Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing and augmented reality/virtual reality can help improve the quality of online education
According to a study by Human Rights Watch (HRW), around 90% of school-aged children around the world have faced disruption caused by the pandemic. Nearly 1.4 billion students have been deprived of their basic right to education in 190 countries.
Also in India, only a small portion of the population has access to online education and hence school children have been badly affected. Interrupted power supply, weak or no internet connectivity and inability to purchase necessary devices are a major concern.
The digital divide continues to pose challenges in distance teaching and learning. A study by the Azim Premji Foundation showed that almost 60% of school children in India do not have access to online courses.
A similar study by Oxfam India found that half of students in urban areas reported difficulties with internet signal and speed. A third struggled with the cost of mobile data. Long-standing inequalities in education have been further exacerbated by the pandemic.
EdTech Industry Growth
India’s EdTech industry was valued at $750 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025 with a CAGR of 39.77%. This growth is driven by the growing demand for non-academic courses from Tier II and III cities and the need for customization in the EdTech space.
India is on its way to becoming the EdTech capital of the world. In the first nine months of 2020, venture capital (VC) investments worth $1.5 billion went to EdTech start-ups in India, up from $409 million in 2019. In fact , EdTech space receives highest amount of VC funding.
Most high-end private and public institutions have made the switch smoothly using online platforms such as Zoom, Google Classrooms, Microsoft Teams, etc., while many are still looking for ways to improve the access and connectivity.
School closures can impact the mental state of students who are already experiencing additional barriers at home, in the community and in the education system. These students need support to keep hope alive and stay connected.
We have a good demand scenario to drive us to design and manufacture education-specific tablets that can reduce educational disparities. These devices should be equipped with longer battery life, or repeatable batteries, to handle long power outages. Multilingual access also contributes to better access to online tools.
Two things are needed first: one, affordable, repairable and upgradable large-screen devices like tablets and broadband connectivity. The government could consider providing free tablets to all public school students and committing to broadband as a basic right. Second, the hardware must be designed and manufactured in India, which will help create manufacturing jobs and eliminate dependence on China.
The major problem with online connectivity platforms is the lack of privacy and immediacy. While companies with sufficient funds can invest in high-end technologies with better visualization and sharing tools, most children suffer from lack of access, resources and connectivity issues. This can trigger a reluctance to learn.
Young students are the future of tomorrow and their abilities to think critically, spark creativity and instill basic human values are important.
Seamless connection to their learning platforms, access to teachers and classmates as and when they need to connect are essential for healthy growth of children. Additionally, distance learning students have a range of distractions, so online content should be more engaging than in-person classes.
Use state-of-the-art technologies
Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, cloud computing, and augmented reality/virtual reality can help improve the quality of online education. Data analysis can help profile a student’s particular needs and personalize courses.
Adaptive learning is possible through analytics and AI, to detect and respond to individual student needs, and offer real-time feedback and support. It is also possible to predict student needs based on previous searches and questions and answers. These exercises must be carried out with the necessary standards regarding the confidentiality of personal data.
VR/AR also has the ability to elevate distance learning. Augmented reality/virtual reality in online education boosts engagement, improves flexibility, improves comprehension skills and provides seamless learning.
Virtual reality (VR) headsets can immerse students in digitally created worlds, and augmented reality (AR) technology can overlay digitally created elements into the real world via a smartphone camera. As bandwidth to rural areas improves, access and quality of online education also improves dramatically.
Achieving digital India has been one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s main goals. The backbone of Digital India and the largest rural connectivity scheme in the world, the BharatNet project aims, in a phased manner, to deliver minimum broadband connectivity of 100Mbps to every 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats (GP ), covering nearly 6.25 lakh villages.
Technology brings hope. As an education crisis confronts the country, with the right technological aids, we can improve access and quality of online education.
The author is co-founder of HCL Technologies, Techspan and Headstrong. Views are personal.
06 April 2022