A simple device is helping students in rural Maharashtra access interesting multimedia content like their urban and semi-urban peers. It runs on solar energy and does not require any prior knowledge about computers. This is how it works.
“It was the beginning of 2014. Lavin and I had been in our jobs for three years. Both of us felt that while our jobs were good and comfortable, they were not challenging enough. Moreover, they were not having any impact on society in any way. So we decided to explore other sectors where there is scope for change via technology and work in one of them,” says Lehar Tawde, a business administration graduate from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai. They decided to explore the education sector first.
“Everybody knows that the rural education system in India is not perfect. Both of us are products of the urban education system and while we knew that schools in our villages generally needed reforms, we did not know what the exact problems were,” he adds.
The duo did some research for about six months. They decided a good area to address may be the skill development of teachers to enable them to use technology for improved classroom instruction.
By the end of 2014, they quit their jobs and started ConnectEd Technologies, an education-technology company that aims to produce and provide tailor-made educational content to underprivileged kids through technology.
ConnectEd’s flagship product is a smart classroom system meant to aid teachers in classes using audio-visual content. It is a battery-operated, high definition projector that runs only on solar energy and can be operated by all teachers, including those who have no knowledge of computers. All a teacher has to do is switch on the device, navigate and find a multimedia educational content file, and play the audio visual chapter corresponding to what he/she is teaching that day.
One can understand this product in two parts:
Hardware: It is a projection-based system with a simple device that needs just a button and a remote control to start. The ConnectEd team does not just install the system in classrooms but also provides training to the teachers on how to use it. The device has a two-hour battery life and comes with built-in speakers. A solar powered kit helps charge the batteries. It is an all-integrated solution and there is no need for a PC, UPS or any other hardware.
Content: ConnectEd Technologies produces the content projected by the device, which adheres to the state board curriculum. The team converts all the chapters in various textbooks into scripts to create ‘movies’ of sorts. They simplify the content and make it easy for children to relate to with the use of several examples. ConnectEd works with a team of young teachers after training them in converting chapters to scripts. The content is then passed on to other team members like animators, voiceover artists, editors, etc.
“The video for each chapter is about 12-15 minutes long. The teachers can either play the entire film and discuss the chapter with students, or keep pausing it to guide students through the topic. Conventionally, teachers spend the entire time in class delivering lectures. With videos, they get the opportunity to make classes more engaging,” says 25-year-old Lehar.
The team piloted the product in Palghar district of Maharashtra and is now expanding to other areas too. The system is currently meant for use from Classes 5 to 10.
This year, ConnectEd has started the EkShiksha campaign with the Education Ministry of Maharashtra to increase the reach of the product across the state. The campaign aims to bring together socially-responsible corporate organizations, NGOs, school management boards, and grassroots-level educators to bring better education to children in rural schools. The organization has a team of 27 people in their 20s. Like Lehar, Lavin too is a business administration graduate from NMIMS and, together with the team, they have self-funded the company.
ConnectEd conducts assessment tests of the children to measure the impact of their product and see if there has been an improvement in learning outcomes. They conduct a baseline test at the beginning of the academic year and an end-line test later. Only the baseline test has been conducted in Palghar as of now.
“We have been receiving feedback from teachers that the product helps them improve the learning environment in class. Earlier, teachers would just read to the children from books in the class. Delivering lectures too was not very helpful. But the video content corresponds with what they are going to teach in class and children love it too,” says Lehar.