Insider Tips for a Successful Ed-Tech Intervention

If you look at the 5,816,673 strong teaching workforce only in elementary schools in India, you will immediately see what we are getting at

By Kusum Mohapatra


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India has 144 million children in schools. And if they could make one informed ask, it would be for better teaching and learning, if we go by what National surveys are saying about the quality of education in Government school classrooms across the country.

Given the numbers, this is a perfect arena for the ed-tech sector to start looking at seriously in the coming years. Investment in education has been shown to leave a dizzying array of benefits, including a possible upward impact on the national GDP, reducing the national financial burden by creating an educated and empowered workforce.

Today, there is a huge need to revamp and rebuild the education sector that will build a generation that is not the only current in knowledge and skills, but in fact future ready that is able to adapt and change as per times and the unpredictability of markets. To do that, one has to move from the focus on infrastructure development and enrolment to focusing on innovations that will impact how teacher's teaching and how children run. At the end of the day, the only currency in education is learning outcomes.

Here's what you need to know:

Create a Model for Scale

India is known as a graveyard of great models. And let's face it. It's easy to show the impact on a smaller scale, by creating or simulating conditions for success. But beyond those conditions lie the real contexts, which is difficult to control. This does not mean creating big programmes and achieving big numbers (which is essential to showcase the scalability, but nothing beyond that) is not important. What it really means is that programme success in larger and complex contexts, with limited controls and variable implementation criteria, may actually be beyond anyone's control.

In education, which is a state subject, there is no other way to do it than to work with the government and look at ways to integrate your programme with that of the government. What it needs is shedding the biases and very keenly looking at the government and government systems as allies and joining forces so that the change is not an "intervention" but a longer-term strategy to change.

It also needs leaving behind expectation of acknowledgement (which may or may not come) and a load of patience and the ability to step back at every pitfall and look at the long-term vision.

For Quick Returns, Deal With Teacher's Motivation

It has become very easy to be completely dismissive of teacher's attitudes and training levels — unfortunately, this attitude is endorsed by many mainstream media and non-profit interventions. Among many other non-teaching duties, government school teachers bear the entire burden of the Indian Census — a humungous door-to-door survey that literally counts each and every citizen of our 1.4 billion-strong country in addition to managing mid-day meal, being the foot soldiers for every election, and undergoing training of any and every kind decided by the government.

If we want to change the learning outcomes, we need to be respectful and attentive of this professional group, work hand in hand with them, give them the motivation and tools to help them do their work better. Here, technology can play a great role, be it in assessing teacher's needs, customising solutions for them to learn in their free time and also supporting them by freeing up their time from a lot of assessments and manual entries for every kind of programme they have. The reward and recognition programmes for them also go a long way in acknowledging their commitment, innovations and skills.

Aim at Empowerment, Not Instructions

If you look at the 5,816,673 strong teaching workforce only in elementary schools in India, you will immediately see what we are getting at — in terms of numbers — this is a workforce that can actually turn the tide. Overworked, under-heard and constantly judged, the last thing Government School teachers is another intervention telling them what they should be doing.

If you actually empathise, you can find and fill the gaps that need filling —for instance, a certain subject matter knowledge, or alternative ways of explaining concepts, even creative ways to maintain classroom focus.

Know What You are Doing

Take a deep and learned look at pedagogy to have a clear understanding of what clicks for multi-grade classrooms. The use of training and learning materials coupled with Instructables, all used in conjunction with additional tools, such as the very innovative "sound box-audio device' and a learning app on their handhelds can help change the learning levels not only faster but aimed at longer-term change in how we teach in schools and how. Children learn. All interventions boil down to those classrooms. The children have been learning through rote methods, without understanding the concepts. If we can change that basic function, and impact and revolutionise the classrooms and ignite the little minds to explore and learn in the true sense, we would have changed the learning outcomes.

What Does Success Mean and Measuring That :

For a long time, classroom performance and grades have been benchmarks of success. There has to be a change in that. While some children do get the high grades, most children struggle with an examination-based assessment. There is a need to look at success for every child. Learning outcomes are key to this. In primary grades, they should be focussed to measure children's ability to explore and understand complex concepts through easy and relatable measures and building up their skills to carry out basic foundational functions with ease and confidence. And as they get to higher grades, the focus has to shift from academic excellence to career focussed learning and having variable exit points for every child based on aptitude, interests, market opportunities and personal mobility and choice.

Learning is serious business, and ed-tech is among the most scalable solutions that can be used to impact learning outcomes if looked at together with other success factors mentioned.

A word of caution though. While technology is a great enabler, it can never replace the teacher.

The right entrepreneur could well become the visionary, the children in India need.

Kusum Mohapatra

President at Sampark Foundation

Established track record in setting up and managing organizations, designing and realigning strategies, creating scaleable models to direct positive social change, establishing systems and processes across functions, creating partnerships both strategic and financial at international levels, proven ability to lead programs and large teams since 1999. 

Specialties: Project Cycle Management, Monitoring and Evaluation, Setting up sustainable and scaleable models in Education, Health, Livelihood and Governance, Training and Research, Communications, Establishing Strategic Partnerships with Government, Non Government , Bilateral and Multilateral Agencies and Corporates.

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