The potential of EdTech platforms in rural India

India is a country which houses more than 1.3 billion people, and of this, 41% are below the age of 18. 35% of the total population are less than the age of 14. In other words, our country has the most number of children in the world. The average of the Indian population is around 29 and has the largest workforce in the world. But do our schools have the required quality to train these children to become an efficient workforce of the future?

India has always been a country of extreme diversity. We boast of the best technological and management universities in the world. Alumni from these varsities adorn the CXO positions of the most reputed companies in the world. The five-year plans had historically set aside a massive amount of money to build these quality institutions in our country. But these plans ignored inculcating the holistic development of children in our country through efficient schools. A walk through the rural landscape of India shall portray the dilapidated conditions of schools there.


Illiteracy rates and measures taken to curb it

Illiteracy rates are one of the major concerns for our country today. While states like Kerala have around 94% literacy rates, it steeps down to a meager 70% in Bihar. The overall literacy rate in India is about 77%. The literacy rate among men is 82% and among women is 65%. The staggering difference is also an indicator of gender bias that prevails in our country. The adult literacy rate for females in rural areas is 50.6% vis-a-vis 76.9% in urban areas whereas for males the same in rural areas is 74.1% vis-a-vis 88.3% in urban areas. The numbers have improved quantitatively over the past two decades through initiatives like ‘mid-day meal scheme,’ ‘Beti Padhao Beti Bachao Yochana’ etc.


The state-wise literacy rate of India after the 2011 census

The primary reason why children don’t attend school is child labor. With more than 60% of our population depending directly or indirectly on agriculture, most parents send their children to the fields by age 10. The prevalence of Zamindari systems hindered access to good quality education to the lower sections of the society. The government of India abolished the system and has made child labor a severe criminal offense. The government ensures nutritious food for around 10 crore children in 11 lakh schools (2016-17 data) every day through the mid-day meal scheme. The Eighty-sixth amendment of India’s Constitution (2002) made education for children in the age group 6-14 compulsory. It was strengthened through the Right to Education Act, which was passed in 2009.

Through decades of good governance, we were able to achieve the quantitative aspect of education. But the country’s education policy still lacks quality. As per the ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2018 report, more than 50% of class 5 students and 25% of class 8 students attending rural schools could not read a second standard textbook and did not solve basic mathematical questions. The report also showcased the dilapidated conditions in rural schools. In Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states, less than 50% of schools had access to clean drinking water or girls’ toilets. Most of the schools here did not have a library for children. The 2019 ASER report came with suggestions to improve the quality of education in India. Through the survey, the cognitive ability of the children was tested. The recommendations included shifting the focus from content knowledge to play-based activities that build memory, reasoning, and problem-solving ability in the lower classes in school. It also described the importance of interactive learning and its long-term benefits to children.


What is interactive learning?


Interactive learning can improve the engagement of children in class and improve their creativity

There are four different learning levels- visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic learning. Of these, visual and kinesthetic learnings have been identified to have a long-lasting effect on the human mind. For example, it is fairly easier for us to remember the storylines of movies we watch, whereas reproducing those from our history books appears seemingly herculean. The same is the case with techniques we learn, which involve our body. Swimming, driving, cycling, etc., are some of the tasks we never forget, even if our association with them is minimal. Interactive learning combines all the four levels of learnings, with more focus on visual and kinesthetic learnings, for a child and ensures the concepts are deep-seated in his/her mind. In today’s digital world, it combines technology and social networking in the pedagogy to deliver the best education to the parties involved. It provides a hands-on experience approach to the children that shall offer a holistic development to their minds and body. Interactive learning emphasizes engagement; it allows students to build their definition of the presented information. Instead of being handed information, students play an active role in making their knowledge, encouraging self-thought and independence. It is in this context that many Ed-Tech platforms have sprouted in the country.


What is EdTech?

Educational technology, commonly abbreviated as Ed-Tech, has taken interactive learning to a new level. With the advent of computers and graphics, visualization became an easier task for children. It combines the old learning methodology of lecture learning with advanced technological techniques like computer-based learning, mobile learning, and conceptual learning through visual graphics.


The EdTech can give a mix of visual and kinesthetic learning for the children,


Brief history

The digitized learning model started receiving traction in the late 1980s and 90s when distance courses were offered. It proved that learning could be accessible to all irrespective of their financial or racial background. CompuHigh, the first online high-school, started operations in 1994. With video conferencing and augmented reality, the engagement of students through this platform increased manifold. A 2008 study conducted in the United States indicated that about 66% of schools offered distance learning courses. The real change started in 2015 when the first private nonprofit organizations enrolled more online students than for-profit institutions. In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools are closed, and more and more students are enrolling in online classes to enforce distance learning. Organizations such as UNESCO have listed educational technology solutions to help schools facilitate distance education. Today there are thousands of Ed-Tech platforms across the globe.


EdTech in India

EdTech is a niche market in India. There are around 4450 Ed-Tech platforms in India, with the market leader being Byju’s learning app. It is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country today. The platform’s scalability is enormous, especially in India, with more than 250 million students attending various courses. As discussed above, our country has a dearth of schools to educate the massive number of students. Also, our schools lack in quality of infrastructure, and the rural-urban divide is acute. EdTech can fit in perfectly here and solve most of the issues that schools in rural India face.

India’s government has identified the importance of these platforms and has allocated $8.56 billion for the Department of School Education, focusing on implementing government schools’ latest technology. Premier institutes like IIT offer more than 400 courses through their National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) free of cost. In the next five years, the Ed-Tech industry is poised to grow at a CAGR of 39% and transform into a $10 billion industry.


Benefits to rural India

Currently, most of the government schools in the country lack quality. By tying up with EdTech platforms, a standard syllabus can be developed and implemented with a special focus on government schools. EdTech can complement the conventional model of learning pedagogy in schools. It can provide a new experience to the children who might not have access to various industries and resources in urban areas. The COVID-19 pandemic-induced lockdowns provided us with the relevant data and insight into the pros and cons of the program’s implementation.

Statistics show that there are around 200 million smartphone users in India, with almost 42% being women. India, today has one of the lowest data tariff rates. Thus within the next five years, the scalability of EdTech platforms is immense. The media can engage in teaching in vernacular languages, thus eliminating the language barrier the children might face. Most of these platforms are successful in giving individual attention to the children. Digital libraries and resources can enhance children’s knowledge acquiring process who don’t have access to useful libraries. During the lockdown, around 200 million students received education through online media. Post the lockdown, instead of shifting back to the conventional style; the governments should implement policies so that the children can access the best of both worlds.


An example of EdTech initiatives by governments: Smart Classrooms in Kerala

The Kerala government maintains an education TV channel called Victers. During the lockdown, the channel provided education to over 50 lakh students in over 15,000 schools. The videos were also uploaded on YouTube, where it has over 17 crore subscribers generating more than Rs 15 lakhs per month through advertisements. Such models of education can also generate revenue for governments in the short run.

In June 2020, the Chief Minister of Kerala announced that all the 16,030 government schools in the state were converted to high-tech classrooms. During the process, 42,000 classrooms for classes from 8-12 have been equipped with 3,74,274 IT equipment, including 1,19,055 laptops, 69,944 multimedia projectors, 23,098 screens and high-speed internet connectivity to 12,678 schools. Around 1.8 lakh teachers were provided with special training for implementing the digitization missions. Thus, Kerala became the first state in the country with High Tech classrooms in all government schools. This is a brave move and a new beginning for the EdTech industry in the country.


Smart classrooms installed in Kerala.,


Conclusion

As discussed, Ed-Tech platforms are slowly but steadily seeping into rural India. Rural users can combat the problems they face and embrace new opportunities arising. Technology allows personalizing learning according to the students’ needs. Ed-Tech apps can track the students’ performance and behaviour through the course and provide real-time customized feedback. Educators can seek these platforms’ help to reduce time to assess their students based on this feedback. In areas where the teacher to student ratios are skewed, EdTech applications can play a significant role.

Ed-Tech can open windows for these children into a plethora of job opportunities in these areas. Various free sites list jobs available for blue-collar workers like Just Jobs, Quickr Jobs & Kaam 24, which the trained rural population can access to propel their careers. Ed-Tech can, therefore, successfully transform the rural educational landscape and create opportunities for the rural population.


About the Author:

Nandu Krishnan A is currently a student of XLRI Jamshedpur of batch 2022. He has been passionate about necessitating education to the underprivileged children right from his school days. During his undergraduate degree, he was a part of an NGO which focused on the same. An avid backpacker he has also interests in cooking and photography.


The views expressed in the article solely belong to the author.

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