Learnings from Global Innovations in EdTech
By Rashi Dhanani, Rhea Handa and Shruti Gogia
Feb 25, 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures impacted about 320 million children in India. However, the crisis proved to be an opportunity for EdTech which made headlines for enabling at-home learning.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures impacted about 320 million children in India. However, the crisis proved to be an opportunity for EdTech which made headlines for enabling at-home learning. EdTech made its way into most households via radio, television, laptops, and the ubiquitous smartphone. It demonstrated its potential to multiple stakeholders in the teaching-learning process, especially students who suddenly found themselves out of classrooms. But there is still work to be done to ensure last-mile delivery in India.
In one of our latest reports, ‘Reimagining Education through Technology’ , we studied over 350 EdTech innovations across the globe that leverage cutting-edge technologies to create deeply immersive and engaging learning experiences. We also explored those that seem to be surpassing resource constraints to cater to the needs of teachers and students. For teachers, EdTech has begun to reduce the burden of delivering quality lessons. For students, technology is helping them become more independent in their learning process via instant doubt resolution. It’s also enabling them to learn in accordance with their skill levels and at a pace that suits them. EdTech is also facilitating parental participation in their child’s learning journey. Given the disruptions to traditional school models, parents’ role has expanded and become critical with at-home learning.
However, two oft discussed challenges continue to plague the sector in India: access to devices, and the lack of internet connectivity in remote and rural areas. While the latest survey conducted by ASER indicates rise in device and connectivity access in India1, it is imperative to build on the momentum for EdTech and keep innovating to address these constraints. Our analysis in the ‘Reimagining Education through Technology’ report sheds light on how the global EdTech ecosystem has evolved to address these challenges in interesting and innovative ways.
Insights from Global EdTech Innovations
Devices: Using TV for mass reach and Low-Tech Devices for Personalised Learning
Television is the often used medium to reach students without access to personal devices. Almost all Indian states broadcast educational content over TV on Doordarshan as well as Swayam Prabha2.
While the efficacy of television-based content is contentious, two outstanding examples from our global landscaping exercise suggest that television has the potential to be effective for learning. The very popular Sesame Street3 has for decades enabled access to high-quality content for young learners across the world through large-scale TV broadcasts. In India, Sesame’s Hindi adaptation ‘Galli Galli Sim Sim’ has shown a small but positive impact. The program covers several important early childhood developmental domains, including literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional, and health4. Similarly, Ubongo’s family engagement segment, Tunakujenga, delivers engaging videos via TV to cultivate new learning behaviors. It builds on existing community practices to encourage social-emotional learning by interweaving them as part of families’ daily home routines. Evaluations have shown that parents exposed to Ubongo’s programming are 12% more likely to read to their children than those who were not. The key to the positive impact created by both these television-based programs: extremely high-quality content compounded with a well-integrated community engagement plan.
Our analysis also uncovered the immense promise low-tech devices hold in delivering personalised learning. Users only require access to a basic feature phone that will allow them to send and receive text messages. Case in point – Eneza Education, an EdTech organization based out of Kenya, has developed a platform that allows students to access contextual and affordable academic content over SMS. Students can choose the topic they want to study and the platform follows it up with dedicated instructional content and quizzes. Similarly, Ready4K!, a solution from the United States, has demonstrated acceleration of learning outcomes 5 for students by using simple text messages to engage parents more meaningfully in their child’s learning. Every week, parents and families receive facts and easy tips on how to promote their children’s development by building on existing family routines.
Connectivity: From offline solutions to portable hotspots that enable learning
Our report also outlines how the EdTech sector is evolving to bust the myth that technology can only be leveraged if the internet is available. Many organizations are making their offerings available offline. This feature in particular is helping bridge the access gap in rural and remote communities in India. Read Along – an app by Google – operates seamlessly without the internet where a content package is downloaded at the time of installation. The package can be accessed even when the device is not connected to the internet. Further, a speech-recognition powered in-app reading tutor called Diya, listens to the learner as they read aloud, offers support through nudges in the learner’s native language when they struggle, and rewards them when they do well. All of this on the learner’s local device. Solutions exist even for interventions that require connectivity in schools. For instance, ConveGenius supports its tablet-based interventions with technologies such as raspberry pi – a portable, single-board computer that acts as a hotspot and can connect to devices through Local Area Network (LAN)6.
The Way Forward
While India needs to put in place basic enablers such as access to devices and connectivity, we need to simultaneously consider how technology can be best leveraged for teaching-learning activities within and outside classrooms. Innovation is bubbling on the other side of the technology spectrum – Artificial Intelligence (AI) based solutions are allowing for increasingly personalized learning experiences. Student-facing solutions like Squirrel AI (based in China) leverage artificial intelligence to accurately diagnose student misconceptions and recommend content tailored to each child’s learning level. On the other hand, teacher-facing solutions, like ChalkTalk (based in the US), allow for targeted lesson preparation and delivery by recommending lesson plans driven by student performance data. It is interesting to see such solutions gaining traction in India – an evaluation of an Indian Personalized Adaptive Learning solution, Mindspark, showed that it can accelerate outcomes for math and language by ~0.11 standard deviations in just three months of usage.
It is promising to see how innovations in EdTech are redesigning how children learn, and how parents and teachers can support them using technology. Entrepreneurs are addressing challenges specific to low-income settings as well as pushing technological frontiers to build high-tech solutions for hyper-personalized learning experiences. In addition to traditional entrepreneurs and investors, both the government and the philanthropic sectors will have important roles to play in fostering a dynamic EdTech ecosystem in India, especially one that caters to the low-income segment.
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