Success of any social intervention is evaluated by looking at the impact it creates in the lives of the target beneficiaries. And specifically for digital learning projects in government schools, the conventional approach has been to look at improvement in learning outcomes of the students. As we move into the 21st century, which will evaluate you on your skills to adapt to changes around you rather than just your academic knowledge, there is a strong case to relook at our evaluation parameters.
Also, as education technology is evolving from a teacher centric approach to a more inclusive student centric approach, which gives you access to student wise performance indicators, we should begin to go deeper and understand the multi-dimensional value and impact that student centric digital education can bring to CSR.
About a decade back, the trend of using technology was started in government schools through smart classes. Computer based smart classes with multimedia content and a projector were set up in many government schools across the country. The objective was obvious – to drive student engagement by showing them animated content and then to improve their learning outcomes in various subjects. A decade and a half later, as an ecosystem we are still struggling to come to terms with poor learning outcomes of children in our government schools. Not to say that smart classes do not deliver value in learning but unfortunately there have been several technological and philosophical challenges that have unfortunately limited the use of smart classes in our schools.
With Government of India’s strong push for digital literacy, digital learning has found a new meaning. It has made the idea citizen centric or to put it simply more user centric. Mr. Amitabh Kant, CEO of Niti Aayog says that by 2030, every Indian will have a smartphone and an internet connection. Because of access to low cost android devices, children even in the most rural parts of our country are getting comfortable in using touch based devices. And the best part is that they are naturally and happily training themselves to use these devices. Is that an indication of the next trend in learning?
Most probably it is as there are now multiple implementation agencies around the country who are setting up tablet based student centric learning labs in the government schools. What we need to understand is, how do we evaluate the effectiveness of such interventions and be able to optimise the social ROI for the funders and other stakeholders.
An important point to note is that in rural India while children and adults are happily adoption touch based devices, they are still primarily looking at it as an entertainment device. But with smartphone and internet penetration happening at such a blazing speed, it will be good to establish the worth of these devices as learning devices as well — an idea which can bring about the real transformation in rural areas.
Therefore, while setting up a digital learning project for a government school, adoption of the devices by the users for learning is the first yardstick which should be evaluated. The real adoption and skill development happens when the users first happily adopts digital for a purpose, else there are chances of it falling off like a training program or a one time propaganda. Since, government is also emphasising a lot on Digital Saksharta and Digital Literacy Mission, they are also realising that Digital is a means and not an end itself.
Therefore proactive, happy and natural adoption is the first biggest step and impact. Before we confuse you, by adoption we refer to a user becoming comfortable with operating the device, learning to switch it ON/OFF, being able to navigate through the platform, understanding how to use apps and other features on the device.
It has been observed that with the students in government schools, typically complete adoption takes about 3 to 4 months. During these times, children are very edgy moving from one content piece to another spending very little time on any one particular video or a digital book. They are experimenting, there is a lot of initial excitement, curiosity and it makes them very hyper.
We therefore do not see a very structured path which a child takes, nor do we see any structured approach to learning. Should we then consider changing the approach to a more guided one rather than student centric one?
Imagine a 10 year old kid from a rural village who may be seeing a tablet for the first time in his/her life OR even if he/she has seen the device before, they are getting it in their hands for such a long time in their school for the first time. Imagine the kind of rush that kid will be feeling. Rather than curbing it, the right approach must be to encourage that feeling. Eventually, you will realise that it will lead to natural and proactive adoption. Once that happens, the kid will settle down happily and start to proactively use the learning content with genuine interest in learning.
A device in the hands of the child allows them to use it as per their comfort, learning levels and ability to comprehend. Personalised experience leads to much better engagement and a lot of fun. A child starts connecting with the device and with the content it has. Regular usage becomes a habit. And that’s when over a period of time, you will start seeing an improvement in learning outcomes — please remember it will still be personalised for every child but nonetheless it will be.
The best thing about student centric digital projects is that after good adoption happens, you get student wise usage and impact data on the devices itself, thereby delivering real time impact information & genuine growth outcomes.
If you are familiar with the concept of theory of change, then you must define the same in two parts for your digital learning projects. We give an indicative blueprint below. You can either use the same or customise as per your project specifications. Here goes:
Theory of Change — Part I: To familiarise students with the idea of using touch based devices for learning purposes. Students will be equipped to operate the device, navigate through the platform and understand different content types. Students will be able to regularly use the devices without any external help.
Theory of Change — Part II: Students will be using the devices to indulge in fun based and engaging learning through various content categories. Students will practise and strengthen their concepts and show improvement in their learning outcomes.
And as a last step, while you are defining your theory of change, it is imperative to mention the timelines as well. Too long a timeline will make the project unviable and too short a timeline will put a lot of burden on your existing resources at hand. Using technology and learning are both very natural ideas and should happen that way. You may guide but start influencing it too much and it will all fall apart.
To summarise, to evaluate projects in digital learning for govt schools, improvement in learning outcomes should not be looked at as a first step. Rather the first step can simply be adoption.
Understand if your students have started to proactively and happily use the devices regularly. Digital Learning is a long journey but the one that must be taken to transform our government school learning. Good thing is that once you pass the initial phase with patience, results can be fast to come by and multi dimensional.
Please do share your experiences of setting up digital learning projects in the comments below. We would love to learn on what worked for you and what did not.