“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” — Sydney J Harris
The not-so-breaking news: Education, we all know, has the power to change the world. The market size of online education in India is expected to cross $40 billion by 2017. As new government initiatives are being launched and new edu-tech funding deals are being announced, education is suddenly an investable business. Is it time to look into the mirror now and see if the windows of disruptive innovation are really visible or are there just more bricks in the wall?
The need of the day
The issues in education in our country can be broadly classified into the following:
- Reach of education: Reaching every child of India with education that is their right, consistently and continually.
- Quality of education: Ensuring that the education they get is of the quality that can show the windows; not pile more bricks.
- Impact of education: Linking education to change, critical thinking, creativity, job creation and character development.
Reach vs. quality of education: The role of technology
“Integrating technology successfully in education is not so much a matter of choosing the right device, the right amount of time to spend with it, the best software or the right digital textbook. The key elements for success are the teachers, school leaders and other decision makers who have the vision, and the ability, to make the connection between students, computers and learning.” — Francesco Avvisati
A report recently released by UNSECO on Global Education said that India has made striking progress towards reaching its “education for all” goals. The report states that “India has reduced its out of school children by over 90% and Universal Primary Education has been achieved.”
But before we rejoice and pop the champagne, a more sobering fact is reflected in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2014. The report says: “In 2009, 60.2% of children in Class 8 could read simple sentences in English but in 2014, this figure was 46.8%.
At the cost of improving reach, is the quality of education suffering, especially for children in rural and Tier II and III cities where English-language apps or qualified teachers may be in short supply?
Traditionally, technology has been used to improve the reach of education with online, digital methods claiming to cover the gap due to lack of teachers and infrastructure. Can it be used to disrupt and change the way we look at quality of education in our country? It’s a crying call for disruptive innovation indeed.
Let’s look at five examples of companies trying to disrupt the quality of education in India, with technology used as an enabler – as a means and not the end.
Focus: Rural pre-schools.
Why it’s disruptive: The company has used a community-centric learning model to bring the urban pre-school concept at a much cheaper cost to rural parts of India.
Chosen medium: Offline, learning centres with real, not digital, teachers.
Focus: Making science mobile.
Why it’s disruptive: Simulates a 3D environment to practice science experiments for schools that lack proper lab facilities.
Chosen medium: Mobile
Focus: Making science education better and more activity-based.
Why it’s disruptive: Offers a customised program that integrates with a school’s science curriculum and transforms the subject into activity-based learning. Also provides workshops to train teachers.
Chosen medium: Activity boxes, delivered home
Focus: Mobile-based social learning platform.
Why it’s disruptive: Focuses on the challenge of effective communication among parents, students and teachers across metros and Tier-II and -III cities. The app uses technology to bridge the gap and run a feedback and conversation channel.
Chosen medium: No surprises, mobile again.
Name: Sesame Workshop
Focus: Life skills through cartoons.
Why it’s disruptive: Focus on broader life skills and the use of fun-based learning as a way to engage kids.
Chosen medium: Television and radio
Five ideas. Five change-makers. As education becomes an increasingly attractive sector for investment, multiple new, me-too ideas are being and will be heard. But amid all the noise, there are some change-makers who are really improving education, not just for the urban few, but for the people who really need it, across our towns and villages. Can we find more of them and help them drive the change? It’s only then, perhaps, we can even start speaking about the third need of education: impact. For our children don’t need to be spoon-fed, they need to find their own windows.