Decoding ed-tech: Using technology for inclusive, personalised learning

Ed-tech (technology in education) means different things to different people. Ask the headmistress of a government school what ed-tech means and she’ll point towards the computer lab. Ask the principal of a mid range private school and he’ll point to a tablet in the student’s hand that allows her to play some fun games. Ask the head of one of the more expensive schools in the metros and she’ll point to a giant projector screen attached to a pen drive and a laptop that is taking children through the basics of fractions, LCM and HCF. And ask a bunch of 10 academics in a room and you’ll get at least 11 different replies.

In other words, there is almost no clarity on what ed-tech means, what it comprises, and what its benefits can be.

Even so, ed-tech essentially comprises five main elements. Technology for improved learning outcomes, test preparation and tutorials aimed at students; technology for teachers to help them do their job better; technology for assessments to reduce the workload and improve the assessment methods; technology for running schools and school systems; and tech for publishers. The last two remain relatively small and unexplored in India and are beyond the scope of this piece.

It is estimated that by 2021, the size of India’s ed-tech software market will touch $2 billion and the number of paid ed-tech subscribers will rise to 9.6 million — from 1.6 million in 2016. A study by Tracxn, a research partner for top companies, investors, governments across the world, says that currently, there are 4600 companies and start-ups in the ed-tech space in India. 

One of the biggest benefits of ed-tech is the personalisation of learning. Students can learn at their own pace and go deeper into the subjects that they want to. Teacher efficiency can also be enhanced as teachers can spend their time clearing and disseminating concepts rather than monitoring children or grading them, both of which can be done quite effectively with the use of technology. Moreover, ed-tech can help with inclusion (see Part 2 of this series) in a way that traditional education cannot. Also, the knowledge imparted does not distinguish between gender, religion, cost or distance. It is equal and democratic in nature. 

Of the four categories, the one aimed at students is the largest and the most active space in terms of the number of start-ups in it. Here, the learning is aimed at students so they can assimilate concepts that may have escaped them in class, overcome a problem as they solve questions at home and do it at their own pace. 

The start-ups that have cornered most of the funding in this space are Byju’s, Vedantu and Toppr, and a few others. “In terms of funding and investor interest, a handful of companies, mostly in the tech for student space, that have taken the ball and run,” says Sandeep Aneja, co-founder of Kaizen Private Equity India.

Byju’s alone accounts for 60 per cent of the total funding raised in the ed-tech space in India till date. Each of the leading players has its own area of specialisation, although most offer a range of services. For instance, in the virtual teaching and tutoring space, Bengaluru-based start-up Vedantu is the leader. Toppr, which is headquartered in Mumbai, offers the full suite of learning solutions — live classes, adaptive practice and doubt solving, and has raised $50 million so far. 

When it comes to technology aimed at students, there are a few distinct areas that companies and start-ups are targeting. There is the personalised learning space that Khan Academy India is now trying to tackle at scale. Personalised adaptive learning has players like Byju’s offering a wide range of solutions that extend into test preparation.  “There is a distinction between personalised learning and personalised adaptive learning as the individual journey of a particular student is factored into the latter,” explains Gouri Gupta, director, ed-tech at Central Square foundation (CSF). 

Source : CSF, New Delhi

A third category within the solutions aimed at students is blended classrooms with players like TataClassEdge, Ebix, Next Education and Extra Marks.

In the second segment are the technologies and apps that help teachers and act as resources for them. These often provide modular content for the teacher on any subject or concept that she can use to engage the students, get them excited about the subject and explain the concepts. Some also offer professional development and training modules to improve their teaching abilities. Among some of the better-known players in this space are private companies like TheTeacherApp and Million Sparks foundation, and DIKSHA, a ministry of human resource development initiative.

The third space in ed-tech is the assessment segment. Traditionally, almost all assessments in India have been done on pen and paper. While this has been changing lately, with many examinations being conducted and assessed online, online assessments have now entered classrooms. Teachers often teach a concept, conduct a small online test with practice questions that allows them to assess how many students have grasped the concept, and recalibrate their teaching accordingly. Two of the bigger and more successful players in this space are Educational Initiatives (EI) and Gray Matters India (GMI).

As India moves forward in the ed-tech space, experts say that one of the biggest gainers could be in the area of inclusion. In this, the state governments need to come on board since education is a state subject in India. “Ed-tech can be a game changer in leap-frogging the learning crisis. But for that to happen, many things need to fall in place,” says Gupta at CSF. 

CSF is currently engaged in identifying the right products and solutions for low income communities, gathering evidence on what works and what doesn’t, hand-holding and providing technical support to state governments on which products to adopt and how to implement them and doing advocacy to increase the ed-tech uptake across the country. Gupta argues that if deployed correctly, ed-tech offers unimaginable opportunities to  communities that have faced hindered access to education. However, for this to happen at scale, there are a few hiccups that need to be collectively overcome. 

Series to be concluded

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