Education goes digital

The digital tsunami has transformed the traditional classroom into a system of education that is online, self-driven, and is available anywhere, anytime, By Abhishek Raval

A report from ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) reveals that “among class V children enrolled in government schools, the percentage of children able to read class II level text decreased from 50.3% (2009) to 43.8% (2011) to 41.1% (2013).” The report also states that “in 2013, 18.9% of class III students in government schools were able to do basic subtraction or more as compared to 44.6% in private schools.” Despite the small progress that we have made, the state of education in the country continues to be abysmal; majority of the schools in the country are complying with the basic RTE standards for minimum infra in education.

It is widely believed that e-learning can be a solution to the massive infrastructure and trained manpower related problems that India is facing in the education sector. The Government of India has identified e-learning as one of the thrust areas for imparting education. Hardware and software development for e-learning tools, technologies and pedagogy is being encouraged by the government. India has become the largest market for e-learning after the USA, and the sector is expected to receive a boost from the government’s Rs.1.13 trillion Digital India initiative.

A recent report from IBEF (India Brand Equity Foundation), a Trust established by the Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, highlights the strong potential for growth in India’s e-learning market. The report states that India’s online education market size is expected to touch $40 billion by 2017.
With the rapid growth in the number of internet users in India, it is expected that many more students could start accessing their coursework from outside the traditional classroom. E-learning is clearly the next big thing in India. Several start-ups and established IT companies are taking major initiatives in the sector. The Microsoft Edu-Cloud, running from these data centres, will provide a boost to the education sector in the country—it is expected that about 6 million students and 1 million teachers across 1500 institutions will benefit from the Edu-Cloud initiative.

Traditional Classrooms go Online
With the popularity of tablet devices, there has been a massive rise in the number of companies that are offering educational content on tablets. With such content, education has become more interactive and easy to access. Aakash Educational Services (AESPL), a popular coaching institute has started the iTutor programme for offering educational content on tablets. In order to access the iTutor programme, the students don’t even have to buy the entire package, they can buy the chapters that they need to study. Many of the chapters are available for just Rs. 99.

“Aakash has been in the business of creating content for helping students pass important examinations for more than 20 years. We have a large library of content. So in 2010-11 we decided to take the help of technology to reach out to the students who are unable to enrol in our physical classrooms because they can’t afford our fees or any other reason. Since its launch, the iTutor programme is proving to be highly popular—close to 3000 students have already enrolled,” says Aakash Chaudhry, Director, AESPL.

According to Chaudhry, the students find the course being delivered through the iTutor programme so interesting and beneficial that they recommend it to their friends. Those students who have purchased few chapters, tend to buy more chapters. “We have created content that is full of video lectures, online test series, question banks and much else. The entire course is packaged in such a way that it is quite entertaining for the students. They enjoy this method of learning,” he says.

Along with enhancing the quality of learning, e-learning is also leading to the democratisation of education by ensuring that same kind of education content is available to students everywhere. Many schools and universities are now trying to leverage the educational resources that is becoming available on digital formats.

The Rise of Education Start-ups
Unlike Aakash, which is catering to the student’s needs through both, the physical and the digital mediums, Embibe is a start-up, which is only using technology to reach out to the students. Aditi Avasthi, CEO & MD, Embibe, says, “If a student is finding it difficult to understand the Pythagorus theorem, we will provide him the information on the theorem through the online medium. Our purpose is to push the best content that is available online to the students. We see Embibe as a smart practice tool, one that is meant to be used optimally by the students.”

A brainchild of Educational Initiatives (EI), Mindspark is a programme that uses the power of technology to help a child bolster his skills in mathematics. The programme is beneficial because it allows the student to follow a learning path that is based on their current level and at a pace that they are comfortable with. Hosted on Amazon Web Services, Mindspark derives its uniqueness by its ability to provide personalised courseware to every child. Currently the programme is being used by 60000 kids in 100 private schools, 20 government schools and 5 independent centres.

Pranav Kothari, AVP, Mindspark, says, “When a children logs into the Mindspark system, he is given a screening test to determine his approximate level. The questions put to the child are in the increasing order of difficulty—based on the answers that are received, the programme determines the academic level of the child. It is possible that a child might actually be in class 5th, but the tests may show that his knowledge is equivalent to a child in class 2nd. Once the level of the child has been determined, the programme delivers learning material that is most suited to help the child make progress in life.”

Challenges and Opportunities
As learners look for more and more control over the learning process, the digital world comes up with solutions to meet the demand. However, it is also true that the quality digital courseware is costly and time-consuming to produce. Most of the participants in such courses are already well-educated—there are very few students from poor backgrounds. Also, the success of e-learning programme essentially depends on the motivation of the learner, because in this case there is no teacher around to provide sustained guidance and support throughout the learning experience.

The makers of digital learning solutions are aware of not only the opportunities that are there in the fast growing area of e-learning, they are also cognisant of various challenges that the sector faces. Effort is being made to develop solutions that are targeted at specific groups of learners. This is because it is difficult for any single learning experience to meet the needs of thousands of participants with varying levels of relevant knowledge.

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