The future of learning in India is Ed-tech

India’s school education landscape is facing daunting challenges. The country was reeling under an acute learning crisis, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, with one in two children lacking basic reading proficiency at the age of 10. The pandemic threatens to exacerbate this crisis, especially because of the physical closure of 15.5 lakh schools that has affected more than 248 million students for over a year.

Coalescing with the learning crisis is the Fourth Industrial Revolution — the imperative now is to reimagine education and align it with the unprecedented technological transformation. As traditional brick-and-mortar service delivery models are being disrupted across sectors, the pandemic offers a critical, yet stark, reminder of the impending need to weave technology into education.

India’s new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is responsive to the clarion call to integrate technology at every level of instruction. It envisions the establishment of an autonomous body, the National Education Technology Forum (NETF), to spearhead efforts towards providing a strategic thrust to the deployment and use of technology.

India is well-poised to take this leap forward with increasing access to tech-based infrastructure, electricity, and affordable internet connectivity, fueled by flagship program such as Digital India and the Ministry of Education’s initiatives, including the Digital Infrastructure for School Education (DIKSHA), open-source learning platform and UDISE+ — one of the largest education management information systems in the world.

A comprehensive ed-tech policy architecture must focus on four key elements — providing access to learning, especially to disadvantaged groups; enabling processes of teaching, learning, and evaluation; facilitating teacher training and continuous professional development; improving governance systems including planning, management, and monitoring processes.

Cross-country experience and research provide us with crucial insights on what works and what doesn’t. First, technology is a tool, and not a panacea. Second, technology must be in service of the learning model. There is a danger in providing digital infrastructure without a plan on how it’s to be deployed or what teaching-learning approaches it would support. Third, technology cannot substitute schools or replace teachers. It’s not “teachers versus technology”; the solution is in “teachers and technology”. In fact, tech solutions are impactful only when embraced and effectively leveraged by teachers.

Conditional on good learning design, technology holds promise and has incredible potential in enabling greater personalisation of education and enhancing educational productivity by improving rates of learning, reducing costs of instructional material and service delivery at scale, as well as better utilisation of teacher/instructor time.

The Indian ed-tech ecosystem has a lot of potential for innovation. With over 4,500 start-ups and a current valuation of around $700 million, the market is geared for exponential growth — estimates project an astounding market size of $30 billion in the next 10 years. There are, in fact, several examples of grassroots innovation. The Hamara Vidhyalaya in Namsai district, Arunachal Pradesh, is fostering tech-based performance assessments; Assam’s online career guidance portal is strengthening school-to-work and higher-education transition for students in grades 9 to 12; Samarth in Gujarat is facilitating the online professional development of lakhs of teachers in collaboration with IIM-Ahmedabad; Jharkhand’s DigiSATH is spearheading behaviour change by establishing stronger parent-teacher-student linkages; Himachal Pradesh’s HarGhar Pathshala is providing digital education for children with special needs; Uttarakhand’s community radio is promoting early reading through byte-size broadcasts; Madhya Pradesh’s DigiLEP is delivering content for learning enhancement through a well-structured mechanism with over 50,000 WhatsApp groups covering all clusters and secondary schools; and Kerala’s Aksharavriksham initiative is focusing on digital “edutainment” to support learning and skill development via games and activities.

To craft a cohesive strategy, action needs to be taken on multiple fronts. In the immediate term, there must be a mechanism to thoroughly map the Ed-tech landscape, especially their scale, reach, and impact. The focus should be on access, equity, infrastructure, governance, and quality-related outcomes and challenges for teachers and students.

In the short to medium-term, the policy formulation and planning process must strive to enable convergence across schemes (education, skills, digital governance, and finance), foster integration of solutions through public-private partnerships, factor in voices of all stakeholders, and bolster cooperative federalism across all levels of government. Here, lessons may be drawn from the Government of India’s Aspirational Districts Program on tech-enabled monitoring and implementation that emphasizes citizen engagement, partnerships and effective service delivery.

Special attention must be paid to address the digital divide at two levels — access and skills to effectively use technology and leverage its benefits. Thematic areas of the policy should feature infrastructure and connectivity; high-quality, relevant, proven software and content; and rigorous global standards for outcome-based evaluation, real-time assessments, and systems monitoring.

In the longer term, as policy translates to practice at local levels and technology-based solutions become ubiquitous, a repository of the best-in-class technology solutions, good practices and lessons from successful implementation must be curated. The NITI Aayog’s India Knowledge Hub and the Ministry of Education’s DIKSHA and Shagun platforms can facilitate and amplify such learning.

The journey from a holistic strategy to its successful application will, no doubt, be a long one. It requires careful planning, sustained implementation, and calculated course corrections. With NEP 2020 having set the ball rolling, a transformative Ed-tech policy architecture is the need of the hour to effectively maximize student learning.

Information Courtesy- Mr. Amitabh Kant

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