The Digital India push for education

By: and |
Published: July 8, 2015 12:22:26 AM

We need to measure the success of ICT in schools and facilitate the scaling up of innovations that have a demonstrated impact on student learning.

Digital India is a promising opportunity to use technology to revitalise our education system and address the huge learning crisis that our country faces. Although technology, on its own, is not a silver bullet solution to India’s education challenges, evidence from international examples points to the possibility of a positive impact. Innovative technologies today are creating new forms of adaptive and peer learning, increasing access to trainers and mentors, and providing useful data in real-time. Digital India, implemented with vision and commitment, can catalyse such initiatives by creating an enabling environment across the country.

According to the World Bank, in 2010-14, only 15% Indians had access to internet. Under the ICT@Schools scheme, the government has spent a total of R2,585 crore since 2004 to install infrastructure in schools. Yet, by 2013-14, only 60% secondary schools were equipped with computers. Programmes such as this have failed, often due to the lack of a comprehensive vision that links the use of technology for improving student learning, building teacher capacity or providing better governance.

For Digital India to succeed in impacting education, it needs a coordinated and targeted approach to integrate technology into our vast and complex school system. A comprehensive vision to achieve integrated use of technology in education must be built on the following pillars.

Instructional tools for individualised student learning: We see significant investment in the production of e-content such as digitised textbooks, animations and videos. But much of this is merely duplicating rote-learning methods and lacks strong pedagogical principles. Technology can create individual learning paths for children, make learning interactive and fun through gamification and can provide them numerous practice opportunities.

Personalised digital learning platforms such as Khan Academy allow students to learn and master skills at their own pace. Using these products can help students to receive instant feedback as their performance data are captured continuously. Khan Academy already receives the third-highest number of users in the world from India, indicating latent demand for such content. In India, platforms such as Mindspark are providing digital learning tools for children.

We need to build learning tools to address the diversity of languages and state curricula. Such content could either be developed locally or high quality global content could be localised. The government launched the National Repository of Open Educational Resources in 2013 to build a repository of high quality content in local languages. But greater efforts are needed to make such resources available across platforms, adopt a nationwide, open licensing policy for content creation, and train teachers to use them. Central Square Foundation is working with Khan Academy to develop the Khan Academy-Hindi platform, which will have maths video tutorials and practice exercises, mapped to NCERT curriculum, in Hindi for students in classes 5 to 8.

Tech-integrated programmes for competency-linked teacher training: We face a huge challenge of teachers lacking adequate training. While those in government schools have access to professional development and academic support, only 31.5% of them actually received in-service training in 2013-14. Teachers in private schools, who now educate 43% of our students, lack access to training, with training for teachers in low-fee schools being minimal.

Technology allows for reinventing models of teacher education by creating competency-linked training programmes, and enables teachers to connect with peers, and receive coaching from experts remotely.

Although teachers receive minimal training in the use of technology in BEd and DEd, there are signs of technology adoption. Government teachers in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttarakhand are using WhatsApp groups to exchange knowledge and ideas with each other. The Karnataka Open Educational Resources platform is enabling teachers to create digital content. There are two specific models by which professional development capacity can increase.

l Blended courses where teachers learn on an online program in addition to working offline with a coach. Content on the online program includes reading, videos and formative assessments. For example, QUEST, an NGO in rural Thane, Maharashtra, hosts an online course for mathematics teaching that includes instructional videos, online coaching and peer support.

l Platform for accessing repository of digital resources such as videos demonstrating best practices in pedagogy. Such platforms powered by facilitated discussion forums enable teachers to learn from each other.

Data collection and analytics for strong governance: Despite the significant quantity of school-related data collected by the state and central governments, it is largely inaccessible to the end-user since it is disaggregated, not yet digitised, and only available after a considerable time lag. With the help of robust Management Information Systems, schools can record, maintain, track and analyse student-level performance data and use it for school-wide goals as well as teacher- or classroom-specific goals. Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha have taken steps to implement such solutions.

As we design specific schemes, we must ensure that the education ecosystem is supportive of these initiatives. Beginning with the design phase through implementation support and monitoring, there must be adequate investment to ensure the success of these programmes.

In the design phase, educators and edtech solution providers should be consulted and their feedback must inform how technology can effectively be integrated into education.

In implementation phase, we must ensure high-speed internet access in schools, and appropriate technology hardware and content for children. Smartphone usage in India grew 55% in 2014, and as its adoption continues to rise, there is an opportunity to create low-cost models that can provide learning opportunities outside the classroom. In addition, we have to invest in training for teachers and school leaders in the effective use of technology.

The government can establish an autonomous agency, similar to the National Skill Development Corporation, to encourage innovation and develop the ecosystem for digital learning solutions. This autonomous agency can be staffed with talent from the private sector and must fund and leverage private operators to create these platforms.

Finally, as education technology is a nascent area, we need to track it closely to understand its efficacy. We have to measure the success of ICT in schools and facilitate the scaling up of innovations that have a demonstrated impact on student learning.

Digital India is a huge opportunity for us as the government pushes for the use of technology. Let us not duplicate the mistakes of the past by assuming that providing hardware and connectivity to schools will result in the uptake of technology. Instead, let us approach the opportunity with a vision and commitment to adopting a comprehensive approach to using technology to improve the education of our children.

Ashish Dhawan is founder & CEO and Namita Dalmia is associate director-EdTech, Central Square Foundation

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