Agarwal is the Founder & CEO at TagHive, a Samsung Ventures funded company based in South Korea and with operations in India. His mission is to transform classroom learning with Class Saathi – an affordable clicker solution to drive engagement and participation in classrooms. Mr. Agarwal is an inventor on over 50 international patents and was selected as one of the Top 10 Innovators in India in 2017 by MIT Technology Review and Mint.
India’s internet penetration rate is 45%. At any other point of time, this number would have been simpler to accept – one that showed the regular struggles of a country still grappling with developmental issues.
Since the pandemic, this number is not just a dismaying figure but also one that depicts a reality where 55% of the country’s population has to live on the fringes of society while the others continue to progress with technology despite lockdowns and other safety restrictions. In today’s world this phenomenon is popularly called “Digital Divide” a term that rightfully explains the gap of access to technology and internet which has life altering effects on the underprivileged. For a student in this present ecosystem, the implications are a lot worse.
This phenomenon is dangerous and discriminatory since it widens the opportunity gap and deprives students from accessing resources that are crucial for their development and revenue generation in the future. A lot has already been said about the implications of digital divide and at this stage, it really needs no more conversation. What it needs is action. That is where companies like TagHive come in as a leveller.
It is no secret to anybody that it is the underprivileged who suffer from the consequences of digital divide. However, the one good thing that came out of all the many lockdowns is that it pushed the public education system to focus on large scale tech investment in education. By that, we don’t necessarily mean wifi enabled classrooms and fancy projectors. Governments across the country have banded together to research and invest in tech capabilities that go beyond the run of the mill infrastructures. They are looking for ideas and impact projects that will fulfill the requirements of the National Education Policy that can also be cost effective.
Companies like ours work to offer solutions to a demographic of students who are more or less left out of the conversation in the ed tech space. This is a huge source of untapped talent that has all the potential to go to waste given how the pandemic is reinforcing some of these disadvantages. Companies that are innovating must solve these crucial issues. It is also a very interesting space as it helps us get creative with our offerings. That is the magic of technology, it can solve any issue through creativity.
Ed tech has creatively catalysed a movement in the education space where it is impossible to drive academics without leveraging technology. Learning needs to be made more fun, engaging and information should be accessible and quick. We set those precedents in the education system. Having said that, it is the unfortunate reality that only those students with the means and access can enjoy whatever ed-tech has to offer. So, there needs to be an internal mindset shift and tech companies need to amplify their reach to the deserving underprivileged through their various creative ways.
This is the only way we can solve the digital divide crisis in today’s India. Using our company’s offerings as an example, let us examine how best for-profit social enterprises can dismiss digital divide.
Firstly, our offerings do not require any major shift in infrastructure. This comes as a relief to administrators since they need not invest additionally to support our product. Our offerings work in areas that struggle with issues like low connectivity and lack of technical infrastructure. This is powerful since it opens up our audience with 55% of Indians who struggle with issues pertaining to connectivity.
Secondly, technology needs to have a low cost of maintenance. Our products only need a one time investment and do not require any additional resource allocation.
Lastly, it needs to be flexible. There will be a time when government schools in India will all develop and improve their infrastructure. However, now is not when they will. That means that ed-tech companies need to create solutions that can trespass temporary needs and also build for the future.
What the pandemic has shown us is a loud cry for help echoing from the education sector. What we have seen is that bigger schools, private schools and those government schools that have better CSR reach have managed to comply with all the tech driven academic needs. To bring the rest of the demographic on the same level, ed tech companies must focus on the social development aspect when innovating.
To close, technology is truly beneficial only if it helps create a socially inclusive society, especially in the field of education.