India has seen a push from both the private and state sectors to use technology in an effort to improve learning outcomes for children in schools. There is a central government ICT policy in place which provides grants to schools to be spent on hardware and software. Organisations have experimented with various modes of deployment – from phones to tablets to laptop computers, and various methods of reach – videos, games and tests. Indian classrooms are thus made even more divergent, with the wealth of human-technology combinations being utilised, furthering the divide between students who have access to such material, and those who do not.
Recent evidence supports the view that technology can be a driving force in realising the right to education. A randomised control trial of this model led by Prof Karthik Muralidharan, Co-Chair, J-PAL Global Education found a two-fold increase in math attainment and a 2.5 times increase in Hindi test score value-added relative to a control group over a 4.5 month period. Large and statistically significant improvement was shown for all kinds of children, no matter if they were high or low performers to begin with, boys or girls, or regular school-goers. This piece will look at how technology can be deployed in the classroom to realise the right to education.
‘Roles’ in the Classroom
The human teacher
It is necessary to have a human teacher form part of the learning process. The role of the teacher includes providing emotional support in a safe environment for children, facilitating group read-aloud sessions, and enabling activity-based learning through the use of physical tools. Teachers also bring the ability to interact with parents in local languages and instil basic values such as honesty and hard work.
The comparative advantages in the field of education of technology over humans are many. The ability to personalise instruction on a large scale for each child based on where they are and what they need to learn is only possible through harnessing technology. A high quality research-based software can cater to the diversity of scholastic learning – adapting to variety in learning styles and languages of instruction. It can be made consistently available to children at any time. Technology can group, assess and regroup based on children’s real-time performance data. It can ‘discriminate’ by providing relevant content at the relevant time: for example, more scaffolding and remedial activities can be provided to children who are falling behind, or enrichment activities can be used to engage bright children.
Additionally, technology cannot discriminate on the grounds on which humans might unjustifiably discriminate, such as socio-economic status. The use of technology is adaptable to the time, place and medium of instruction – it has the ability to reach the level of the child no matter their age, physical condition or caste. Technology has the advantage of being a great levelling field for children who are intelligent on multiple dimensions, but struggle on ones typically measured.
Each child is unique
As educators, it is our responsibility to consider those who may not have the resources to be able to receive a world-class education – physical and emotional barriers can cause a highly intelligent and motivated child to miss out on what she might otherwise achieve. To reach every child in the Indian learning context, when it comes to languages and mathematics, there is a place for both human teachers for the socio-emotional aspects of education, and technology for personalised learning optimisation. Research-based, vernacular, personalised and adaptive technology can generate huge amounts of data to make learning ‘child centric’ – not via results from a one-off examination, but through daily, highly dynamic iterations based on the real learning of each and every child.