This article is sponsored by Dell Aarambh.
There are 247 million school-going children in India. But for reasons both immediate and long-term, we are currently in the midst of a transition to a more technology-driven education paradigm. How does that impact these millions of students?
What are the challenges and benefits of going digital? How do we close gaps in learning, or prevent existing ones from widening? What new roles do the parents, schools, and teachers have to take on?
These are some of the problems that Dell seeks to solve as part of its PC for Education initiative – Dell Aarambh.
Dell Aarambh was motivated by the realisation that we are far behind other developed and developing countries in tech and computer literacy. Students, parents, and teachers were not comfortable using PCs and digital platforms. To tackle, Dell started an initiative directed towards computer awareness and skills. The team trains parents, teachers, and students in tier 2 and 3 cities, where there has been more hesitation in using technology. So far, they have trained 1.5 million students, 90,000 teachers and 130,000 mothers in computer skills for free as part of Dell Aarambh.
To support Dell Aarambh in their mission towards PC literacy and a tech-savvy nation, we at The Better India have started a campaign in honour of teachers who are using technology to drive social change. And to discuss the pertinent questions around digital education, we brought together a few of the leading minds in the ecosystem for an engaging online dialogue.
Among the panellists for the webinar were educators, policy-experts and innovators trying to bridge the various divides in education.
Shukla Bose launched the Parikrma Humanity Foundation in 2003 in order to educate children living in the slums of Bengaluru. Osama Manzar, as the founder of Digital Empowerment Foundation, works for digital access and literacy in underserved communities across India through advocacy, research, and grassroots action. Santosh Phad heads Thinksharp Foundation, a social enterprise striving to close the urban-rural education gap by providing quality education infrastructure and resources in various villages of Maharashtra. Anand Prakash has years of experience in digital education as the co-founder of the popular online tutoring platform, Vedantu. Dell Aarambh’s directive force, P Krishnakumar, also joined the panellists in this conversation hosted by The Better India’s Deputy Editor, Tanaya Singh.
Access, Access, Access
Access emerged as an important theme in the conversation: Access to connectivity, access to gadgets, and access to a learning space.
Right off the bat, Osama gets to the crux of the matter: education is moving from 1.4 million schools in the country to 200+ million homes. While we have the technology, the providers, and the content for this transition, access remains an unsolved issue. And even with internet access, how do we deliver these audiovisual interactive classes over a 2G network, which is what is available in most places?
Anand agrees that only about 40% of India has internet access, but they have been able to develop tech at Vedantu to optimise for and stream classes over limited bandwidth. He points out how online platforms can also solve the shortage of teachers, especially in tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Anand also noticed that once students come on board well-designed online educational platforms, they stick around. Since the pandemic started, Vedantu’s users have increased from 1 million students per year to 1 million students per month, and many parents and adults are becoming teachers as well.
For Shukla, technology has in fact been a means of access. Despite the nationwide shutdown, they have been able to continue schooling their students who live in slums. This was no easy feat. Their parents were out of jobs and families were starving. Her foundation first distributed ration kits in the impoverished neighbourhoods. Then they handed out paper assignments and audio lessons along with the ration. Shukla crowdsourced 600 smartphones from donors and gave it to their students, through which they now conduct classes.
“It may not be perfect, but it’s important to give students a sense of belonging and continuity in their education, and not have that disconnect. We use technology to stay connected with our children,” says Shukla.
According to P Krishnakumar, there are three aspects of rethinking education for today’s world: First, a focus on outcome-based more than output-based learning. Second, bringing stakeholders together. And thirdly, putting the child at the centre of her learning. All of these aspects are enabled by technology.
But a whole spectrum of challenges and solutions have surfaced in the wake of this technological shift – from reimagining learning spaces to etiquettes of muting. For Santosh, one of the biggest concerns is the growing chasm between rural and urban students. As he points out, the new crop of educational apps varies from state to state and even school to school. Rural students and their parents who struggle with English are left behind. He asks – How do we create a universal platform so that education remains standardised across the board?
For more insights, questions, and innovations, join these teachers of tomorrow on a thought-provoking tour of the new landscape of education.