There are a number of players in the ‘ICT for Education’ space in India. India E-Schools is a rare organisation that curates education content and maps it to the NIOS curriculum of low income schools in the country and helps augment the education that students in these are receiving. Quality of education in our schools is a grave concern and India E-Schools’ role in helping address this concern is meritorious.
Networked India spoke to Vijay Raina who created the IndiaESchool Trust and the organisation that works with the low income schools. Read on to know more about how something that started with a simple aim to augment current teaching practices has become a necessity, the challenges our schools face, how this organisation is tackling some of the pain points, their goals and the challenges they face in achieving.
Networked India (NI): How was the concept of India E-School conceived? Elaborate about the ICT aspect of your model.
Vijay Raina (VR): It all began, as many good things do, from a class-room. We were having classes in “ApnaGhar School” working for the education and empowerment of poor and uneducated children by providing them free education.
The class teacher was struggling a bit to explain difference between words like ‘THIS, THAT, THESE & THOSE’. As per the book she had already explained that these words were called ‘demonstrative adjectives’, to class 1 or probably class 2 students, children who had come from poor families and could hardly speak English.
That was in year 2012, we were interested in primary education and were planning to develop educational content which would be interesting, pictorial and interactive. A simple search on YouTube led us view wonderful video by Bob Wilson (autoenglish.org).
We setup a laptop with external speakers and a wi-fi dongle (for the net connection) and viewed the video in the class. It made a huge impact on the classroom teaching-learning process. We decided not to develop ‘content’ on our own and rather curate, index and offer online content to primary teachers who could use them in their classes – leading to setting up of IndiaEschool.com and IndiaEschool Trust!
NI: Tell us about the team behind this initiative.
VR: Vijay Raina – A Business & Strategy Consultant with more than 30 years of experience out of which last 15 years has been in Management consultancy. Passionate about educating especially the marginalized children, in addition to his business pursuits, he has been associated with their education with special emphasis in the domain of primary education’ through the use of technology.
Anjali Raina – Has been running a ‘low-cost ’ school for the last 8 years to provide free education to children from under-privileged segments of the society. Prior to this she was a senior IT consultant in the corporate world for over 20 years.
Ravinder Bisht – An IT expert having worked for over 20 years in the corporate world and served in the capacity of R&D Head. He has been a consultant for usage of ‘ICT in Education’ and the use of technology as a means of ‘self-learning’ processes.
NI: Which schools and grades does India E-School target through its audio-visual content?
VR: We work with ‘low cost schools’ catering to economically marginalised children. These schools are mainly run by individuals with philanthropic aptitude or small non-profit organisations. At present we are focusing on ‘primary education’, up-to class 8th.
NI: What process do you follow for your content-curation? Do you consider international content providers or is the focus on domestic ones only?
VR: We have a dedicated team of subject matter experts who work in virtual mode and curate online content. The curated content is then mapped with NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) curriculum and our user-friendly navigation built on the basis of:
- Theme / Sub-Theme (Topic)
- Level (Difficulty level)
Moreover as primary teachers (who work with us and increasingly use online content) find interesting audio-visual content, they keep posting the same in our database of links. The online content is then arranged in the database so that the same can be searched as a ‘Library’ on the basis of different key words in addition to Serial no. of the Link, Subject, Theme, Class, Content Provider and Language of the content.
We consider both international as well as domestic content providers. However we do keep in mind our target group which may find foreign accents difficult to comprehend.
NI: What was the initial experience like in piloting the concept of India E-School in the remote as well urban schools – their response and feedback?
VR: Initially management and teachers of such schools (low-cost schools) were hesitant to use technology in their class room teaching. However through regular teacher training workshops and the improvement in conceptual understanding of children, their confidence and interest increased and it became easier to gain acceptance of using our model.
Availability of good last mile connectivity (internet) was also a major challenge particularly in remote schools. This is getting solved with increasing number of ISPs ( internet service providers) and their competitive environment.
NI: How much has the government supported your endeavours? Ideally, what support can a non-profit like yourselves expect from the government?
VR: Till now we have not taken any government support. Ideally they can support our model under schemes like ‘ICT in Education’ or ‘Digital India’.
NI: How has learning through India E-School improved input to students as well as their performance? Is there some feedback you can share?
VR: Some of the improvements which we have observed are :
- Increased attention and interest of students in class-room
- Better prepared teachers
- Better understanding of concepts
- Improved students grades
NI: What is your assessment of the learning challenges our students face in schools?
VR: We feel there is too much of emphasis on structured curriculum and completion of syllabus which leads to cramming rather than understanding concepts in schools (particularly low-cost schools).
NI: What are the long term goals for India E-School in terms of reach and expansion of content?
VR: Our long term goals:
- Identify cluster of schools and partner with them so as to increase the outreach to remote areas and to children of economically weaker sections / marginalized segments of the society
- Set up ‘Learning Centres’ in these schools
- Build capacity of school teachers particularly those working in schools catering to above mentioned children, through teacher training workshops (for using ICT / platform)
- Build capacity through TOT (training of trainers) mode so that the trainers are further capable of hand-holding and training above mentioned teachers
- Build partnerships with other agencies working in education domain
Strengthen Content :
- Create a dedicated team of content curators who are able to curate interesting & interactive online content and index it for an easy access by the teachers
- Build a team of SMEs (subject matter experts) who will vet the curated content on regular basis
- Build strong and meaningful collaboration with educational content providers, both non-profit and for-profit organizations
Build Robust Infrastructure:
- Build strong and meaningful collaboration with ‘hardware’ manufacturers for a dependable and easy to maintain infrastructure for the ‘Learning Centres’
- Build strong and meaningful collaboration with ISPs ( internet service providers ) for a dependable last mile (net) connectivity
- Implement a monitoring framework which collects feedback from the ground level and continuously improves the delivery of teaching-learning process
NI: What kind of challenges you expect to overcome in getting there?
- Teachers working in low-cost schools (those catering to marginalized segments of children) are generally not trained to use technology and may lack confidence to use the same in their class room
- There is absence of motivational factors to use ICT in such schools/environment
- Last mile connectivity of internet is still problematic in most regions of the country, particularly remote/rural areas
- Online content needs to be continuously curated and kept interesting for end users (teachers/students)
- Budgetary & Financial support is continuously required for such schools and student segment as they may not afford or may avoid inclusion of ICT in their teaching-learning process
- As a young organization (the trust was officially set up on 2014) it sometimes becomes difficult to apply for funding.