The State of Indian Public Education System
India has one of the largest young demographics in the world. With a population of over a billion, about 20% of it falls in the age group of 6-13, which needs to be given access to proper primary education. But, the education which children in the country are exposed to is neither easily accessible nor up to the minimum standard to attain its objective.
What exists instead is a disappointing scenario where teachers are skipping lectures but collecting their monthly salaries and children attending only for free mid-day meals. The state of affairs is so poor that there have been multiple viral videos by local media channels of teachers unable to spell simple English words.
Is Digital the Answer?
The Indian government knows the enormity of the problem and the need to address it immediately. It is therefore now relying on digital ways to address the problem. Since India has a huge shortage in quality teachers, the ability to connect a teacher with thousands of students through video conferencing or downloadable lectures can allow students to have access to quality education.
Several start-ups having sensed the enormous market for such solutions have sprung up in recent times and have been funded generously by investors. BYJU’s, an ed-tech start-up has been the most successful of them all and has been backed by Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Sequoia Capital among others.
Uniqueness of Problem
Though start-ups like Khan Academy may help in America, the Indian problem is a unique. At best, only 28% of the population is connected to the internet. This 28% falls in the richer demographic and already has access to good private school education. So, while ed-tech start-ups like BYJU’s may attract millions in investments, they will continue to cater to the 28% until internet penetration increases rapidly in the country.
Another problem arises in the language in which the educational content is created. India is a land of many languages. To cater to every child, there is a need to create the same learning resource in multiple languages. Online startups will shy away from tackling this problem. They wouldn’t want to employ resources to cater to a regional market where the expected returns are low. Also, many of these start-ups will run subscription based models rather than ad-based models which would make them inaccessible to poor children.
Ed-Tech the Way to Go
The only solution is for the government to learn from the success of these new online education companies and deliver educational content on a mass-scale which is accessible to all. MOOCs need to be made by expert teachers in a variety of languages. Internet infrastructure needs to be set-up in government schools for easy accessibility of these MOOCs.
While the government has launched a number of educational channels, they don’t serve the full purpose of imitating a classroom. The teaching is only one way – from a teacher to a student. Teachers aren’t able to administer tests, clear doubts or monitor the learning curve of the students. MOOCs and a good online platform to host these MOOCs will be a much better substitute for classroom lectures.
Teachers will then have reduced roles of supporting the children in learning the online learning material rather than creating the content from scratch. Online platforms will also help keep better track of what students are learning and where they are facing problems. It will also pinpoint which teachers are slacking based on their students’ performance. The same platform can also be used to train and evaluate teachers on a regular basis.
Building IT infrastructure, creating the platform and deploying it across the country will require massive expertise which the government doesn’t possess. On the other hand, Indian IT industry deals with similar projects on a regular basis. The government must work closely with the private sector to make a project like this successful.
A proper budget must also be allocated. This should not pose a problem politically. The project aims to educate the poor, the idea to which no politician will be against. On top of that, the citizens have already been in support of the Digital India campaign and an ed-tech project will just be an extension of it. India is witnessing a steep rise in internet penetration and digital literacy. The country wouldn’t find a more auspicious time.