Technology has the potential to span categories and classes and become a powerful leveller in education. But the 30-odd digital start-ups present in the Indian market are designed to help students prepare for competitive examinations such as the JEE, NEET, and the Civil Service. Online tuitions and coaching or Maths and Science lessons especially for high school students are also popular and most of the content is in English.
With annual subscriptions reaching up to ₹40,000, the accessibility for lower-income groups is extremely limited, despite discounts being offered during the pandemic. Most videos and apps focus on concept clarification and coaching. Their purpose and business models are different, and we cannot fault them for not reaching everyone.
However, there are some options that are not so well known or advertised. The Ministry of Education’s initiative Swayam offers video courses for Classes 9 to 12 and for undergraduate programmes in Science, Humanities and Commerce and for post-graduation in MBA. Created by the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), with teachers from the IITs, IGNOU, AICTE and the NCERT, a student needs to register, complete assignments and pass a final examination with 75% for certification. The certificate costs ₹2000 per course. The video-based lectures are available free of cost on DTH. One wishes the presenters had been more lively because the content quality is rich. The translation of the video courses into various regional languages has begun and experts will review these before they are released to the public.
The Diksha Learning App from NCERT focuses on the CBSE curriculum. With over three lakh users, it offers lesson plans to teachers, engaging material for parents and students, worksheets and activities to help with conceptual understanding. There are exercises for revision and practice that help clarify doubts. Adding material to support other Boards would make it accessible to more students. One negative comment on the website was that the app was not working properly but the ministry had promised to rectify it.
Another app is iDream Education, funded by corporate CSR and NGOs and offered free to students in the regional languages. Initially, launched as an online portal in 2016,. the app was released in March 2020 in response to the demand for at-home learning, says Rohit Prakash, co-founder, iDream. It offers interesting digital content for State Boards across the country and the CBSE in 14 languages. Besides interactive videos on Maths, Science, Social Sciences, Commerce, English Grammar, Hindi Vyakaran, Computers, STEM, do-it-yourself experiments, it also provides a rich digital library, practice questions, life skills. An app for teachers tracks usage, assigns tasks and monitors students’ progress. It won the Yes Foundation’s “Yes, I am the Change” award last year, which will support it for three years. They may consider offering the content in English as some government schools/colleges provide education in English.
While the pandemic has broken teachers’ hesitation to use technology, compulsory refresher courses in using online learning methods, and hand-holding will make educators adept at complementing their classes with e-learning. With continuous use and over time, the dream of quality education for all is achievable.
The future of India’s school/college education lies in creating engaging offline videos and worksheets, lesson plans, question banks in all subjects in regional languages and English. These should be designed to be used along with the teacher’s own inputs. Cost-free offline videos for every student, whether in school or college, is essential. Connectivity issues can be prevented by screening the videos on a low-cost Smart TV installed in every classroom with a backup battery for uninterrupted power supply.
Investing in detailed planning, teacher training, timely installation of the needed infrastructure and e-learning apps, followed by close monitoring for a year or two to transform the culture in educational institutions, could make e-learning a game changer. It is necessary to take courageous steps forward to offer quality education to everyone.
Viney Kirpal is former Professor of English at IIT Bombay. Email: email@example.com