Being one of the oldest in the world, India’s education system has often been subjected to scrutiny because of the antiquated teaching methods and curriculum, widespread use of rote memorization, shortage of educators, and inadequate infrastructure. Amidst these persistent challenges, one strategic move is opening up the education sector to technological advancement with the integration of EdTech tools in the classroom.
EdTech or e-Learning
The advent of new media has surpassed the basic use of technology in schools such as simple web browsing. Nowadays, the umbrella term ‘education technology’ or EdTech encompasses online submissions, competitive exam preparations, personalized learning with the student’s competence level, or the use of different types of hardware and software to enhance learning. Traditional hardware includes projectors, smart boards, tablets, and other information and communications technology (ICT) devices. Tech media outlet, Inc42 predicts that it won’t be long before virtual reality and other cutting edge developments will be used in academic institutions; but it goes without saying that not all students will be able to get their hands on state-ofthe-art technology.
What’s keeping EdTech at bay?
Second only to China, the World Economic Forum estimates that the number of Internet users in India stands between 450 and 465 million and smartphone users are forecasted to reach 530 million this year. Those numbers put the country in the perfect position to take full advantage of various EdTech tools that make in-class learning more efficient. However, the data is largely concentrated in the more prosperous regions like Punjab, while internet access in the rural areas of India is negligible. Since EdTech relies heavily on the availability of electricity and connectivity, the majority still cannot fully access or utilize modern educational tools.
Sikshana Trust, a non-profit that intervenes with poorly-managed public schools, began their work in the sector in 2007. In light of their decade-long involvement in education, CEO Prasanna VR stated their main observation: schools basically have very little understanding of how to use facilities provided by the government. With the abundance of new tech, it is often hard to pinpoint which ones are most appropriate for student use. There is a lack of infrastructure, guidance, or turnover and the teachers are therefore armed but untrained in handling new media – an issue that is particularly rampant in government schools. The lower tier then fails to demonstrate proper application of various tools, making them essentially pointless or a waste of funding.
In many cases, institutions that have introduced new developments are being met with resistance mainly from its professors and teachers. Traditional modes of instructing are still highly preferred because of the level of comfort educators have over using unfamiliar technology. Many share the sentiment that navigating such tools is outside of their job description and they would much rather depend on tried and tested methods of teaching. Along with educators, parents are also wary of the benefits of e-Learning tools.
Student-teacher interaction is highly sought after, yet it fails to be replicated by even the most advanced EdTech. The perception remains that a teacher who personally witnesses a student’s performance is unmatched by a simulator that is unable to offer an accurate judgment of their competence or provide constructive learning.
Another important reason for the stalled transition to EdTech-assisted learning is the language dilemma public schools face especially in remote regions. While Indians have a worldwide reputation for being fluent in English, students from rural areas have not attained the same level of language proficiency. An article in The Wire attributes this to the insufficient number of quality teachers well-versed in English and the lack of funding in schools at the bottom of the pyramid. Most EdTech tools cater to English-speaking audiences – even the ones invented in India – and they have not been reproduced with regional dialect features.
Should educators even try?
The billion-dollar question is: should educators outside of private institutions still attempt to integrate this new innovation? Keeping in mind the aforementioned challenges, the easy answer would be to stick with traditional teaching methods. However, EdTech tools can be indispensable once made to fit low-income educational environments; and there are tools that can be adjusted for certain limitations that teachers experience on a day-to-day basis.
In Gujarat, Learning Delight is making headway in improving the quality of education through their digital software. The founders, Harshal Gohil and Vandan Kamdar, created the e-Learning platform with the concerns of rural schools in mind. Learning Delight’s audiovisual content aims to engage primary to secondary school students. It can be accessed through a working television, a tablet, or an old computer even without internet connection and best of all, is not English-specific. For budget constraints, Learning Delight is primarily funded under the corporate social responsibility initiatives of big companies which means that it can still be made available without the aid of the government. As of early 2018, the project has impacted over 10,000 schools in the state and the people behind the program plan to implement their platform on a larger scale.
One to watch out for is Callystro which has won national awards for its educational games. The company only charges a monthly fee of Rs. 10 for every student so it is very much within the budget of schools. They are currently in talks with NGOs that are geared toward improving learning in rural areas.
Bangalore-based learning company, Impartus, addresses the problem of quality education with the distribution of recorded lectures by highly-competent teachers to the masses. Teachers who can do lectures in person go to those areas and videotape their classes for students who are unable to attend, cannot be reached, or are situated in a different campus. The videos are also accessible for students’ review so that they don’t have to rely on rote memorization to learn.
The country could do well in raising its standards when it comes to hiring new teachers. If all else fails, educators have to rely on their own skill and talents in imparting quality education to their students. Most kids are visual learners and Tootsa explains that methods like STEM art projects can keep them inspired to continue learning. Teachers need a lot of help when it comes to handling their students and it can be achieved through creative ways with or without the use of technology.
Nevertheless, considering the inequitable student-teacher ratio in India, EdTech tools can be an effective method for keeping students engaged in studying. EdTech can help in the formulation of lesson plans and classroom management. The engagement can boost creativity as well as enhance visualization of hard-to-grasp subjects like math especially for younger age groups. Low-cost animated books and videos are well-received in those areas and aid in the development of reading skills of primary students. Affordable devices or software are being developed with the problems of low-income schools in mind. With standardization of content, they can be the tools that will help address the sector’s persistent problem of accessible and quality education.
The author is a lower secondary teacher who has been working in Bangalore for the past decade. In the last two years, she has been experimenting with a blended learning approach which has been warmly received by her students.