Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Taking Edtech Mainstream

The swiftly changing, educational landscape in the country is largely propelled by the advancements in educational technology, such that the vested potential in startups and medium scale enterprises has earned them a spot amongst the high rollers achieving unicorn status at an unprecedented pace. Such blitz growth has made Edtech mainstream as opposed to being just another alternative in previous years.

Last year brought a flurry of record-breaking venture capital to the sector. data shows that Edtech startups around the world raised $10.76 billion last year, compared to $4.7 billion in 2019. While reporting delays could change this total, VC dollars have more than doubled since the pandemic began. In the United States, Edtech startups raised $1.78 billion in venture capital across 265 deals during 2020, compared to $1.32 billion the prior year.

Considering the market indicators, it is certain that post pandemic education would carry a marked difference from the pre pandemic era. Research suggests that the evolution of post-pandemic education will be complex, if not aggressively competitive among the growing legion of well-capitalized Edtech companies. Contrary to popular belief, Higher education didn’t combust like some expected, and today, many predict that K-12 students will return to pre-COVID formats after vaccinations are widespread, however with slightly higher influence of technologically enabled solutions that would help maintain learning continuity in the long run.

Since remote learning has become more familiar, what will Edtech look like when students go back to schools and employees to their offices?

For K12, use of digital products and platforms will now be very “normal”. This will drive home the usage of some products traditionally used only in schools. A classic example of the same would be students of all ages that are now very ‘hands on’ with zoom, this can pave the way for more zoom based synchronous learning offerings including extracurricular learning like music, dance etc. Schools are now fully wired which could lead to the emergence of home-based learning programs supported by the administration themselves.

Looking beyond the K12 space to the job market, it was estimated that as much as 1/3 of the US workforce would need to change jobs by 2030 prior to the pandemic due to the widening skill gap within the workforce. However, it is now expected that employers will take on more responsibility for reskilling their current workforce, and that training will become job-embedded rather than an ad-hoc, challenge redressal driven effort. As employers look to provide more skills training (rather than compliance training), it is certain that more will come from external sources and that much of this training will be provided online and during work hours. The fact that CEOs say they are unprepared to meet the reskilling challenge with existing internal resources further supports the fact that Edtech will dominate the learning landscape virtually across every domain.

So, what opportunities and challenges do new and early stage startups need to face as the ecosystem matures?

As Edtech goes mainstream with each passing year, it is clear that companies that wish to operate in the space will consistently need to innovate and differentiate themselves overtime. As the landscape becomes increasingly competitive, Edtech companies need to stay away from ‘me-too’ solutions and design original and authentic solutions for the complex Indian market. The reducing ambit of fresh opportunities makes it increasingly difficult for competitors to carve out a sustainable niche for themselves.

For companies focused on K-12 students, it’s still really challenging to sell into schools and school districts because of the long sales cycle. This will likely become even harder, as local and state regulations stiff up. For companies that are targeting adult learners, the biggest hurdle continues to be customer acquisition and building a brand that learners can actually trust. As the space starts to mature, consumers are getting more aware of the right questions to ask and are less fooled by clever marketing.

An upcoming opportunity however, lies in the ‘free till employed’ space where not many companies are presently operating. The model works best for Higher Ed candidates that are on the market for employment, however do not possess the necessary skillset required to achieve their dream job. Players in the space provide the requisite skill training, and do not charge in return of their service, instead take a portion of the salaries of their students once they find jobs. Innovative models such as these will certainly grow exponentially in the coming years and will further open the doors for learners with international aspirations.

What about other factors such as a dated regulatory landscape and lack of parent education that could inhibit Edtech expansion to its full potential?

The current education system is geared towards teaching and testing knowledge at every level as opposed to teaching skills. Knowledge — read as information overload — is largely forgotten after exams are over. Still, year after year, Indian students focus on just cramming information. They have no choice, really. The best crammers are rewarded by the system. This is one of the fundamental flaws of India’s education system.

Indian parents need to be taught to trust the new, digital system of education. This requires central and state education boards to make fundamental changes and adopt them across school curriculums. Once the government provides an impetus to alternative learning in schools, only then can Edtech startups actively look at designing products for such learning and create a real impact on educational standards.

Globally, tech startups have been able to disrupt and expand markets across sectors only in those countries where the business framework is not restricted by government regulations and there is no resistance to change. In India, leading startups such as Paytm, Flipkart, Ola, Oyo, Swiggy, Bigbasket, Grofers, and many others have been able to disrupt various sectors by creating niche markets within the sectors. They not only capitalized on the traditional market space but also increased the market size of their respective sectors, creating future prospects by modernizing the segments and also expanding them for businesses to grow and innovate further.

Edtech startups, too, should get the socio-economic support they need to create the space for mainstream learning in the Indian market, else they will keep fighting for a share of the already existing, constant market size.

To sum up, while Edtech had been steadily making its presence felt over the past few years, with assisted learning tools that leverage robotics, ML etc., for developing cognitive learning among children, it is only now that it has found widespread appeal and mass adoption. The lockdown has also helped transform Edtech from an ‘optional’ tool adopted by elitist schools to a ‘mandatory’ mode of continuous learning, especially for schools, who have adopted it wholeheartedly. From facilitating teaching of regular term curriculum via virtual classrooms or recorded lectures for K12 students to offering professionals the opportunity to upgrade their skills, technology adopting in the education space has allowed allowing everyone with an internet connection and a smart device, to access knowledge and learn. Coupled with accelerated pace of innovations, and growing interest of investors in the Indian Edtech segment, the Indian education system is on an aggressive growth path, well equipped to create a more aware, more enabled and more responsible citizens of the future.

Next Wave of Edtech in India

 As the Edtech sector scales new heights with each passing year, experts agree that the next wave of Edtech in India is set to redefine the face of education in the country. Recognizing the immense potential vested within Edtech, the government and regulatory bodies have made a strong case for the digitization and modernization of education within the country through the recently launched National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, that categorically focuses on improvement of infrastructure for technologically enabled learning across educational institutions.

Even during a year of peril and trials, the sector has shown phenomenal progress by any metric of measurements. India is already home to two unicorns that provide Edtech services and products globally. Even within the investment space, 2020 saw over 100 unique deals within the sector having a cumulative value of over $1.5 bn in investments. At a macro level, the Edtech space has now become the third highest investment attracting sector in India, outperforming even Ecommerce and Consumer Tech

Top 5 Sector Stack in India

The global Edtech market is a diverse and rapidly growing industry with a large runway across the business lifecycle, from early-stage startups to middle-market companies to publicly traded companies. It continues to garner a lot of attention not only from long-time industry veterans but from generalist investors as well. Across the three main education categories (PreK-12, post-secondary, and corporate training), technology is infused throughout the life of a learner. The leading sub segments within the industry include after school classes, online certifications and higher education, professional skill development, vocational learning etc. that each operate as individual verticals within the sector

A closer look at the key indicators and mainstays of the sector that will propel its growth in the coming years, reveals a promising picture for the learners of the future who stand to benefit from a more engaging and elevated experience, suited to their abilities and time frames while ensuring that learning continuity is maintained and remains self-paced. It is therefore important to mention some of these indicators:

Shifting Focus of the B2B Segment

While the B2B space has existed for a long time, the focus of Edtech players has now shifted towards teachers as opposed to the overall backend management. The B2B Edtech startups and services, which enabled teachers and educational institutions to take their work online, gained momentum as the schools and after-school-classes (tuitions) remained shut. This not only ensured that learning remained uninterrupted but also prepped up traditional institutions for the future of Edtech. The B2B Edtech firms have received total funding of $31 million between 2017-2020. A large portion of the funding is attributable to enterprises that made shifting focus to teaching and learning online possible. Interestingly, companies that facilitated audio and video conferencing also released special, education centric versions of their product that helped teachers manage and deliver classes better indicating that even companies outside the Edtech space want to carve out their standing due to the immense vested potential in the upcoming sector.

Gamification & Emergence of Edutainment

In addition to the life like animations and visual representations of otherwise theoretical content and concepts, Edtech startups also focus on making the activity of learning more engaging and interactive. Gamification has gained immense popularity among Edtech startups — like Toppr,  CueMath, BYJU’S and others — because of substantially improved learning and outcomes. Learning through games and puzzles also makes it easier for students to understand a concept in a more practical way and generate greater interest. Beyond gamification, startups have also started taking steps to make education more interesting with the medium of interactive videos, music and proprietary stories-based curriculum. Parents too have expressed their preference for an interactive approach to learning as they observe their children learn concepts much faster than conventional schooling classes

Golden Days for Coding & Programming

Undoubtedly, one of the talked about verticals within the Edtech space in 2020 was the coding and programming for young children. Claiming to enable logical thinking, problem solving and creative thinking skills in children, the segment is responsible for a large portion of the overall sector momentum. In fact, the situation in India is no different from the global scenario where its overall market is pegged to be worth over $2 billion. Indian coding players such as Whitehat Jr, Toppr etc. have now scaled operations even outside India, and provide personalized one to one classes to aspiring learners over a 2 year period on an average. As more parents warm up to the idea of teaching their kids to code to create better opportunities for their future, dominant players are sure to ride the coding wave for years to come more so with the regulatory mindset changes taking place that postulate coding for all children in schools from grade 6 onwards.

 Upskilling & Professional Development

The pandemic has shown how quickly work itself can change and being upbeat with the latest trends can help minimize the shock. About 122 Mn people lost their jobs as of August 2020, as wounded companies accelerated towards digital transformation. Organizations started making data-driven decisions making more important aspects of their survival, and the impact of Edtech will also be seen beyond schooling into upskilling and reskilling. Since digital jobs were the profiles to grow amidst a slowing market, startups in the space had the impetus to look beyond school education and focus on professional development and lifelong learning aspects – one that offers learners the opportunity to take up relevant and in-demand skills that can shape their careers in the long run. Leading startups in the segment saw a steep rise in their user base (~2.5 times) since the pandemic and the changing consumer mindset is sure to drive demand for the years to come.

So, what more can be expected of the Edtech space?

The big challenge for startups will be bridging intrinsic gaps such as the digital divide, equitable access to the internet, power and hardware such as computers or smartphones, along with addressing the affordability quotient — both of which are lacking at the moment. Given the trends and indicators discussed previously, it can safely be assumed that the following will additionally be the critical changes that can be expected:

  •         Greater adoption of learning management systems in schools & colleges
  •          Vernacular and local language content will take center stage
  •          Assessments & examinations will be digitized through the use of proctoring solutions
  •          Teacher focused digital transformation platforms will be designed
  •          AI & ML shall drive the design philosophy of upcoming innovative learning models

To sum up, there are about 4,530 active Edtech startups in India but even the number is bound to increase rapidly with the increased interest of both investors and customers. The year 2020 was truly a golden year for Edtech and the same momentum is expected in 2021 and beyond as well and even policies are bound to get more Edtech

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Entrance Exams - What alternative does the government have instead of postponing?

Since the COVID-19 has been declared as Pandemic by World Health Organisation (WHO), there is a sense of fear and panic all around the globe. Government of India imposed lockdown and taking all the possible precautionary steps to curb the spread of the virus which includes shutting down all educational institutes, vacating hostels, postponing entrance examinations, convocation ceremonies, and more.

Student Safety while conducting exams

Entrance exams such as JEE and NEET were postponed multiple times in 2020 to avoid spread of virus in student community but now many voices are coming in support to conduct exams with view of “Life must go on”. Amid the increasing spread of virus in the country post lockdown, close to 16 lakhs students are appearing for NEET - UG and 8.58 lakhs students are appearing for JEE Mains exam. Ensuring safety by taking social distancing with appropriate hygiene measures of total 27 lakhs students plus approximately 1 lakh teacher supervisors across states is a big challenge. How many exam centers are well prepared for such health and safety measures is a question.

How postponing / cancelling entrance exams will affect students?

Aspirants prepare for entrance exams like JEE and NEET at least for a year in order to secure good ranking for admission in good institutions. These students work rigorously to achieve their goal. Postponing or Cancellation of entrance exams will affect these students as their preparation for whole year will go into vain. Cancellation of such entrance exams will have devastating effect on merit entering into institutions hence it should be the last option to be considered.

Recently IIT Delhi Director Mr. V Ramgopal Rao said, “Any further delay in conducting entrance exams JEE and NEET will have ‘serious repercussions’ not only on the academic calendar but also on the career of bright students”. Hence further delay in conducting medical and engineering entrance exams will lead to a 'zero academic year. In this scenario it is inevitable to explore options available with the government instead of postponing the entrance exams further.

Options for conducting entrance exams without postponing them further:

1. Home-based Online Proctored Exam:

Government can leverage online proctoring services to enable students to take exams from home. Such form of online exams relies on the internet and lets students take the exam at their own location. While online assessments looks like viable option to be explored, there is concern that they could increase inequalities due to lack of Internet access and laptop / desktop computers with all students, in addition to their cost.

2. Conducting Exams in staggered manner

Government can consider conducting examinations with more number of exam centers and in higher number of shifts with lesser number of students in each shift with proper crowd control mechanisms to avoid risk of spread of disease.

3. Ensuring safety at Exam centers

It should be mandated that exams to be conducted in sanitized environment with all precautionary measures to be strictly followed at exam centers, including physical distancing protocols, providing hand sanitizers and compulsory wearing of masks.

 4. Open book examination (OBE)

OBE will require students to first download the question paper from the exam portal, write the answers on plain paper, and finally scan and upload them on the portal, all within a stipulated time limit.

Summing it up, internet connectivity conditions will inevitably widen the gap between students with different economic backgrounds and a sudden change in the style of questions (as is required by the “open book” format) without enough time allowed to cope with changed pattern, it will create anxiety in students.

Higher education entrance exams are the highest-stake exams that determine access to higher education premium institutes in India where fairness is the key. Hence, along with health and safety, it is important to ensuring equity and equal opportunity for all students while conducting entrance exams.

UGC Examination Guidelines 2020 - Practical or Inconsiderate

On July 6th, The University Grants Commission (UGC) released revised guidelines on examinations and academic calendar for the universities.

In the guidelines, UGC has indicated that the university examination may be completed by September in online, offline or blended modes. The revised guidelines have been created based on the recommendations suggested by the expert committee.

What will be the mode of Final Semester / Year Exams 2019-20?

UGC has asked the universities to complete the examinations by the end of September 2020. Exams can be done in offline, or online or blended (online + offline) mode. The exams will be conducted following the prescribed protocols/ guidelines related to COVID-19 pandemic.

What if a student fails to appear for the final year examination?

In case a student of final semester / year is unable to appear in the examination for whatsoever the reason(s) may be, he/she may appear in special examinations for such course(s)/ paper(s). University may conduct such examinations as and when feasible so that such students are not put to any inconvenience/ disadvantage. This is a special provision for the academic session 2019-20 as a one-time measure

Will there be exams for backlog papers?

Yes, the students of final semester / year having backlog should compulsorily be evaluated by conducting examinations in offline, online or blended (online + offline) mode as per feasibility and suitability.

What is the update about intermediate semester/ year examinations?

As per UGC, the guidelines regarding intermediate semester/ year examinations will remain unchanged as notified in the previous guidelines issued on 29th April, 2020.

Will UGC release separate guidelines for admissions and academic calendar?

The UGC mentioned that if need be, it will release details pertaining to the Admissions and Academic Calendar in the colleges and universities separately in place of those mentioned in the earlier guidelines.

The revised guidelines issued by the UGC mandating final examinations have received mixed response from universities, students, parents as well as teachers.

31 students from different universities across India approached the Supreme Court to challenge the UGC revised guidelines for final examination. The students urged that the exams should be canceled and the results of such students should be calculated on the basis of their internal assessment or past performance.

Another petition on the issue, filed in the Supreme Court by final year law student Yash Dubey sought cancellation of UGC mandated final year exams. Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray has also moved the Supreme court on behalf of Yuva Sena against the mandated final year exams in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases.

In response, UGC has stated that its Guidelines dated 6 July, 2020 have been issued to protect the academic future of the students across the country which will be irreparably damaged if their final examinations are not held. It says that it had done so while keeping the health and safety of the students in mind. UGC mentioned that it’s Guidelines taken account of the evolving situation of COVID-19 by not only providing adequate time for the conduct of examinations but also by giving flexibility to the universities on mode of conduct of examination i.e. offline/online/blended.

However, some students, Universities as well as state governments have still not taken the decision positively. In view of the current difficulties that our country is facing, it is quite unrealistic to justify the reasoning of conduction of virtual examination by relying on examples of the premier institutions of the world. We need to understand that premier institutes are largely accommodating of student’s concern and health threats.

These are unprecedented times and every sector is taking decisions in favour of physical and mental health of their citizens. UGC on the other hand is failing to consider that most of the educational institutions/Universities/colleges have been converted into quarantine centre and the conduction of the examination, in this testing time, is a threat to the life and health of thousands of students.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

New Education Policy - Takeaways & Implications

In a landmark decision to reform the traditional face of education in the country, the Government of India through its Ministry of Education (formerly MHRD) has accepted and enforced the New Education Policy (NEP) for all educational institutions in the country. The policy has been designed by an expert committee of eminent educationists that submitted a draft to the government in December 2019. This newly applicable policy finds its basis in the idea of making education more accessible for all learners.

The new policy puts fourth radical changes across all spheres of education. Starting from foundational schooling to post professional and vocational education. Through the enactment of this policy, the government has made its revolutionized stance towards the internationalization of education very clear. Future generations stand to benefit a great deal from the changes presented in the policy that comes after a 34 year hiatus.

So what has really changed for schools?

The NEP 2020, takes the present system of learning and flips it on its head. There are visible changes across all delivery models and even talks about holistic development of the students and technical grooming of teachers that can empower young minds to become future leaders.

The schooling segment is perhaps one of the most influenced segments with monumental implications for future learners. Here’s why:

  • Formalized Early Childhood Care & Education with a national curriculum framework to be made available to all
  • Re-purposing school complexes as adult & vocational education centers during non-school hours for optimum utilization of resources
  • A redefined academic trajectory of students commencing with the foundational (3+2), preparatory (3 years), middle (3 years) and secondary (4 years) phases being the new face of schooling
  • State level exams across grades 3, 5 and 8th in addition to mandatory board exams as per the current regime
  • Centralized assessment centers will be established for Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic development of the children (PARAKH)
  • Reformed report cards consisting of peer reviews in addition to teacher feedback
  • Recruitment of local artists and craftsmen will promote regional arts in schools
  • Integration of vocational skills from grade 6 with practical experience to willing learners
  • No hard separation between streams of arts, science & commerce with greater flexibility being made available to the students
  • Special provisions for gifted children

There are a lot more indirect implications for schools mentioned within the policy over and above the aforementioned list. Schools have now been enabled to provide futuristic education with the use of technology in the classroom, however it has been observed that teachers are opposed to the idea of infusion of modern teaching techniques within the classroom. This also finds redressal in the policy which places a heavy emphasis on the investment in teacher education and their professional development. A rather staggering change is the change in mandated teacher qualification to a 4 year integrated B.Ed degree as opposed to 2 years at present. A special curriculum shall be designed for new teachers that will enable them to impart knowledge using modern teaching techniques and reformed pedagogies thereby enabling future learners to become competent for the real world.

And what about higher education?

Under the new policy, the government has categorically emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary education across the higher education segment. This renewed understanding represents the governmental push to make the economy more self-reliant and harness its own capabilities before seeking outsider assistance. In it’s endeavors to promote the entrepreneurial spirit, the government has made value-based education a new foundation to be imbibed within the course structure. In fact, there is also a reassessment of what courses should continue to exist in terms of availability of employment and what skills have now become irrelevant and should therefore be discontinued.

Specifically, the government has put forth both regulatory and operational changes in the higher education sphere, such as:

  • Institution of a single oversight body called Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) to govern all higher education institutions except those that specialize in the medical & legal niche
  • A unilateral set of governance norms for both public & private institutions
  • Creation of professional standards in accordance with global norms by Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSSB) in place of the existing 17 professional councils
  • Creation of Multidisciplinary Education & Research Universities (MERU’s) with the aim to reach global status
  • All new institutions will be required to offer Open Distance Learning (ODL) and online programs once accredited
  • Multiple entry/exit options shall be available to students to leverage with undergraduate courses to be of 3-4 years including a year of research
  • The installation of high performing universities globally to set up centers in India will be encouraged
Alongside the changes mentioned above the policy also sets bold targets for the coming years such as increasing the GER in higher education including vocational learning to 50% by 2035 and increasing public investment in education to amount to 6% of GDP by the next decade.

What else is on the table?

In addition to the many visionary changes suggested by the policy, there are several small but significant revisions that the government plans to implement in due course. There is a strong inkling to promote the preservation and promotion of local arts, culture and language through education. Further, the infusion of technology in education has been stressed upon emphatically with the setting up of National Education Alliance for Technology (NEAT) and Artificial Intelligence enabled research centers across the nation. Adult education is yet another aspect that finds mention within the policy that posits creation of Adult Education Centers (AEC’s) through optimum utilization of school infrastructure for the same.

The policy clearly provides a framework of operation for new and old institutions and re-imagines the fate of education in the country in the coming years. It is indeed an advantageous for a nation to recognize education as a pivotal pillar in the success of its economy and it’s people. Seeking to expedite the implementation of these efforts, the government has already set aggressive timelines and is positioned to bring the entire policy into force by 2040. For a detailed understanding of the NEP and all it’s nuances, read through our monograph here.

The Zero Year Theory - Is it viable?

The current COVID-19 pandemic has hit the education system hard. All the schools and Higher Education Institutions in India have been shut since the first 21-day national lockdown from 25th March 2020 thus impacting over 253 million school going students and 37.5 million higher education students enrolled across India.

As the Coronavirus cases continue to increase in the country, looking at the current figures, it is inevitable that the coronavirus cases will increase in the coming days and health and safety of children are under question. Under such unprecedented circumstances demand is rising to call A.Y. 2020-21 as ‘Zero Academic Year’

‘Zero Academic Year’ means teaching and learning will happen to the extent possible by using various alternate instruction methods, but there will not be any examinations, grading or promotion to the next class.

A online survey conducted by Local Circles group with 25,000 respondents in India, found that a two third of respondents did not support reopening of schools on September 1 and were worried about the chances of infection to children and elders in the home.

International precedent also indicates that cases spread through schools, with the American Academy of Pediatrics reporting that almost one lakh children tested positive in the last two weeks of July, just as some schools began reopening classes.

Current Scenario of India’s school children:

Current educational situation of students varies widely, depending on age, location and socioeconomic status. Private schools have already gone online with teachers attempting to maintain a regular schedule. For Govt. schools, authorities have brought out an educational calendar with lesson plans and learning activities, and are also beaming classes through dedicated television channels in multiple languages, especially for older children. Government has also issued screen time guideline for pre-primary to Class 12th students. Given that this kind of distance education requires digital access and/or self-motivation and parental involvement, the vast majority of children in government schools have spent the last three months on an extended summer holiday.

Challenges in reopening of schools in India

  • No clear road map or timeline for school re-opening
  • No clear health protocol for maintaining Health and safety measures while reopening schools
  • Covering full academic curriculum lost due to school closures in remaining instructional days in academic year 2020-2021
  • Un-equal Access to online and remote learning: only 24% of families have internet facilities in urban area which drop to 15% in rural areas.

Is Zero Year Theory, way ahead?

Although the adoption of blended learning (online + class) for curriculum content delivery is key to ensure the continuity of education following the physical closure of schools, children on an average, likely to experience a learning loss during this COVID affected academic year.

Online schooling requires a change in both the quantity and quality of the teaching capacity & revision in the curriculum,Students spend less time in online learning compared to in-school learning time Younger children may have problems in adapting to this model especially for the online learning sectionThe structure of many existing school buildings may not be appropriate if one wants to maintain physical distancing.

Hence looking at challenges in reopening schools and content delivery mechanisms many activists, teachers associations, parent associations in Delhi, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu have demanded to declare AY 2020 – 21 as Zero Academic Year.

Is there any academic loss when curriculum is reduced?

COVID-19 and blended mode of learning in schools may not affect students equally. Students from less advantaged backgrounds can experience more significant learning loss during this emergency period than their more advantaged counterparts. This may be due to differences in financial & non-financial parental support, digital access & students’ digital skills.

Loss reflected in reduction in test score students would be experiencing because of less time spent in learning compared to the amount of time they typically invest when they are in school, stressed environment because of changed delivery mechanism and lack of learning motivation

In broader perspective academic loss will translate into a reduction of available human capital, with negative effects on future productivity, innovation and employment including future lower earnings for the student cohorts directly affected by the lockdown

On the other hand declaring A.Y. 2020-21 a Zero Academic Year will ensure:

  • Reduced stress level of blended learning in students.
  • No Academic loss and in terms of curriculum and skills learnt
  • Safety of children from schools with inadequate infrastructure where social distancing might not be followed
  • It will also provide time to governments and schools to ensure teacher training on health & safety of students, digital access to all students, developing new pedagogies in blended learning and developing school infrastructure with better hygiene and health safety measures.
Health is Wealth and life has more value than anything else, thus it is more important to value children’s life and health over all other parameters. Protecting children from this dangerous pandemic is critical. Hence it will not be in common good to reopen schools in riskier environment. Zero Year Theory needs to be followed to mitigate academic loss of students if more than 33% curriculum reduction is needed to be able to reopen schools.

Enabling education for the masses through adoption of Ed-tech

The Indian education system is currently suffering from serious lacunae of teacher centered traditional schooling also known as ‘Factory model’ where in children are referred as products and where kids are treated as part of an assembly line, learning essentially the same things at an ‘average’ pace of the class without much personalization. This ‘Factory Model’ exists because it's the most economical or sustainable way to educate a large number of kids together with limited resources.

On the 2018 Legatum Prosperity Index, an annual study which evaluates 149 countries on several factors, India stands at the 104th spot in education. In India, the percentage of Class II students who could not read a single word of a short text or perform a two-digit subtraction is higher than in Uganda or Ghana. These facts indicates that India children at large scale lack in access to quality Education, educational resources and opportunities to learn beyond schooling.

Major Challenges in Education System in India

  • Lack of Infrastructure: Shortage of schools and classrooms with basic amenities like electricity, drinking water and toilets
  • Unavailability of quality teachers: Teachers are less qualified, lack professionalism and grappled with absent-ism
  • Shortage of quality study material: Shortage of study material leads to disinterest among students
  • Language issues: With 1500+ languages available, it is difficult to teach students in their respective languages with limited or no regional language content available 

Technology in Education (Ed-Tech) for large scale adoption

There is urgent need to implement technology enabled solutions and services that can redefine how education is imparted to students in lower strata of society in efficient format at all levels of education.

India is at the cusp of experiencing the growth curve in Ed-Tech & online learning the way the US or China had in the recent past. The current COVID-19 crisis has made use of Ed-tech more pertinent than ever.

 I. Going Digital:

 In online education, content delivery consists of text, audio and video to teach and elaborate on classroom subjects with experienced teachers. Thus fills-in knowledge gaps when teachers are absent or less educated with certain materials. These materials are also more streamlined, making topics easier to understand for a multitude of students. Video lessons make classes more consistent in all schools, eliminating the variation of teaching materials around the country and allowing student at large scale to learn in self-paced manner.

II. Specialized and Individual Learning through Massive Open Online Courses

Traditional schooling system is proven to be less effective at aiding students individually to learn core concepts; through the implementation of MOOC’s, schools will be better able to cater to students’ needs and adapt specific programs to better suit individual learning styles and educational requirement.

III. TV channel-based learning

Poor internet access in rural population is major challenge; with only 15% of families have internet facilities in rural areas. Thus making implementing online education difficult, hence makeshift technology uses such as TV channel based learning in regional languages in particular time slots. This can be crucial in providing instant access to learning content without onboarding.

IV. Open Schooling

Ed-tech can help in strengthening open schooling initiatives such as National Institute of Open Schooling with further to help curtailing School drop-out rates in senior secondary and higher education by creating Open Educational Resources (OER) across streams and allowing studnets to choose multiple subject of choice.

V. Resource-centric social network for educators

Rural area teachers have to be made at par in quality with their counterparts in urban areas, this is possible by developing Resource-centric social network for educators where teachers can interact and seamlessly share educational resources across states and country.

While a number of states in India have initiated Ed-Tech enabled programs to improve education levels, we believe Ed-tech start-ups companies would require extensive partnership with authorities to bring more technology into Indian classrooms for addressing current challenges.

Government should work towards providing digital access such as tablets, SD-Cards, Desktop computers and projectors to lower strata of society making Ed-tech educational programs more accessible to the multitudes. Many state-run schools have some access to these resources and Government needs to make consistent efforts towards providing EdTech for students in all regions.