Tracy Cardoz, Director of Education, Square Panda India

Tracy Cardoz is a passionate educationist with over 18 years of experience in varied facets of school education. She is dedicated to delivering high-quality educational programs through expertly crafted curriculum and innovative technology solutions. She has been instrumental in designing a host of learning solutions, including digital K-12 curriculum for private schools, teacher training, and performance assessment systems, educational solutions for government-run schools, Anganwadis and Balwadis, and digital learning content for government schools in Africa.

 

The past year has been a watershed moment in all our lives, with industries and societies interrupted and disrupted; and the education sector is no different. According to UNICEF, approximately 825 million children across the globe are not learning the essential skills they need, of which 320 million students are in India, where only half the population has steady Internet access. 

Like schools, universities, and institutions ponder upon ‘what next’, interest in digital learning solutions has only risen, with research suggesting that online learning can increase retention of information in less time, indicating that the changes we have seen take root over the last year are here to stay. 

Digital India – A Move Towards Equitable Access 

With a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy, India made headway with the launch of the Digital India Campaign in 2015. On the education front, the emergence of initiatives such as the open-source learning platform for students and teachers – Digital Infrastructure for School Education (DIKSHA), Swayaam, the more recent NISHTHA for online teacher education, and the school management and information platform UDISE+ has provided an impetus to achieve the three cardinal principles of Education Policy- access, equity, and quality. 

The year 2020 saw the pandemic enforce closure of all physical places of education, employment, businesses, and livelihoods. With the digital landscape already in place, the transition to online learning, working, and communicating took place rather seamlessly, albeit with some struggle to get acquainted with the digital dimensions of different portals. 

The largest adoption of digital channels was witnessed in the field of education as students and teachers migrated towards online learning almost overnight. While the trend was faster adopted in urban areas, it gradually spread to the hinterland, where learning continues through the use of digital messaging services between teachers and students and supplemented by education content available on websites such as DIKSHA in addition to streaming content on television and radio. 

Digital Education- Opportunities and Challenges

Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning solutions, there has been a significant surge in usage since the onset of the pandemic. It is estimated that by 2022, the K-12 ed-tech market in India will be worth USD 1.7 billion, and the post-K-12 ed-tech market will be worth USD 1.8 billion. The edtech industry is poised to grow to $30 billion in the next 10 years, and there are numerous start-ups that are implementing grassroots innovation to provide cost-effective digital learning interventions to the masses, and this is where the next growth frontier lies.

Digital education in India is at a crossroads, laden with myriad opportunities that promise to achieve the country’s long-cherished dream of universal access to quality education. The path, however, is strewn with challenges that need to be addressed effectively. This involves reimagining the current system of education that largely relies on the brick-and-mortar model of imparting education. 

Another challenge that needs to be addressed is the upskilling of teachers to use technology to drive learning outcomes. Teachers have for long viewed technology with skepticism. seeing it as a ‘teacher replacement’ rather than a ‘teaching enabler’. The other important challenge that needs addressing is the cost of technology that limits access to quality learning interventions in rural and tribal areas. Opportunities lie in devising solutions to address these challenges.

While we have realized digitizing education is the future and have been making significant strides in that direction even before the pandemic, there is a precedent for introducing new education tools – such as digital whiteboards or computers – in the hope of radically improving teaching effectiveness, only to end up with incremental change achieved at a higher cost and greater complexity. Furthermore, the high cost for implementing technology coupled with the lack of infrastructural enablement across regions further deepens the urban-rural-tribal divide in terms of access. 

This highlights the need for a more intentional ‘whole of society’ approach, where innovative learning solutions are viable and sustainable, thus paving the way for a more level playing field for the adoption of technology in schools across social strata. The other important aspect is the availability of a wide array of e-content in the local languages, which will increase usability and adoption of online learning solutions. 

Technology as the Enabler- Pedagogical Innovation as the Driver

There has been so much emphasis on technology as an outreach solution during the pandemic that we have failed to recognize that technology is only an enabler and that we need pedagogical innovations driven by technology to create real impact. This calls for establishing an innovation-friendly climate in schools and creating an entrepreneurial culture in education by incentivizing educators who engage in progressive research and revamping existing teacher education programs to make them research and innovation-based. 

Thus, investing in capacity development and change-management skills is critical. It is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too. Only then can the blended learning model of education that is being envisaged for post-Covid classrooms be truly achieved. 

Cultivating Student Autonomy

Along with approaches to using technology to support teacher professional development, innovation, and collaboration, there must be significant efforts to cultivate student autonomy and independent learning. If self-learning practices have to be strengthened in a post-Covid world, the education digital knowledge ecosystem requires a facelift in terms of resource richness & presentation. The academic delivery module must adopt a modular learning program structure, where students can engage with the content at their own pace, and this should further be enriched through opportunities to connect digitally with subject experts and peer collaboration. The plans to return to school should therefore focus on intentional efforts to cultivate essential self-learning skills amongst students.

What has been made clear through this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across society and industries, electronically. Digital learning has a key role to play in this, and it is our responsibility to explore its full potential to create a better tomorrow for the younger generation.

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