Central Square Foundation
Central Square Foundation

“Right policy and implementation push can help India become a global leader in EdTech”

The EDge Editorial Team June 2019

The draft National Education Policy (NEP) acknowledges the changing world of today, where technology is playing a greater role in all aspects, including education. Sridhar Rajagopalan, President & Chief Learning Officer, Educational Initiatives, shares his thoughts on how the policy can guide the government to ensure effective use of technology in education.

CSF: The draft NEP calls for the appropriate integration of technology into all levels of education. What is your initial response to the draft in terms of how it envisions the role of technology in education? What, according to you, are the most important and fundamental changes proposed by the policy? What are the big misses in the draft policy document, if any?

Sridhar: The draft policy mentions India’s unique leadership in the technology space and acknowledges that the right policy and implementation push can help India become a global leader in EdTech. Overall, the policy seems to have its heart in the right place, yet many challenges plague the successful implementation of EdTech in our country. For example, one of the most common issues with all EdTech projects is the disproportionate focus on hardware as compared to the software or content.

In general, the policy talks about educational apps, adaptive assessments, personalized learning software, technology for teacher development and many such initiatives, along with the recommendation of setting up a National Educational Technology Forum (NETF). And while each of these initiatives is welcome, a concrete plan will need to be defined to implement these ideas. The NETF, for example, could be a more powerful idea if its role and strategies could be more clearly defined. Similarly, while the importance of high-quality educational software has been mentioned, the opportunity to set-up EdTech labs or incubators in our IITs or encourage private companies to create such software also exists and may be added to the policy.

One big miss without a doubt, is that it fails to recognize the role of the private, for-profit players and their international experience. It would have been useful to look into what has been tried already in EdTech and the challenges those efforts faced. While the collective goal should be to strengthen state resources and capacities and help curate high-quality open resources, there should be an effort to learn from the for-profit EdTech players and view them as providers of co-existing and complementing solutions.

Additionally, there are a few steps in the policy to mandate a push towards greater technology use in education. Today, for example, most competitive exams in India have moved to computer-based testing, but assessments at the school level (including board exams) continue to be pen-and-paper. The policy could have mandated a timeframe to move assessments to computer-based testing.

CSF: What steps should the government take to procure the right EdTech solutions? How can the government encourage increased supply of quality EdTech solutions for the public school segment?

Sridhar: I would recommend three steps in this direction:
Firstly, as a rule, whenever hardware is being procured through a tender for education, it must require a parallel software tender. Though this is more complex than allowing the winner of the hardware tender to procure any software (and they would naturally pick the most affordable software), but it ensures a competitive selection process for software, like for hardware.

Secondly, create a panel that would work with EdTech providers to evaluate and give feedback on EdTech software. This is a complex and involved process, and instead of making it competitive or high stakes in the first few years, the aim should be to help EdTech vendors to receive feedback and improve their products. As the sector matures, the panel could potentially start providing ratings for the products.

Thirdly, the government should fund research in areas that are useful to all EdTech vendors. While some parts of this could be given as competitive grants, the areas of common research could be decided collaboratively based on what all product vendors agree on.

These steps will help not only in the selection of good solutions, but in improving the quality of the solutions as well.

CSF: Again, for implementation of suggestions made in the policy, do you think we have adequate infrastructure and capacity in our schools and state systems? What could be the challenges in creating that infrastructure and capacity?

Sridhar: The infrastructure and capacity do not exist, but like with anything new, they can be developed over time as these projects expand. However, problems arise if the approach tends to focus more on scaling than on quality. Ironing out all possible issues at the scale of 20-100 schools is very important, and a disproportionate focus at this scale will help in ensuring that fewer challenges arise at a larger scale of say 1,000 or 2,000 schools.

What is important in all this is generating effective assessment solutions and protocols to provide learning feedback. Again, this should be done in a low-stake, quality-focused manner while gradually scaling up and taking key players and partners along.

CSF: The NEP mentions the importance of collecting and analysing data for improving educational standards. How do you envision technology being used to achieve this? Even for multiple EdTech programs, how can we get the right kind of data to build evidence and increase awareness among stakeholders on the benefits of using technology?

Sridhar: There is a need to create a common taxonomy or framework (we call it the Science of Learning) that would allow data from different EdTech programs to be commonly collected and stored, so that common insights on learning can be drawn through this. At a more basic level, EdTech and assessment programs, including board exams, should begin the practice of sharing question-wise, response-wise data. Insights about the difficulty level of questions, incorrect answers by students or by type of questions and many other aspects could be useful for a research cell to look into and learn from.

The important thing is to see EdTech as an enabler, where every useful end product will necessarily be in collaboration with researchers, data analysts and teachers.

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