The big Leap from Blackboard to Smartboard

Education has taken a quantum leap forward with tech-aided teaching and learning solutions and a fast-paced innovation infused into the sector by the ed-tech solution providers

Classroom settings in the educational institutions and teaching techniques today are very different from what it used to be ten years back, but bears a fleeting resemblance to the ‘Gurukul’ ethos of ancient India. The rote learning system propagated in the colonial era is now being transformed by the cutting-edge teaching and learning methods aided by smart and innovative technologies. The disruption is happening at a faster pace with the availability of low-cost smart devices and improved internet connectivity as well.

Today, both students and teachers have access to smart mobile devices, and a bunch of distance e-learning and assessment solutions at their disposal. Many institutions provide teacher and students with iPads and tablets as well. The schools are equipped with smart boards, projectors, collaboration solutions, smart and personalized learning and assessment modules, etc. They help institutions promote different learning environments such as flipped and virtual classrooms and experiential and collaborative learning.

A $100bn market on the verge of Disruption 

The rapid transformation of the education sector has made the educational technology and solutions providers sharpen their strategic focus on the sector, by developing innovative products and solutions. India is also a promising market from market opportunity and growth perspectives, simply for the fact that it has the world’s largest population of about 500 million in the age bracket of 5-24 years which serves as a large addressable market for the solution providers. As per market estimates, the education sector in India is estimated at $91.7 billion in FY18 and is expected to reach $101.1 billion in FY19.

Besides this, the country has an extensive network of more than 1.4 million schools (with over 200 million students enrolled) and more than 850 universities and 40,000 higher education institutes and is expanding rapidly with an increasing demand for quality education in the country.

The sector also remains a strategic priority of the government, as it has initiated major reforms in the education sector to improve the quality and access to education. The government also aims to raise its current gross enrolment ratio in higher education to 30 percent by 2020 through distant learning. For instance, free and high-quality education has now been made accessible for anyone, anytime, anywhere through the indigenous ‘SWAYAM MOOC’ (massive open online course) portal. It offers courses by the best teachers in the country through video lectures, e-reading material, discussion forum, etc. along with an assessment system. Another such initiative is ‘Operation Digital Board’ which aims to convert every classroom in the country (from class IX and above) into a digital classroom by effective use of technology and telecom connectivity.

A shift towards Virtual Classrooms and Collaborative Learning Environment  

Digital tools and technologies have enhanced the traditional classroom and distance learning experience to a great extent.

For instance, the interactive whiteboards and smartboards are great tools to explain ideas visually and make the teaching and learning experience a truly collaborative one. Unlike the traditional blackboards, a smartboard is connected to a computer and works with a projector and act as a great collaboration aid for the teachers and students alike. The smartboards consist of touch screens displays so that you can use your fingers to move things around on it and use pens to write something with on the board.

The virtual classroom simply replicates the physical classroom setting, but without time and location barriers. It also eliminates the real estate and other associated costs of setting up physical classrooms at multiple locations, and also gives students and teachers the flexibility to teach and learn from anywhere and at any time. Similar to a physical classroom, the students can see and hear the teacher via the video/audio streaming.

Traditional classroom-based teaching and learning approaches are also gradually getting redundant due to extensive digitalization of education. For example, the Learning Management System (LMS) makes the transition to digital quite smooth, by letting teachers experiment, with different learning models and techniques such as blended learning, rapid learning, storytelling, flipped learning, gamification, social learning, etc. to engage and build better connect with students. LMS is also a great platform for all stakeholders (teachers, students, parents) to collaborate towards better learning outcomes.

Today online courses and online exams are extremely popular among the learners and the educators for the convenience as well as the availability of extensive online resources with micro-learning modules. Irwin Anand, MD, Udemy India said, “The convenience of learning at their own pace and through mobile devices is also prompting people to move online. Millions of students are flocking to EdTech platforms to learn new skills, as the marketplace model offers a lot of convenience and choice to learners.”

A Shift towards Immersive and Personalized Learning Experience 

According to Pearson’s Global Learner Survey, 78 percent of Indian learners believe that the use of technology supports their learning, makes it easier and more fun for them. Pearson is creating digital-enabled products across K12, Higher Education and Professional Education to help people find and benefit from learning experiences that are convenient, relevant and can improve their lives.

“Technology resolves the pivotal challenge of accessibility by providing education for all, anywhere and anytime. Every child who aspires to learn can acquire knowledge even if he/she does not have the privilege to go to school. Digital transformation has also led to the major shift towards Do-It-Yourself (DIY) learning amongst students and with more and more universities enabling online learning through partners. Another challenge is to bring about the shift from the typical rote learning towards concept-based learning. This can be addressed with the help of technology, with innovative and blended learning solutions,” said Ramananda S, VP – Sales & Marketing, Pearson India.

For instance, Artificial Intelligence(AI) and Machine learning(ML) technologies are also helpful to a great extent in personalizing the learning processes for each student, based on their ability, preferred mode of learning, and experience. So going forward, rather than creating a single curriculum for all students, educators will have AI assistance which will leverage the same core curriculum to provide a wide range of hyper-personalized content catering to the specific needs of each student.

Pulkit Jain, Co-founder, Vedantu, the interactive online tutoring platform said, “We use data points captured from live classes to generate more personalized content for students who need some sort of intervention. So, when a student seems to be weak in any particular topic, we will be able to give him/her customized content based on the data points and insights we have. We are also working on technology where we will rationalize the face and look at how much time are you constantly looking, concentrating, not concentrating, so on and so forth. We even measure the tone and sentiment of a teacher and the energy he is infusing inside the class.”

Besides AI, Augmented Reality(AR)and Virtual Reality(VR) technologies are also likely to see increasing utilization in classroom and laboratories. Understanding a concept, or a process or even a complex diagram of human anatomy becomes a lot easier if they can be visualized it in reality, like in the form of a 3D model. India, being a mobile-first and smartphone-savvy nation, AR and VR could be the next big thing in our educational settings. This often comes with no additional cost, as many educational AR and VR mobile apps are free and can be downloaded from the Playstore easily to enhance the learning experience.

Although a great of educational infrastructure issues in the country today can be solved by the distance and online learning methods, developing content in regional languages still remains a problem. Mahadev Prasad, Head of Sri Sarvajna Education Society said, “Technology can be a great aid in teaching students in English-medium schools. But as I run a Kannada medium school, I have seen that the students often are unable to get the full benefits of technology, primarily due to the unavailability of content in regional languages. This is perhaps one area where government and technology providers need to step up efforts.”

Rise of EdTech Solution Providers

Many tech companies are now focusing on the education sector and are offering purpose-built hardware, platforms, digital tools, and taking the learning experience in classrooms to the next level.

For Instance, Intel’s ready-to-use NUC Mini PCs for classrooms is a widely used solution in digital classrooms. Prakash Mallya, MD, Intel India, Sales and Marketing Group said, “The real value we add, of course, is through the platforms, technology and technical support that we provide to our customers and partners to help them build their solutions and scale faster. If it becomes a successful use case, we can promote that use case within India with the government stakeholders and even outside India where it can be best applied as per requirements.”

Technology providers could be of immense help in bringing efficiency to the whole system. Beas Dev Ralhan, Co-Founder & CEO, Next Education, for instance, said, “One of the biggest problems the educational institutions face today is in checking the subjective question papers. If you can have an MCQ-like auto-checking solution for that too, it will fundamentally change a lot of productivity issues for the teachers. Technology providers like Intel can provide education solution providers with such abilities. Similarly, the ability to check the students’ attention span by tracking facial expressions and eye movements can also help the educators to a great extent- and that’s the area where technology providers and solution providers have to work in tandem.”

Also, many large tech companies today, as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts are taking up initiatives to educate the less-privileged students residing in rural and remote parts of India. They are employing innovative digital learning methods to solve some unique challenges.

The last few years also saw a large number of entrepreneurs venturing into the ed-tech domain trying to dissolve the education infrastructure gap using the low-cost mobile device and data connectivity. On one hand, there are the online learning platforms like Byju’s, Vedantu, and Unacademy who tried to break away from the conventional teaching and learning system and tried to keep up with evolving needs of the learners; while on the other hand, the sector saw the emergence of holistic EdTech solution providers for the educational institutions such as TCS iON, Tata ClassEdge, Next Education, DS Digital, Panache Digilife, etc.

The growing abundance of innovative and interactive technology solutions providers in India’s education sector has not missed the investors’ attention. The way investors are loosening their purse strings to cash in on the EdTech boom and capitalize on the world’s largest school-age population, the sector is likely to see more consolidation in next few years, resulting in more focused and integrated solutions to aid in full-scale and lasting reforms of the sector.

(The story first appeared in PCQuest magazine December, 2019 edition)

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