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.
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.
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.