Beginning of winters, around November is a great time to be in Delhi. The city has very cozy vibes. Not so cold and not so warm either. I love to be out in this weather.
On one such afternoon, I was visiting a school located in Noida where under a project, we had given learning tablets to 150 students of this school. The school provides free education to very marginalised students of the nearby communities. Parents of most of these kids work as daily wage workers, barely making their ends meet.
I was sitting in a room talking to the principal, Shri Dinesh ji where he was talking about how difficult it has been for them to connect and engage with their students post the lockdown. Most of the students do not have access to a smartphone in their home and even those who do, they are unable to get it from their parents during the active school hours, as parents are away for work and obviously are carrying their phones with them.
And hence they thought that each of their students should have a dedicated device of their own and must get OFFLINE access to digital content while still being able to connect online once a day for 2 to 3 hours for their ONLINE Classes. A project was therefore designed to give tablets to their students and that is where we came in.
At times it happens where while you are clear about the purpose of your work, but then, you experience something that hits you really hard, shakes you and makes you realise your responsibility or kind of lets you visualise with your eyes what impact you can make.
So as I was talking to Dinesh ji, a girl walked in. Clad in a black burka, you could barely see her face. She came inside the room and thanked her Principal and said, “ Sir, perhaps now I have the right tool with me to realise my dream of becoming a doctor”. Dinesh ji was very kind, very encouraging and told the girl that you will need to work really hard for your NEET exam if you want to go to a good medical school. Till this point, while I was still listening to the conversation, I was yet to realise the critical part.
The little girl then said, “Sir, with this tablet, I have got everything that I need for my preparation. I promise you that I will work very hard”. That got my attention, I turned and I saw her holding a tablet with both her hands, being extra careful to keep the device safe. And that’s when it hit me hard.
Here is a girl whose father is a daily wage worker, not bringing enough money back home on most days, but she aspires to be a doctor. And the tablet she is holding, which is actually the work that we are doing at iDream Education, this tablet has enabled her to believe that she can achieve her dreams. We have given her the wings to break all limitations and dream big.
I don’t know her name, neither did I ask. She thanked Dinesh ji and walked out of the room. I could notice a zing in her steps, she was happy. SHE BELIEVED.
There is no need to say this but we all know that there are millions of students like her in our country. And so many of them would be dreaming of becoming something. And many others are there who aren’t even exposed to the limitless possibilities life has to offer. With Corona, where the normal ways of schooling have been disturbed, it has posed even newer challenges to take quality learning to the last mile learners.
I remember, when the lockdown was imposed, amongst various discussion forums that I was a part of, everywhere there was a lot of worry about how we can let students not miss out on their learning. Technology of course was discussed as the way forward. But two critical challenges remain:
- Students in rural areas do not have a dedicated device of their own and
- Good consistent internet connection is still not so common
So how do we solve this?
Learning Tablets where all digital content as per the grade and the requirement of the student is preloaded to work OFFLINE
Solves both the problems. Students get their own device and they do not need the internet to use it.
But this is easier said than done.
If you look at a Tablet and some videos based digital content in isolation, you may fall for the illusion that it is so easy to just insert the SD Card into the tablets and give it to the students. As I said, that’s just an illusion.
It is not only about creating a reach for a tablet that works offline but understanding very finer points which will make it safe for the students to use their devices and will build a proactive interest in them to use it everyday. Besides, how do you complete the loop by bringing in the teachers and making them also an important part of this ecosystem.
I am sharing below some key pointers which in my opinion and experience should be considered while building a project around learning tablets. And I will also tell you what we are doing about it.
Safe to use Tablets
A very fundamental point. We do not want students to explore content, websites or apps that will distract them from the core purpose of learning and growth.
In most cases, this would be perhaps their first exposure to digital and while we should encourage kids to explore, I think it is reasonable to give them a certain environment within which they should satisfy their urge to wander.
We use MDM – Mobile Device Management System with which we can absolutely control what we want students to see and not see on the tablets. Once configured, students cannot go into the normal android mode of the tablets. We can even control and give students access to some URLs while blocking every other website.
There are many MDMs available and you can choose the one that best suits your budget and requirements.
Providing Screen and Cover on every tablet
This is an absolute must if you genuinely want that the tablets you give to your students should be used for a long term with minimal breakage. Psychologically it also helps students to be free from any maintenance hassles and be comfortable in using the tablets. You will see it will help in driving regular usage as well.
A Multilingual User Interface
Have you observed in many people’s homes, you find photographs of their family stuck on one of the walls. Even when they change cities and move into a new home, they will always find a wall which can have all these pictures.
Why do they do it?
Because it helps them to make the place familiar which brings in a sense of comfort. Once this comfort is established, you adapt to a new place or a new way of living more easily.
Similar is the case when we are handing tablets to the students. For most of them, this is their first interface with anything digital. Like a first handshake. And our intention is to make the students enjoy learning through their educational tablets and not fear it.
One way in which we can achieve this is by having an interface which is in local language. So that the moment the student switches ON the tablet and clicks on your learning application, every button and navigation instruction that the student sees is in the language in which he or she is familiar with.
At iDream Education, we customise the entire user interface in local languages. Hence, if our tablet is used by a student in rural Tamil Nadu, he/she will see everything in Tamil and if it is meant to be used by a student in Bihar or UP, the interface will be in Hindi.
During our training programs, we have observed how quickly that helps students to understand how to use their devices. More importantly, we have seen that the students are further able to use their devices with little or no support. In fact if I look at our internal records, I do not recall even a single query that might have come from a student asking how to use the tablet. We just tell them once, post that because of the local language interface, they naturally adopt it and start using it every day with no further training and support.
Multiple Categories of Digital Content | in Local Language | Aligned to Curriculum
Ah, the digital content – clearly the heart of any digital learning project. Well, we all know the importance of having content on the tablets, so I will just tell you how we present the content on the tablets.
The two basic things are – content should be in local language and aligned to the CBSE or state board curriculum as required by the student.
The content can also be bilingual i.e the Local Language and English. We have infact built a platform in such a way that the students can very easily change their language and study in either.
The biggest observation which we had in content when we started our journey was that there were so many different types of learning and growth content available. It could be animated videos, teacher led videos, khan academy type videos, books, assessments and so much more. We decided to do something unique.
We have built a learning platform which is able to bring together all the different types of content on a single dashboard. Therefore everything a student needs for learning, growth and entertainment, everything is available on the same dashboard under a single log in. This serves two purposes:
- Enables each student to learn as per their interest. This builds a proactive interest in them to pick up their tablets everyday and use it. Because there is so much to explore, students are able to find something new, everytime they pick up their tablet
- Let’s each student make a unique learning path to understand any topic. So, if both you and me have to build mastery on Newton’s third Law of Motion, I may just read a chapter in a digital book and then take up the assessments, while you may like to watch a video and then do the Practise. Similarly, we may have a third person who will feel he/she know everything about the concept and will straightway go and attempt the Practice questions
Over the years, we have built a capability to deliver a digital learning solution in several languages such as English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Oriya and Bengali.
And some of the content categories we deliver on a single dashboard includes:
- Animated Video Lessons for building conceptual understanding
- STEM project videos for practical activity based learning
- Syllabus books
- Topic wise Practice & Test with instant feedback and mastery
- Digital book library with stories, poems, biographies and much more
- Notes for quick revision
- Life Skill videos on health, safety, cleanliness, sports, conservation etc
- Practical video for in-lab experiment simulation
Of course, not everything is available in all languages. English medium would obviously have the maximum coverage, followed by Hindi and then the other languages. I would however love to see a day when we can offer the richest quality and deepest coverage of content in every Indian and global languages. Till that day though, we keep marching on.
Enabling students to cover up their previous learning gaps
I have myself written about it multiple times before and we all know that the biggest challenge our government school students face is not being able to find the right solution which can happily and in a completely non judgemental manner let them cover up their previous years learning gaps.
I am really proud of my team to have built this feature in our solution. What we do is from within our platform, we give students an option to switch classes and watch the content of junior grades as well. In a way, with a single log in, they have access to explore and look at the content of any class they want to.
Now imagine a Class 7 boy wanting to master algebra. During the process, he realises that he does not even know the basics and will have to go back to the very start. This student is sitting in his home holding a tablet in his hand. This is the most secure environment one can think of, there is no one standing on his head to judge him. As a result, there is a significantly much higher chance that the student will happily change his grade on the tablet, select the relevant topic and then cover up the basics.
There is also a feature we offer in our Practice section. It is designed in a manner that students can track their mastery with every question they attempt. And the level of difficulty of questions keeps going up and down based on the student’s responses. This genuinely helps them to gradually build up their mastery while ensuring they cover up basics and deepen their understanding of every topic.
Bringing teachers into the loop
With learning tablets being directly given to the students, it is not reasonable to assume that a perception can be built that we are bypassing the teachers.
At iDream Education, we have been deeply inspired by the work and dedication of our government school teachers. I have myself interacted with so many of them from around the country, that I am amazed at how selflessly they are playing such a critical role in building up the future of our country.
So when we think tech, we cannot leave the teachers out of the ecosystem. They are and they should always remain the most important part.
We have built a very unique app for them called the iDream Coach App. What it does is:
- Enables teachers to create their virtual batches and through a code, add their students
- Lets teachers assign videos, books and assessment to students, who receive a notification on their tablets when they connect it to the internet. Students then perform these tasks offline on their tablets
- And whenever student tablets connect back to the internet, their reports are synced to the Coach App. Teachers can now look at the student wise data to understand each of them better and also guide them with personalised feedback
And we have built a chat feature as well for teachers to guide and interact with students in groups or even individually.
Having teachers a part of this ecosystem has the most obvious advantage of driving regular usage of the tablets with the students. Eventually, that is what we all want. Once teachers realise that everything is so easy to operate with no hassles at all and it is in fact helping them finish their syllabus faster, bringing in more efficiency in their system and enabling their students to learn better, they naturally adopt it and encourage their students to adopt it as well.
Your effort reduces, the solution becomes scalable and the right impact gets delivered.
Building transparency in reporting for CSR teams, NGOs, PMUs and State Government Officials
For dedicated CSR practitioners, members of the NGO and committed state government officials, each tablet being given to their students is similar to laying down a foundation stone for their better future. And hence the need to stay continually updated on the progress being made by these students.
And that’s exactly where our cloud based online reporting dashboard becomes important.
This is how it works.
When students work on their tablets, all student wise usage and learning data is being recorded OFFLINE on their tablets. Whenever the devices get the internet, all data synes to a cloud based online dashboard.
Now, whatever may be the time or wherever you may be located, you can log onto the dashboard and centrally view the reports of all your beneficiary students and do the impact evaluation continuously without waiting for the end of the year or being depended on any manual reporting.
It’s been a lot of writing for me, but I think the above story needed to be told. As Corona continues to keep our students out of the school, the demand for learning tablets will only rise. We have an amazing opportunity at our hand to not let this investment go waste and genuinely deliver to students something which would help them to learn better and enable them to acquire skills for life growth.
Below I am summarising all my observations, experience and the points I have shared in this blog above for your quick reference (just in case you choose to not read the long blog post)
- Ensure tablets are safe and secure for students to use. So, whether the usage is supervised or unsupervised, we have nothing to worry, as whatever the students would do on their tablets, they will either learn something or work at building a skill. You can use an MDM solution for this
- Don’t shy away from spending a few extra bucks on the screen guard and the cover. With a very small extra investment, we can extend the life of the tablet and make it comfortable for students to use the devices everyday. It is but natural that when they know that nothing will happen to their device even if it falls from their bed, they will have no fears in using it everyday
- When you meet someone new but you want this person to fall in love with you, your handshake is always warm and friendly. Same thing happens when we give learning tablets to rural students. You want to introduce them to a friendly environment where they feel at home. And one way in which this can be done is by having an interface which has all navigation instructions in the language which your beneficiary student would understand best. In our iDream Learning Tablets, that’s one of the key features
- Focus on giving your students one integrated platform. Like a single platform which bundles together everything the students would need for their learning and growth. There are so many different categories of content available. There are videos, books, assessments, activity based and then there are multiple organisations who specialise in one specific form of content. You cannot expect the rural students or teachers to scout the ecosystem and then worry about finding ways to bring them all together. Having one integrated platform which brings together the best of different categories of content solves this issue greatly. Besides, it also enables personalisation by letting students learn as per their interests. Of course, this one single point is very dear to us at iDream Education and is the focus point of our entire content and platform strategy. Nonetheless, it’s a great value for the students as well
- Providing state board aligned local language content is a must and should be integral part of your strategy while providing learning tablets to government school and local language students. If the state government is keen to encourage students to learn in English, we always have the option of giving them bilingual content
- Technology for the first time is allowing us to solve one of the biggest challenges in government school learning, which is to fix the learning gaps in students. Always focus on giving junior class content to your students. Trust me, it will not cost you anything extra, certainly not when you work with us
- With Learning Tablets, while we are talking about a student centric digital learning solution, please never isolate our government school teachers. They are the most selfless and very hardworking people in our society who are playing perhaps the biggest role in shaping the future of our country. The are the focal point around which the system revolves. Figure a way out to empower them. We are doing it via iDream Coach App which is a simple way for teachers to connect with student’s tablets, assign them tasks, monitor their progress and guide them either in group or personally
- Having a way to centrally track the progress made by your students and with no manual dependence is also critical to the success of such projects. The biggest benefit is that it allows you to take proactive action in case something is not working
This is both an exciting and a sensitive phase in the evolution of digital learning around the world. An unthoughtful decision at this stage can lead to wastage of money, of resources and with no impact. There is a disturbing trend I am already witnessing where massive government schemes are being launched to give tablets to the students. But what are the students supposed to do with the tablets, no one is thinking. Decision makers are living under an illusion that merely creating a reach of the hardware will solve the learning challenges in our country, which Covid has posed. But, if you have read through my blog or even the summary points above, you will know that it is not true.
This country will see a lot of funding on learning tablets in the coming months & years, be it the State Governments, CSRs or NGOs. And whomsoever you may choose to work with. please ensure that you understand the importance of the finer points I have mentioned above and design your projects accordingly. It can make or break the way our rural students will experience learning and growth.
Please leave your comments below if there is anything you wish to discuss deeper, if there is anything you do not agree with or if there is anything you think we can improve in reference to the points I have mentioned. I will be waiting.