manual entry. The education department could thus draw analytical insights from the assessment data of over 5 lakh students from the state’s 15,000 schools, immediately after their assessment examination. Also, the same data was publicly available to both teachers, and school and block-level officials, allowing for simultaneous course correction in education.
Taking a leaf out of Himachal Pradesh’s experience, other states can also impact educational outcomes on a large-scale through adoption of technology in administration. While enabling technology sometimes draws less attention than technology that reaches the hands of students in classrooms, it can have a much larger impact by improving the overall ecosystem in which classroom interactions are rooted.
The author is founder, Samagra Transforming Governance, a governance consulting firm.