29 May 2021 19:30 IST

Edtech is a growth enabler and a much-needed upgrade

Digital learning has the potential to democratise education and provide work-ready skilled human resource

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused large-scale interruption in students’ education and social life. As we manage the current crisis in the education sector, it is inevitable that our approach towards education will need to change significantly not just during the pandemic but also for the post-Covid-19 world.

The pandemic has affected not only the learning process in the education sector but also admissions to higher education institutions in India and abroad, and job prospects for graduating students. Its economic impact on lives and families could have the potential to make education unaffordable for a large section of students even after the pandemic.

While students with adequate connectivity and personal devices may have transitioned to virtual learning, there is a large segment that is facing difficulties with internet connectivity and access. Similarly, several academic institutions are faced with challenges in making a smooth and efficient transition, leaving their students with few learning opportunities.

New approach

As we plan for the education sector during the pandemic and in the post pandemic world, alternate approaches to teaching and learning will need to be developed and established, that could effectively complement traditional methods.

Educational Technology (edtech) which has been gaining ground during the last decade or so needs to occupy centre stage. Traditionally, edtech has largely been focused on learner-tutor networks and e-learning segments. However, several new technologies like analytics and AI/ML are emerging, which have the potential to enhance the effectiveness of learning for students. Similarly, there are other areas that are being targeted by edtech such as content curation, micro-plucking of content and predicting learning needs on the basis of assessments.

Edtech is also working on personalisation of learning, gamification on VR applications in making learning possible, especially in knowledge areas where actual situations are difficult to create, and on AR for adding to the ease and of learning in an actual real-life/laboratory setting. It is also being used for educators in making decisions on curriculum, pace of learning, and designing learning paths using analytics. Another area of focus for edtech is high-integrity virtual assessments.

Flexibility and reach

Edtech has the potential to democratise education and learning by bringing these to everyone at a fraction of the current costs. It enables part-time education thereby bringing millions into its fold. It also has the potential to personalise learning for each student.

Encouragingly, the progressive National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP) addresses concerns around rigidity in duration of programmes and selection of subjects by allowing students more flexibility in their education and by permitting choice of subjects across disciplines.

The government has created platforms such as NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) — a repository of online courses offered by some of the leading academic institutions in the country, and DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for School Education and Indian) MOOCs platform SWAYAM. It has also launched the PM eVIDYA programme for providing online education courses integrating DTH channels to support students who do not have access to the internet. Further, NEP suggests the formation of National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) — a dedicated e-education unit to bolster the digital infrastructure, digital content and capacity to be created in the MHRD to look after the e-education needs of both school and higher education.

NETF will work as platform for exchange of ideas on the use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, and administration. The NEP also refers to use of technology in education for creation of e-learning content, virtual labs and for dissemination of learning and use of AR/ VR, apps, and gamification.

It recommends a system of credits for online courses for students. Further, the policy mentions a need to develop asynchronous delivery models while also developing synchronous learning systems that run on low or intermittent bandwidth, for students who may be in low bandwidth zones and solutions that need neither connectivity nor personal devices including TV, radio and pre-loaded devices.

It is expected that these ideas will be implemented faster, at scale, with quality, and will be promoted effectively and will find large scale adoption.

Much-needed upgrade

As the educational institutes adopt teaching through virtual learning platforms, they will need to invest in necessary technology interventions, upgrade their IT resources and build capacity among teachers and staff. They will also need to create common resources and sharing platforms to discuss learnings, challenges and solutions.

The emergence of edtech and new approaches to education have created tremendous possibilities for students. They have the potential to provide work-ready skilled human resource to the country — a human resources that is committed to life-long learning. This is likely to contribute to enhancement in productivity and economic growth.

The world needs to come together to rescue education during the pandemic and in the post pandemic world, and policy interventions and their implementation by the government will play a major role in this effort with matching endeavours from the private sector. Edtech can be a large enabler in this effort.

(The writer is Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP.)