India’s education system is in a crisis. And it’s a crisis that we believe technology can play a critical role in solving. The 2014 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) showed that nearly 75% children in Class V cannot solve a Class III division problem. Alongside low student learning levels such as these, India also faces a shortage of 1.4 million teachers — meaning many children face even more difficult access to quality instruction.
So what can be done? One piece of the puzzle is to think about what types of learning can be made available through technology that can both help augment a child’s experience in a classroom and also give access to those in rural areas.
Educational technology (EdTech) allows students to study at their own pace, which means that gaps in learning are addressed quickly and easily. Self-learning models enable anywhere, anytime learning by reaching directly to students.
This type of learning is the best for students whether they’re struggling to catch up or excited to move beyond their grade level. These emerging adaptive learning tools allow students to bridge the academic achievement gap by providing personalised learning.
Second, the power of technology can also connect students to high-quality resources, regardless of their location. Personalised learning using adaptive tools and allowing teachers to differentiate instruction to meet varying student interests is the best way to think of the classroom of the future.
Third, EdTech can help to promote higher order skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving and creativity by encouraging students to participate in project-based work and allowing teachers the time to engage actively with students in such areas. When class time is freed up by using technology, teachers are enabled to spend it with students or in small group work situations, enabling learning in many different ways. This can be achieved through blended learning models that combine one-to-one learning on computers with teacher instruction. The Nalanda project by the Motivation for Excellence Foundation in Mumbai explores the potential of learning mathematics using a blend of teacher instruction and self-learning through an offline digital learning tool.
We need to recognise that the large number of low-income children in the Indian education system calls for the creation of open educational resources that can be made available free or at a low cost to the students. The cost of proprietary digital content, ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 per year per subject, is often too high for students, whether they’re studying in government or private schools. Moreover, we need to create products in local languages that cater to students studying in vernacular medium schools, especially to first generation learners.
With the Internet and mobile infrastructure becoming widely available, the government pushing for the adoption of digital technology, and entrepreneurs and funders collaborating to create innovative solutions, there is tremendous potential for technology to continue to improve the quality of education and student learning levels in India. This is a special time in history when we actually have a chance to help all our students have access to world-class education.
Sal Khan is founder and CEO, Khan Academy and Ashish Dhawan is founder and chairman, Central Square Foundation