06 October, 2020

Education rising on the digital learning curve

The Hindu Business Line | By Vineet Nayar

While States are using innovative methods, tools to assess whether the content is being absorbed by the child are vital.

In the times of pandemic, education, especially in government-run schools, has faced unprecedented disruption. With schools shut, students, teachers and parents are trying to settle into a new learning environment. States are experimenting with different ways to connect students and teachers through various mediums such as mobile applications, social media channels, broadcasting services, among others.

While most states have made provisions to provide digital classes, allowing children to study from the safety of their homes, others have come up with innovative methods for those having no access to smartphones or laptops.

We have seen the evolution of @Home learning in three phases. It all started with one-way broadcast of content using WhatsApp, radio or Doordarshan. A lot of new content got created and old content re-purposed. However, soon State governments realised that this “spray and pray” strategy looks good on paper but has few takers.

Thus, the second phase saw some States experiment with learning apps. However, that too had limited success because the interest in pure learning content was poor. Teachers downloaded these apps, but did not use them because the content is available in abundance on YouTube and similar applications. Thus, despite the push, there was no pull for this intervention. The on-ground impact was found to be low.

This saw the emergence of the third phase, where innovative States, led by Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand, launched a platform that made two significant design decisions. The first was to create a two-way platform like a social network that enabled collaboration amongst teachers to learn by sharing ideas and experiences. Focus on education gave way to edutainment and broadcast gave way to collaboration.

The second design choice was to ‘gamify’, learning to capture children’s attention and make the learning experience different than watching a video on YouTube. Thinking of the child and her learning ahead of content and its distribution was a breakthrough thought that has started creating an on-ground impact. Suddenly, we see more and more teachers and children use this platform each day despite low mobile penetration.

This idea is just not restricted to the use of technology. In Chhattisgarh, the most interesting innovation is the use of loudspeakers to teach children in villages using audio lessons in the soundbox, creating a community feeling of learning while maintaining social distancing.

While some of these pioneer States are showing the way which others will follow, two other pins have to fall in place for this corona lock to open for these children. This will be the fourth and fifth phases of innovation to ensure learning despite lockdown.

In the fourth phase, the emphasis would be on assessment at home. Learning can’t happen if you are blind to its ramifications and thus just pushing content will have limited impact. In a physical classroom, the assessment of learning takes place at multiple levels: teachers’ direct and indirect observation of a child’s progress, class tests, periodic examinations. A child’s learning is assessed multiple times.

One-way communication

But, now, that most of the communication is one-way, the onus of learning has been transferred to the child, followed by their parents, teachers and the government. In today’s situation, formative assessment is particularly critical. It is important for both teachers and parents to know how much of the provided learning content is being absorbed by the child. Therefore, assessment tools are needed to help them see the gaps in learning and address them.

Haryana is a pioneer in this idea. It has launched a platform to assess a child’s educational progress at home. The State will enable every child to take a test while at home, filled with fun elements like KBC-styled life-lines plugged with sounds and instant rewards. The results will immediately flash on the mobile of the teacher and state education officers so that they can customise learning experiences rather than spray and pray. Chhattisgarh is also thinking on similar lines and so are at least six other States.

The fifth phase will be the e-learning phase with a difference. The current digital environment is very new for teachers. All initiatives would fall flat if we can’t re-skill our teachers in order to impact the learning of every child despite being miles away from her.

Teaching in India has primarily been a classroom activity. What is needed is a digital teacher; a training-module that accommodates child psychology, teaching techniques and ways to connect with students having different needs on a virtual platform, engage children so that they don’t lose focus while learning via online medium.

We don’t know when the Covid crisis is going to end. So it is better to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario and do everything we can to ensure that our children keep learning, undisrupted.

The writer is the former CEO of HCL Technologies and founder-chair of Sampark Foundation.

The article was first published on: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/education-rising-on-the-digital-learning-curve/article32785230.ece