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How technology is set to transform India’s fragmented education system

Edupreneurship, Technology

07-05-2014

The Guardian

In 2012, engineer Raghav Gajula moved to an east Delhi slum to work as a teacher at a private school for low-income families. Most of his students’ parents are labourers in local factories but have paid 300 Indian rupees a month, about £3, for their kids to attend a school with busy staff and no computer resources. Gajula, who found the teaching position through a Teach For India fellowship, spotted an opportunity. He lent the kids his laptop and started setting up mentoring sessions for them with his friends, via Skype.

Many of the slum kids come from the Bhagwanpur Khera neighborhood where one of the main landmarks is a toxic sewage drain. Yet Gajula’s idea meant they were soon scheduling their own Skype sessions with their mentors, and talking about their ambitions in the arts and sports. Gajula now works with two activists on setting up a local after-school centre with the aim of expanding the mentoring programme. They have 25 students and five donated laptops, though they aren’t sure how the nonprofit centre is going to survive financially.

Gajula’s innovation could be transformative for India’s fragmented education system, but there is no overarching strategy for how to incorporate these kinds of projects into the sprawling Indian school system. According to government estimates, there are about 254 million pupils in primary and secondary schools both in the private and public sector, but there’s no overall technology policy for schools. Internet penetration is around 12%, and average connection speeds are slow.

Schools aren’t using equipment

Recognising the increasing importance of technology in education and employment, the Indian government has a scheme that grants every public school district, regardless of the number of schools it contains, of Rs. 5m [£49,700] every year to invest in educational technology. Districts have to submit a proposal in order to be granted the funds. The government estimates that 22% of primary schools have a computer, but the reality is that many schools aren’t using the equipment they have.

“Of the schools I visited, maybe 10% of the computers were working,” says Swati Sahni, a consultant who worked for the Indian government on education from 2010 to 2012. Five of Gajula’s students at a local government school know their school has a computer centre, but none of them can remember using it.

In India’s booming private education sector, technology is being adopted much more quickly. As many as 400 educational technology firms have launched in the past 10 years, yet the quality and longevity of their products is far from uniform.

In August 2013, India’s most prominent educational technology company, Educomp Solutions, laid off 3,500 workers. Educomp had done a great job selling digital learning materials and a multimedia whiteboard to as many as 14,500 schools, according to a company brochure. But some schools were unsure what to do with the technology, and critics say the firm failed to train teachers to use the equipment. Some cancelled orders, and in other schools the equipment went unused, according to an investigation by Forbes India. The company’s value dropped by nearly two-thirds between May 2013 and April 2014.

Personalised educational content

“Now, the customer is very sceptical,” says Neil D’Souza, founder and CEO of Zaya Learning Labs, a three-year-old ed tech company based in Mumbai. “You have many schools which have bought solutions or been donated solutions which don’t add any value to their learning.” Zaya has 15 in-school learning labs, where students share tablets and computers that stream personalised educational content.

Companies has previously focused on delivering services to India’s high-end private schools, says D’Souza, where teachers were more technologically literate and where the revenue model was proven. But Zaya focuses on the growing number of low-income private schools, where many teachers aren’t regular technology users. “The teacher is the key person to deliver,” says D’Souza, who says Zaya offers teaching assistants and spends hours on training.

But Zaya faces challenges when it comes to profits. Affordable private schools charge fees between Rs. 300 and 1,500 [£3-£15] per student per month. In order for an ed tech solution to be viable in this space, it should ideally be priced at less than Rs. 50 [50p] per student per month, says Shabnam Aggarwal, founder of the ed tech advisory Perspectful. She says that’s a very difficult target for most companies to meet.

Educational philanthropies and nonprofits may be able to provide a bridge, finding ways to make technology interventions affordable and scalable for lower-income students. One such philanthropy is the Central Square Foundation (CSF). It has been developing a library of free and open-source educational content in Indian languages, something that founder and CEO Ashish Dhawan says private companies have little incentive to do.

A product for the low-income segment

A former private equity investor, Dhawan says India is now at an inflection point with educational technology, as internet and hardware penetration are set to explode in the next few years. Inspired by this belief, CSF has also invested money and time in trying to find revenue models for ed tech in the low-income space. “We thought: why don’t we give a grant to create a product for the low-income segment?” says Dhawan.

A year and a half ago, CSF tied up with MindSpark, a company that already provides adaptive learning tools in elite private schools, to test the company’s software on low-income and government school students. The students come to the centres for an hour a day, six days a week, to learn Hindi, maths and English. They spend half their time working with a personalised adaptive computer program, and half working with a teacher.

When the pilot started, the students were about two years behind their age group, says Dhawan. Although they’ve now improved, it’s still a struggle to get them to the point where they’ll perform well on tests. Dropouts are common and the pilot still hasn’t proven a revenue model, Dhawan says. The parents, who pay 200 to 250 [£2-£2.50] hard-earned rupees a month for the program, want results in grades, viewing education as a path out of a life of hard manual labour for their children.

But for the students, technology offers a window on a different world. The students in Gajula’s class type messages and paint pictures, dreaming of the day they will start using the internet. Twelve-year-old Parsunath Sahoo describes his father’s long days working in a factory that makes pots and pans, but Parsunath dreams of joining the police. “On the internet, you can do anything,” he says.

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Microsoft Corporation-led group unveils Windows 8.1 tablet for school kids

Technology

The Financial Express

10-02-2014

Software giant Microsoft Corporation unveiled specially bundled tablet for private schools in partnership with computer maker Acer, MBD Group and Tata Teleservices in India for Rs 24,999.

The tablets will be available to all private schools (K6-12) in India.

“The specially created bundle comprises a Windows 8.1 tablet — an Acer Iconia W4-820, which comes with a HD IPS display with enhanced brightness for reading in sunlight and runs on the latest Quad Core Intel Atom Processor,” Microsoft India said in a statement.

The tablet features Office Home and Student as well as Office 365. Microsoft Corporation has also included Office 365 Education A2 and Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) certification for students, it added.

The bundle also includes digital learning curriculum for students of K-12 state boards, CBSE and ICSE from publishing house MBD Group.

The interactive multimedia content from MBD is currently available in English and will soon be available in various regional languages as well, Microsoft said.

On optional basis, Tata Teleservices is providing Photon Plus for high speed Internet services on the move. Customers opting for Photon Plus will get 1 GB of free data usage every month for a period of 12 months from the date of purchase.

The cost of the device along with 1 GB free data usage would be Rs 3,649.

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Smart idea: Govt school to give e-lessons in Hindi from today

ICT, Technology

Chandigarh Relocating all the students from Government High School, Kajheri, and a few students from other government schools in its neighbourhood to its wi-fi-enabled premises, the Government Smart School, Sector 53, is all set to teach students with e-content in Hindi medium from Monday.
The new date — April 23 — for the inauguration of the school has been fixed after four postponements.

The curriculum has been prepared by various government school teachers in collaboration with the State Institute of Education (SIE). All the lesson plans have been designed from lifting content from NCERT books.

Despite the school building being ready since July last year, it took the department nearly a year to complete the technical arrangements and plan the curriculum.

The entire campus of the high school is wi-fi-enabled, and classroom teaching will be taken up by referring to e-content (e-lessons) on projector screens in all classrooms.

The UT Administration had tied up with a city-based computer networking company for developing the digital podiums which have been placed inside each classroom.

The podium has an in-built laptop screen, microphone and a connection with the projector. It will be used by the teacher who will display the audio-visual content on the projector screen for the students through the podium laptop.

Officials indicate that relocating the students from neighbouring areas to the smart school will help in balancing out the high pupil-teacher ratio in the other schools, including Government High School at Badheri and Government Model School, Sector 41.

No new admissions will be made in the school for the current academic session. “Here, we primarily wish to fulfil the purpose of RTE’s concept of neighbourhood schools. The students whose parents would opt for changing the school would be placed here,” said DPI (schools) Sandeep Hans.

The inauguration of the school was first scheduled for November last year. It was then postponed to December due to imposition of the model code of conduct for the Municipal Corporation polls. Later, it was rescheduled for January 14 and then for April 4.

The Education Department aims at setting up 18 more smart schools in the city in the current Five-year Plan.

Indian Express 23 April 2012

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