Use state-of-the-art technology to improve online education 

Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud computing, and AR/VR can help in improving the quality of online education

An estimated 90 per cent of the world’s school-aged children’s education faced disruptions caused by the pandemic, as per a research by Human Rights Watch (HRW). Nearly 1.4 billion students faced denial to their basic right of education across 190 countries.

In India, too, only a small part of the population have access to online education, and as a result school children have been severely impacted. Interrupted power supply, weak or non-existent Internet connectivity, and unaffordability to buy necessary devices are a major concern.

Digital Divide

The digital divide continues to pose challenges in remote teaching and learning. A study by the Azim Premji Foundation showed that almost 60 per cent of school children in India cannot access online classes.

A similar study by Oxfam India has concluded that half of the students in urban areas reported challenges with Internet signal and speed. A third struggled with the cost of mobile data. The long-standing inequalities in education were further exacerbated by the pandemic.

Growth of EdTech industry

The Indian EdTech industry was valued at $750 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 39.77 per cent. This growth is driven by rising demand for non-academic courses from Tier II & III cities and the need for personalisation in the EdTech space.

India is set to become the EdTech capital of the world. In the first nine months of 2020, venture capital (VC) investments worth $1.5 billion poured into EdTech start-ups in India, as compared to $409 million in 2019.  In fact, EdTech space is receiving highest quantum of VC funding.

Most high-end private and public institutions made the switch smoothly using online platforms such as Zoom, Google classrooms, Microsoft teams, etc., while many are still figuring out ways of better access and connectivity.

School closures may impact the mental state of students who already experience additional barriers at home, in the community and in the education system. Such students need support to remain hopeful and connected.

The Solution

We have a good demand scenario to drive us to design and manufacture education-specific tablets which can reduce education disparities. These devices need to be equipped with longer battery life, or replicable batteries, to handle long power outages. Multi-language access too helps in better access of online tools.

Two things are needed on a priority: One, affordable, repairable, upgradable large screen devices like tablets and broadband connectivity. The government may consider providing free tablets to all government school children and commitment to broadband as a fundamental right. Two, the hardware should be designed and manufactured in India which will help in the creation of manufacturing jobs and remove dependence on China.

The major problem with online connectivity platforms is the lack of intimacy and immediacy. While corporates flush with funds can invest in high-end technologies with better visualisation and share tools, most children suffer on account of lack of access, resources, and connectivity issues. This may trigger disinclination towards learning.

Young students are the future of tomorrow and their abilities to show critical thinking, creativity spark and the inculcation of core human values is important.

Seamless connection to their learning platforms, access to teachers and classmates as and when they need to connect to them, is vital for healthy growth of children. Moreover, remote students have a range of distractions, so the online content has to be more engaging than in-person classes.

Using advanced technologies

Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, cloud computing, and AR/VR can help in improving the quality of online education. Data analytics can help in profiling a student’s special needs and personalisation of courses.

Adaptive learning is possible through analytics and AI, to detect and address individual student needs, and offer real-time feedback and support. It’s also possible to predict students’ requirements based on previous searches and questions, and responses. Such exercises should be conducted with the necessary personal data privacy norms.

VR/AR too has the ability to elevate distance learning. AR/VR in online education boosts engagement, improves flexibility, enhances understanding skills, and provides seamless learning.

Virtual reality (VR) headsets can immerse students into digitally created worlds, and augmented reality (AR) technology can superimpose digitally created items 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 key goals. The backbone of Digital India and the world’s largest rural connectivity scheme BharatNet project aims, in a phased manner, to provide a minimum of 100 Mbit/s broadband connectivity to all the 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats (GPs), covering nearly 6.25 lakh villages.

Technology brings hope. While an education crisis confronts the country, with the right technology aids we can improve access and quality of online education.

The author is the co-founder of HCL Technologies, Techspan, and Headstrong. Views are personal.

Published on

April 06, 2022