The Internet reaching more places than teachers can reach, EdTech is taking the front seat, taking India's education story one step forward.
As with most sectors, technology has pervaded the education space, thus, challenging traditional structures and service delivery pipelines that had begun to edge on the cosy and comfortable, hence, stifling the possibility of spurring innovation without a substantial overhaul of the existing mindset. I have looked at this space in terms of a gradual progression of ideas, not necessarily chronological, but which puts the contribution of technology to the education sector in perspective.
With the Information and Communication Technology boom, the first challenge that looked to be addressed was the unavailability of quality educational content, which also led to the streamlining of the delivery of such content, effectively reducing, and more clearly defining the role of the teacher, who had now become more of a facilitator. This minimised the fluctuations in learning outcomes due to the varying quality of teachers/facilitators. The government’s National Knowledge Network was a laudable step in this direction as it looked to collect and deliver quality content from top colleges in the country, free of cost to anyone with an internet connection!
The Smart Class model was a notable innovation in this phase, and EduComp, a major player. Due to low penetration of ICT infrastructure in the country, the cost for setting up a smart classroom was, till a few years back, prohibitively expensive. Also, the maintenance of such infrastructure was not a cakewalk. Even now, only the biggest names invest in such technology, but they have proven to be very effective.
In my opinion, the second major innovation phase was spurred on by data and analytics. With the ability to assess performance in an unbiased and convenient manner, assessments became technology-intensive. With SAT, GRE and GMAT as early adopters of such a model, we saw BITS and CAT embracing it in our own backyard. Adaptive testing, made famous by Educational Testing Service, was a breakthrough in predicting and analysing the performance of a candidate based on recent history. Innovations in assessments in India were pioneered by Education Initiatives, and they continue to be a major contributor in this space, with the intent to incessantly measure and improve learning outcomes using data analytics, built around a systems-based approach to learning.
Even after the 2nd phase, the dependence on infrastructure, primarily desktop computers and reasonably quick internet, led to such interventions being inherent for ones at the top of the socio-economic pyramid. This is what the current phase looks to solve.
We’re currently in the 3rd phase of innovation, facilitated by the profusion of mobile devices and 2G/3G connectivity across the length and breadth of our country. This brings to mind an extremely popular tagline ‘Kar lo duniya mutthi mein’ (The world, in your palm) by Reliance Telecom. Indeed, the world is now at one’s fingertips!
The internet, predominantly mobile-based, set to reach approximately 35 per cent of our population this year, and around 50 per cent by 2020, is soon going to leave behind the reach of good quality teachers, or good quality schools! This means that the bottom levels of the socio-economic pyramid are slowly being empowered by the proliferation of technology. This presents to ConveGenius, and a lot of other players in the EdTech space, a great opportunity to make a substantial contribution in ameliorating the quality and access to education in our country in an affordable manner to the end-user, which could be a child, a school, or a learning centre.
Stronger encryption capabilities and cheaper flash memory-based devices, such as pen-drives and SD Cards, have obliterated the need for fast and stable internet connections, and high associated costs, to access high quality learning content. Many leading schools across the world have adopted a textbook-less model by digitising their learning content, and providing learning tablets to all their students. Data syncing and analysis, however, are still internet-dependent, but are minimal due to the stronger processing powers of mobile devices in the current day.
I know I would have nodded my approval to lighter schoolbags instantly, and would have avoided a small, yet noticeable hunch in my back due to years of hauling heavy textbooks to and from my school!
Also, education on personalised devices, such as tablets and smartphones, is an immense opportunity to personalise education for the end-user. The major innovation in our phase is adaptive learning algorithms using advanced machine learning techniques, to create a self-learning environment using strong feedback loops. An additional layer of gamification aids this process in self-incentivising performance, internally motivating the student to positively strengthen the feedback loops. This is the core guiding philosophy for ConveGenius’s CG Slate, a personalised learning solution for kids of ages 3-12.
For larger organisations which have chosen to digitise their data, decision-making capabilities have improved manifold. These include high-end schools, and large NGOs. A robust and unbiased data collection system at the field level, linked to an MIS system, ensures that the upper echelons in an organisation are sufficiently informed about ground realities, and help them take major steps in improving the performance of their subordinates, which could now be effectively tagged to learning outcomes. Though not specific to just the education space, such innovations have worked wonders to oil the once rusty machinery that had become so due to the inability to objectively assess performance at all operational levels.
Soon, I foresee that a hybrid internet-local model using high-computing power nodes and cloud connectivity, would revolutionise the education space by further increasing access to quality learning content and assessments, and adding a social layer to strengthen peer-driven models of learning. In such a future, let our country awake!
About The Author:
Ashok Subramanian P is the Director, Innovation and Strategy, ConveGenius Group