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India Urgently Needs An EdTech Policy

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By Laxman P Joshi

In India, the Union Budget 2019 allocated nearly INR 94,000 crore for education. Despite this expenditure, students coming out of the education system are not job-ready and lack the necessary skills needed to thrive in the era of Industry 4.0. One of the main limitations of our education system is asymmetrical learning. In a typical classroom, the pace of teaching cannot adapt to different learning capacities and learning levels of the students. However, educational technology (EdTech)—the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the education system—can bridge the gap between delivering education and making learning effective.

The Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defines EdTech as ‘the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources.’

EdTech isn’t just about digitising the content, but rather about providing unlimited access to learning which can be personalised and customised. Blended learning, empowered teachers, and standardised quality content alongside a robust monitoring and evaluation system are some elements that will be essential to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 which seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Related article: Education in India needs an overhaul

In the last few years, there has already been an increasing interest from funders and educationists in EdTech. According to Datalabs by Inc42, between January 2014 and September 2019, more than 4,450 EdTech startups were launched in India. Of this, 25% have shut shop while only 4.17% have raised funds, despite there being a unicorn in the sector—Byju’s. Globally too, the growing pre-K-12 (a term used to represent pre-kindergarten to grade 12) software market is currently worth more than USD 8 billion and is likely to be worth USD 87 billion by 2030.

Moreover, COVID-19 has changed the debate on EdTech from a question of if to how. The current crisis has made online learning and homeschooling more pertinent than ever, and it has accelerated the adoption of online learning by almost a decade.

However, despite increased investor attention towards EdTech and significant growth in its adoption by students and education institutes, the return on education (RoE)—which is a collective measure of outcomes of EdTech—has not shown any significant improvement. The sector faces the following social and technical challenges:

Engaging The Ecosystem

Often, EdTech is mistaken as ‘tech-ed’, focusing on technology rather than education. There has been no structured and focused approach by the government and EdTech players in meaningful engagement with all the key stakeholders such as parents, teachers, students, educationists, nonprofits, and technology-based organisations within our education ecosystem.

Student sitting in a classroom with a laptop-EdTech Policy
A National EdTech Policy would provide the necessary impetus to carry forward the momentum of reimagining education in the post-pandemic era. Picture courtesy: Flickr

Equity and accessibility

The focus of EdTech so far has been middle- and upper-class customers in Tier I and Tier II cities. Between 2014 to 2019, startups involved in test and entrance exam preparations and online certification startups accounted for 88 percent of the total capital inflow in EdTech. This has skewed the fundamental premise of using technology for equity and accessibility.

Technology Infrastructure

Today, the technology stack and architecture of any EdTech interface is decided independently, and little thought has been given towards building interoperability and scale. There are multiple platforms built by the government and private players, but there is no integrated roadmap.

Scale And Data-Driven

Since there aren’t any standards set by regulatory bodies, there is no real transparency and evidence available in the outcomes claimed by EdTech startups. The claims are derived from market research and the number of customers, rather than any validation of educational outcomes.

Related article: Education and jobs aren’t enough

National EdTech Policy: Time To Reimagine Education

The recent National Education Policy (NEP 2020) introduced by the Government of India is a comprehensive document that sets aspirational goals to reimagine education in the next three decades. One of the key focus areas of NEP 2020 is leveraging technology for its foundational pillars, namely access, equity, quality, affordability, and accountability.

Given the amount of investment that the sector is attracting, and the potential to scale-up and measure educational outcomes for large sections of society, there is an urgent need for an EdTech policy so that the investment and effort being put by the private players and governments is in alignment with the long-term goals of the NEP 2020.

A National EdTech Policy can set a roadmap for the stakeholders of the education system such as policymakers, educationists, teachers, and private players. It should also address issues of infrastructure, ecosystem development, assessment, learning, and teaching—alongside the systemic issues of access, affordability, and collaborative outcomes.

If we are to address the multiple challenges of the sector, the following areas need special attention:

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Model To Bridge The Digital Divide

The digital divide in India has become starkly visible due to COVID-19. While there are no hard numbers on this, a conservative estimate shows that around 30% of students do not possess the infrastructure to pursue online learning. Heart-wrenching stories of families selling valuables to buy an old phone, or students sitting on a treetop to attend lessons are aplenty. Even the Delhi state government has acknowledged that more than 15% of students in its government schools were untraceable.

Though the telecom network has grown exponentially in the country, both the public (government-owned BSNL) and private network infrastructure is still woefully inadequate to facilitate media-heavy education content. As per TRAI reports, there are still 500 million users who have a 2G network, primarily in rural India.

The World Bank’s guidance note on remote learning provides a good short-term and long-term roadmap for the appropriate EdTech infrastructure required to bridge India’s digital divide. Some innovative methods to address low internet connectivity include: education television (edTV) and education radio (edRadio) for broadcasting live classes, pre-recorded audio lessons using a landline or basic mobile-based Interactive Voice Response System, tablets, and USBs pre-loaded with education content delivered to students in remote areas, and even basic conference calls for interactive discussions. Leveraging PPPs can help in the development and deployment of such platforms, apps, and content.

Regional Content

There are 22 scheduled languages and 13 scripts in India, but the content being developed by EdTech startups is predominantly in English. NEP 2020 has again re-emphasised the need to create content in regional languages. A comprehensive content guideline can be used to create standardised and multilingual content.

Open License

There are many EdTech platforms developed by public and private organisations, but technology and IP restrictions render them unsuitable for large-scale deployment. The open-source licensing model is essential to rapidly transform the education landscape. An open license enables educational institutes, nonprofits, and public institutions working at the grassroots to have access to standardised and cross-functional technology at low cost. Revenue losses incurred by organisations providing open licenses can be compensated along the lines of ADC charges in telecom, where operators are compensated for providing services in rural areas.

Related article: NEP 2020: Getting the basics right

Responsible Use

The rapid proliferation of EdTech initiatives has created concerns about data privacy and security. Most EdTech users are minors, and there is an urgent requirement for a policy that elucidates the responsible use of data for all the stakeholders in this sector.

India is poised at a critical juncture of technological transformation in the education sector. This is reminiscent of 1999, when the new telecom policy was launched. It set the stage for exponential growth in telecom in the country, and tele-density—the number of phones per 100 people—improved from two per cent to 90%, a number higher than many developed nations.

In the last nine months, we have witnessed an unprecedented adaptation of EdTech in education. Solutions that were built for a single school were suddenly being used for state-level rollouts. WhatsApp groups meant for social conversations were transformed into online classrooms. A rural teacher who was uncomfortable preparing a simple Word document was able to pick up multimedia presentation skills almost overnight. All possible modes of communications were used to reach out to the students. Social sector organisations used live streams, WhatsApp, SMS, free conference calls, regular conference calls, community radio, TV, loudspeakers, and public walls to impart knowledge.

While the jury is still out on the learning outcomes of this massive collective effort over the last few months, let this opportunity to remould the education system—catalysed by technology—not be in vain. A National EdTech Policy would provide the necessary impetus to carry forward the momentum of reimagining education in the post-pandemic era.

This article was originally published on India Development Review.

About the author:

Laxman P Joshi is the head of technology and innovation at Lend-A-Hand India. He has two decades of experience in the Indian Air Force and HCL Technologies across many technology domains. He has managed a school for differently-abled children, worked with many nonprofits in strategy, tech enablement, process improvement, innovation, and corporate volunteering. Laxman has degrees in electrical engineering from NIT Hamirpur, aeronautical engineering from AFTC, and business management from MDI Gurgaon.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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