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Indian EdTech Industry: A re-packaging of an Age Old BROKEN Education System

From computer labs to smart boards, smart classrooms and now Education Apps and Websites-The Indian EdTech Industry is booming. Especially, in the pandemic.

We often hear words such as innovative, breakthrough, equal opportunity in relation to Indian EdTech. But I disagree. Here I am, an Ed Tech Professional, making a case of how it is nothing but 0ur broken education system re-packaged and sold as Innovative Ed Tech.

Let’s begin by unpacking some of the features of the Education System as we know it.

  1. Inequitable access to quality education
  2. Student’s socio-economic reality dictates their learning environment
  3. Under-Trained and Over Worked Teachers
  4. One size fits all curriculum
  5. Exclusionary policies and practices
  6. Focus on performance and outcomes rather than learning
  7. Smart learners are rewarded.

Replace the Education System with Indian EdTech and you’ll have the same list.

The Ed Tech Industry suffers not only from the vast Digital Divide (documented and reported in recent news such as of a young girl committing suicide, or a picture of a girl in Kerala sitting on the rooftop to study so on) but also something called The Matthew Effect.

The Matthew Effect was coined by the sociologist, Robert Merton in 1968. It refers to the tendency of early advantages to multiply over time. What this means is, if you are rich, you will get richer and if you are poor, you will get poorer. The way this works in the EdTech is that apart from the lack  of access to technology, the granted access results in different outcomes for kids from rich or affluent background and poor kids. Meaning not that we have a gap in access but we also have a gap in use of the technology available.

Rich kids simply use technology differently and more effectively which results in different and better knowledge and experience. This was also shown in a study of two different libraries in Philadelphia by Newman and Celano

Let me also illustrate a real life-experience of observing and working with children from different backgrounds. As a Teach for India Fellow, I taught primary graders in a budget private school. Coming from an affluent background, I carried my laptop to classrooms multiple times. I still remember their awe when I put on an animated film. Our school did have a Computer Lab and the children were allowed to use software such as MS-Paint and MS-Word. They had limited access to smart phones owning to every family having one. 

On the other hand my cousins of similar age owned a personal Ipad, used it to watch their favorite cartoons, played games and even created photo collages. 

In this scenario, both sets of kids had some sort of access to digital devices but the way they use it and what they use it for is starkly different.

Let’s look at another one.

While I had moved on from my role as a teacher with TFI, I had stayed in touch with my classroom and helped the kids to stay engaged by creating daily worksheets and sharing them over whatsapp during the lockdown. While my students opened their phones- often a single device shared by the family- at odd times to look at the worksheet and watch some Youtube videos, my cousins were attending online classes and using Education Apps such as BYJUs to catch up on what they missed. All while being supported by tech savvy parents. 

Both the above examples illustrate how due to the digital divide and The Matthew Effect,  EdTech in its current form is in no way an Equalizer.

The other aspect of EdTech is its capitalization on “Grade first” mindset. We are still producing kids and rating them on their academic performance, even as our own lived experiences and the current times tells us that the need of the world and the market is much different. Yet, all major EdTech platforms focus on Exam Preparation, Practice Tests and Entrance Preparation.

Moreover, so called “Smart” learners are rewarded, literally with gamification elements in the app and struggling learners are left behind.

ONCE AGAIN.

The third troubling element is how unprepared our teachers and educators are in using technology to deliver instruction. And rather than creating systems and support mechanisms for them, we are hurling abuses and expressing our dissatisfaction with their teaching abilities. Pedagogy was never our strong suit and EdTech has just posed more challenges when it comes to synchronous learning. 

The fourth aspect is that all major EdTech revolve around ‘Able’ and ‘Normal’ kids. We are not even looking at how to use technology to deliver learning experiences to children with learning, intellectual and physical disabilities.  Just the way our School Systems are designed. 

The only Silver lining to this dark cloud marketed as a rainbow is that it gives the parents and students more choice than our traditional education systems, but that’s it.  

We need EdTech that is truly transformative in a way that it challenges the mindset of “Grades First”, that instills a love for learning, that fosters curiosity and empathy among children, that bridges the access and use gap with proactive methods, that creates a more levelling field and that is truly designed for all.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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