Are you an NGO considering adopting Digital Learning for your target learners?

We strongly believe that access to good education holds the key for nation building. And if you are an NGO or a non-profit organisation working with underserved children to either put them back to school, make learning interesting and fun or working with them on 21st century life skills, we salute your spirit and commend you for the work you are doing on the ground. Your work is transformational and brick by brick you are laying the foundations of our country for the next century.

Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai in her famous speech to the UN assembly had said, “One Child, One Teacher, One Pen and One Book can change the world”. As an NGO working in the education space, you are an important part of the journey and we hope to see your contribution going a long way in changing the world.

In this blog, we wanted to touch upon an interesting trend in the world of education, which if incorporated smartly will add considerable value to the work your NGO is doing. Most of the NGOs today are either already working or are thinking of incorporating “Digital tools & techniques” in their approach to working with schools and children. Technology is a big enabler and if used well can really change the way students in our government and rural schools learn. With our Hon Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s push for Digital India, we are seeing a new wave of technologies and solutions designed to leverage digital mediums for improving the learning outcomes of children.

But, it can also become a bit overwhelming and choosing the right set of solution for your target group of children can be a really daunting task. Through this blog, we hope to provide you with some pointers which can help you decide a way forward. Read on to find out key points you should consider while choosing the right digital solution:

1. Improving learning outcome is a slow and patient process: When we look at the level of learning outcomes of children in our government and rural schools, the situation is indeed not very encouraging. Annual ASER reports are a testimony to the same. Therefore, while we are deciding upon an appropriate intervention for such schools, improving learning outcomes becomes a top priority. What we need to however understand is that the learning outcomes will not improve overnight. It is a much slower and a patient process than what we can imagine. As a result, any digital solution that offers instant gratification with respect to learning outcomes is a complete NO-NO and needs to be looked into with more detail. For any solution to work, it is critical for it to deeply understand the psychology of all stakeholders in the rural education ecosystem and then align itself accordingly. What are the two critical challenges of using technology in government & rural schools – it is not used regularly and students do not connect or engage with it. Regular usage and student engagement are two important barriers for any technology to work. Improvement in learning outcome is actually a byproduct of usage and engagement and that too over a longer period of time. Hence, while choosing a digital learning solution always look out for if the solution has elements for it to be able to be used regularly in the school. There is in fact another aspect of regular usage. It should be unsupervised, which means it should run without any hassles even when there is no external intervention – just the teachers and the students. That’s the real test. And the second factor to be considered is whether the solution is able to engage the students directly. If a digital learning solution can pass through these two filters, there are higher chances for it to also influence learning outcomes over a period of time                                           Glimpses from the latest ASER Report

2. Multimedia video is not the only form of content: Our education ecosystem fails to understand one very important aspect – that every child in unique. Every child has his/her own ways of receiving, interpreting and understanding the information available. The way our students learn today, it is inherently assumed that all of them learn equally. But when we test or assess them, we find such varying results. This is a simple understanding which we as educators need to bring in – every child is unique and may have varying learning styles. Technology actually allows us to appreciate this and a solution can be customised and then delivered exactly as per the learning styles and levels of a child. In the same context therefore, it is important to also understand that using only multimedia videos do not offer a holistic approach to learning. What if there are children in your group who like to read more or may be who like to play games more and are not really engaged enough by animated videos. What if a child would like to see videos today but may like to read a book tomorrow and may like to do an activity day after. So, while animated videos do have a role to play in driving student engagement but they do not cover the entire learning spectrum of a child. Any digital solution should therefore have a more holistic approach to content. Unfortunately, in today’s times content is a very misused word. You may come across a digital learning solution which may have a small collection of digital books on a tablet OR a set of multimedia videos on a TV screen, but always ask this before moving ahead, “Will the content be able to identify each child’s uniqueness and then adapt to their learning styles and level”.

3. Avoid depending too much on electricity and Internet (at least in the short term): The new government is very aggressive when it comes to both electricity and Internet penetration in our country. We have massive plans on rural electrification and there is a big push for using cleaner technologies of rural and wind. Terms like “Digital India” and “Digital Saksharta” are now a part of our everyday vocabulary. By 2030, it is expected that every Indian will have a smartphone and an Internet connection. However, all of this is expected to happen in some time in the future. While we definitely need to have one eye on the future, we also have to work and solve problems today. Moreover, it will still take us some time to get to a situation of continuous (24 hours) supply of electricity and regular availability of high speed Internet. Therefore, we recommend that while you are choosing an appropriate digital learning solution; avoid too much dependence on both electricity and Internet. If a solution is offering content only through wi-fi, it needs to be avoided unless you can ensure regular availability of high-speed connection, which can stream heavy video files. Same goes with electricity as well. If your solution requires continuous supply of electricity, it will result in non-usage. Even with an inverter, you cannot ensure uninterrupted usage throughout the duration of the school time. Technology allows you to break these barriers. So, look out for solutions which have minimum dependence on electricity and can display content in an offline mode

4. Choosing between such vast amount of content: We come back to content again because it will be an important part of your digital strategy. The Indian ed-tech market from the content perspective is very piecemeal. What it means is that we have a good number of companies who are doing very specific type of content development. So, we will have some who are working on videos, while some working on digitizing books while some others developing apps. We will in fact also have companies who are working on a particular subject say Maths, Science or English. Then we have organizations that are only making assessments. Add to all of this the layer of regional language and what we get is not a lake or a river but a vast ocean of content. Should the strategy be to tie up with say 10 content companies and then aggregate that at a school level or choose a platform which can do this for you at the backend. The right strategy should be the one, which reduces your time involvement and yet gives you the most optimized solution. A platform-based approach is therefore recommended, as it will allow you to have the best of content and across categories on a single dashboard. The platform should also be able to align all the content as per the state board curriculum, which you are following. This will allow the teachers to easily integrate the digital learning solution with their day to day teaching

5. Avoid the product mode, go for the project mode: While selecting the right solution or the organisation as your digital learning platform you will have to make a choice between the product mode and the project mode. Product mode simply means that you buy the product from the company and then it is your responsibility to manage it and look out for any non-functionality. Project mode means that the organisation becomes your partner and works with you throughout the duration of the project until the technology becomes an integral part of the school’s ecosystem. Hence, the responsibility of backend support, warranty of the hardware, content upgradation etc lies with your partner. A very relevant aspect to decide is that the cost of servicing the rural locations can be very high and therefore even though you may take an AMC from the company in the product mode, how quickly they can provide you with the support when needed will always be a big question mark. In the project mode, while you may end up paying a little extra, it will pay off in the long run. At iDream Education, we like to call the project mode as the partner mode. So, while choosing your digital learning solution, always look out for a partner who can align with your vision of giving life shaping opportunities to your children

6. Availability of usage data can be a key to win the trust of your funders: When you seek out corporate funding for your projects, the biggest concern of the funder is how well is the money being utilised on the ground and whether it is reaching the end beneficiary. The usual activity based or smart class based interventions do not record student wise usage or learning data. They mostly record qualitative responses, which are not the real indicators of daily usage or impact on the child. Technology now allows us to ensure mechanisms by which we can record and track the usage almost on a daily basis. As Internet availability becomes more prominent, the same data can also be retrieved via cloud regularly and allow for remote review and impact assessment. Availability, access and intelligent use of data should be an important part of your digital strategy

                                   With right data, you can win the trust of your funders

7. Bonus Point: We leave you with one final bonus thought. Majority of technology interventions in government school have been teacher centric. This means that it is the responsibility of the teacher to use and manage the entire set up and if anything goes wrong, in most cases it comes on the teacher’s head to get things sorted. Our dear teachers are already overburdened with a number of additional duties and the least we can do for them is to use technology to reduce their stress. As we move to the 21st century, you can consider shifting the thought process to a student centric approach where you transfer the technology right in the hands of the child who is fearless and has no reservations in experimenting. The teacher being a subject matter expert can act as a guide or a facilitator. Case in point is the debate between smart classes and tablets for learning. While we can discuss this in much more detail and will probably keep it for another blog, we leave you with this one video highlighting the value difference between a smart class and a tablet based learning set up:

If you are an NGO working in the education space, we would love to hear from you and further deep dive with you to figure out the right digital learning solution that will work for you. Please feel free to leave your email address along with your feedback in the comments section below OR write to us at share@idreameducation.org.

iDream Education

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