On Saturday, when India was celebrating Teachers’ Day, the birth anniversary of academician, philosopher and the country’s second President, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, some start-ups somewhere in India were quietly working on transforming the education landscape through use of technology.
The spread of digital technologies, as well as advances in energy and genomics, could raise the productivity of businesses and agriculture, and redefine services like education and health care for million of Indians.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute report identifying a dozen technologies — from mobile internet to cloud computing and advanced genomics — the newer digital tools could have a combined global economic impact of $550 billion to $1 trillion a year by 2025. Also, an article in The Economist says: “India possesses untold promise as its people are entrepreneurial and roughly half of the 1.25-billion population is under 25 years old.”
Business Standard looks at some of the start-ups that are working to add horse-power to digitisation of India’s education system, especially school learning.
A mobile-based social learning platform co-founded by two Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi graduates Ritesh Singh and Akshat Goel last year, this start-up is building a full-blown school management system. To address the common challenge of effective communication among parents, students and teachers across metros and Tier-II and -III cities, the app uses technology to bridge the gap and run a feedback and conversation channel. The application is flexible and allows users to create extensions and expand network quickly. According to Inc42 magazine, Eckovation was one of the top-five start-ups in North India in 2014.
On the concept of mobile-based learning platforms for education, Singh said the rapid increase in mobile penetration in India meant it was time to use telecom as an enabler for imparting education and addressing some of the issues affecting the traditional education system.
According to a recent report by the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), close to 220 million Indians have access to mobile internet at present, and the number is growing at a rapid clip. It is estimated to reach 236 million by 2016 and 314 million the next year.
Rajeev Tyagi, senior vice-principal of Delhi’s Mount Carmel School, Dwarka, which uses the Eckovation app, said: “There is a need for schools to have effective technology for bridging the gap between home and school. Eckovation is providing that much-needed platform.”
According to Sharon Galstaun, academic head of St Karen’s High School, Patna, the Eckovation app provides a platform to also showcase and share the talent of innovative and creative teachers. “It has successfully ignited the spirit of competition among them; we continue to be inspired and challenged by each other.”
Offering an effective and seamless solution to connect parents with children, even as they practise mathematics together, this application is making study fun for schoolchildren. Co-founded by Paritosh Gunjan, a young entrepreneur who has loved mathematics from his early days, Flygrades helps understand complex concepts of mathematics through interactive games — and there are real prizes for clearing various stages in the process.
Speaking on the challenges in the way of digital education, Gunjan quoted a recent Mckinsey report to say only 63 per cent of students in India reached the secondary level, and only 36 per cent completed upper secondary from the primary school enrolment.
“High dropout rates due to poor quality of education are caused by factors like inadequate training for teachers. Students who do progress to upper grades often perform unfavourably when compared with those elsewhere in the world. India ranks 72nd among 73 nations in the Programme for International Student Assessment examination of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development,” he said.
On the role of start-ups in digital education, the Flygrades co-founder said: “As entrepreneurs, common people like us could change the scenario by bridging the gap with technology. For that, we are looking forward to support from the government, especially through programmes like ‘Digital India’.
Sesame Workshop in India (SWI)
A non-profit educational organisation for children, SWI is helping expand the reach of quality education across India.
According to the organisation, more than 90 million children aged up to eight years in India do not have access to quality education. While enrolment in primary schools is almost universal, a recent survey shows that almost 20 per cent children aged six to eight years cannot read letters or words and are unable to recognise numbers. A strong advocate of literacy as a basic human right, because it is the fundamental building block for learning and personal empowerment, SWI is running several interesting programmes to further the cause of education among India’s school children.
Digital platforms for effective education
According to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2013, reading and numeracy skills have declined in the past six years among children aged 5-16 years in India’s rural schools. Leveraging digital technology can be a significant opportunity to address this learning shortfall. E-learning could be the key to addressing the education challenges in the country today.
A Mckinsey report on education and skills says blending learning with MOOCs (massive open online courses) can bring high-quality courses to students, and learning simulations can boost hands-on training in nursing and other disciplines. India could have about 24 million more high-school and college-educated workers and 18 million to 33 million more vocationally trained workers by 2025, as a result of digitisation in the education sector.