Chaitanya from Vision India Foundation worked with the Andhra Pradesh Government for implementing a pilot project on Digital Classrooms. The summary below shows his experiences about dealing with such projects.

Objectives

  • Assess the impact of technological interventions (Digital content and tablet-based learning) on learning outcomes, and
  • Assess the challenges in scaling up the project

Tasks

  • 3 schools in Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh were chosen to run a pilot
  • The 3 English-medium schools selected for the pilot were:
    • AP Model School, Garladinne – Government spent close to 3 crores of rupees to set up the school. Infrastructure wise, model schools are conceived to stand on par with well-established private schools. But the usual rant of the teachers is that the students are selected on a lottery basis resulting in a class having students who can’t even read alphabet.
    • Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), Kurugunta – Anantapur district has over 60 KGBV schools of which 5 have English as the medium of instruction.
    • AP Residential School of Excellence, Kodigenahalli – First government residential school in the country. The present district collector, SP and other people holding high positions studied in this school.
  • Tata Edge is roped in to provide digital content to 6th (Science), 7th (Social) and 8th (Maths) in each of these schools
  • 40 Tablets were provided to students of one school
  • Digital Content as a teaching aid by Tata Edge. Digital content mapped to SCERT has been deployed on local servers across 6th/7th/8th Digital Content includes multimedia content such as Audio/Videos, Simulations and games
  • Tablets provided by Microsoft with Edvelop, a tablet based education platform that will enable teachers to schedule sessions, track assessment and assignments data real-time by students

Stakeholders

  • Tata Edge – Helps teachers deliver quality instruction by introducing interactive multimedia. Teachers can complement their traditional blackboard based teaching with creative illustrations provided by Tata Edge. The content prepared by Tata Edge is synchronized with the textbooks of SCERT. In effect, students are exposed to an effective blend of traditional and technology-based teaching thereby enhancing their comprehension. Conducted teacher training sessions on how to use their platform
  • Microsoft – Provided 41 tablets which have pre-installed Office365 for teachers & students to collaborate. Teachers to be trained for 6 hours through Microsoft Tablet Academy
  • Edutor – Tablet based education platform that will enable teachers to conduct quizzes and track students’ performance real-time.
  • DEO Office – Provides infrastructure support and support the pilot with lesson plan and design of daily quizzes
  • Program Management – One person each is placed at AP Model School and KGBV, who help teachers with technology and other requirements. There’s a Program manager who coordinates with all the stakeholders and run the on-ground operations.

Results

  • Close to 15 percentage-points improvement is recorded for in these 2 schools when the performance in these assessments is compared against their half-yearly marks.
  • Children have shown relatively greater improvement in Social Science and Science.
  • Attendance has improved by 4 percentage points.

Lessons Learnt

Lessons are learnt through dealings with practical problems faced during a task. During the Anantapur pilot, many a problem was faced by the implementers, particularly in the infrastructure and human resource domains.

Infrastructure:

“Infrastructure is the biggest hurdle in the entire project. For the project to take off, the schools need constant internet connectivity. But, most of the government schools are located away from the possibility of an internet connection.”

  1. To have uninterrupted and smooth internet connection for 40 tablets, the minimum speed required is 4 MBPS (can be provided by BSNL Broadband).
  2. The school in Garladinne faced a peculiar problem. Since the school is on the other side of the Railway track, BSNL needed the permission of the Railway division to lay a cable underneath the track. As the railway division takes a long time to grant permission, the implementers decided against it.
  3. In KGBV School, BSNL would charge 89000 INR per year to set up internet. Also, no private player came forward as the schools are located in interior areas and ROI is way too low.
    • Lesson Learnt: Economies of scale are almost always some of the most decisive factors in corporate decision-making. It may be assumed that, probably, the private players would have evinced interest had the number of schools been higher than it is at the moment. This throws open the challenge and the possibility of increasing school concentration within a given area, for pooling of logistics and resources.
  4. Importance of electrical power cannot be emphasized more. All the projectors and computers need constant electricity. This is a far-fetched possibility for the schools in rural areas. The problem is compounded when there is no scheduled power cut. If it follows a schedule, then the planning of the usage of Tata Edge can be planned accordingly.
    • Lesson Learnt: The temporal stability (and hence, predictability) of a systemic, technical problem is indispensable to deal with that problem. Power failure is one such problem. The concerned Ministry and department should take necessary steps to arrest (or, at least control) this problem. Alternative sources can be sought in the form of solar panels and consequent generation of electrical energy, at least in those areas receiving the threshold level of solar energy. A cost-effective solution is to have a small inverter in place just for the room (as opposed to entire school) where Tata Edge is deployed so that the projector and the computer run without a break.

Human Resources:

  • Teacher
  1. The biggest challenge a teacher faces is adapting her/himself to the technological (and methodological) intervention; that is, seamlessly complementing the traditional blackboard teaching with digital content.
    • Lesson Learnt: Teachers are trained for only two days on the Tata Edge applications prior to using it in the classroom. It may be argued that more training time and prior hands-on experience is necessary for teachers. The trainers should focus not only on making the teacher adaptable to the technology, but also on making the technology adaptable to the teacher.
  2. Teachers were initially insecure about tablets as low performance of the students in these would question their efficiency.
    • Lesson Learnt: To eliminate such feelings of insecurity, technology has to be presented and used as an integral and organic component of education (the classroom experience). Hence, performance of students while using tablets and performance of students while using books alone must not be seen as far removed from each other, or antithetical to each other.
  3. In AP Model School, the science teacher is burdened with both High school and Intermediate classes, which makes her inflexible to take up Tata Edge classes sometimes.
    • Lesson Learnt: Efficient division of labour among teachers should be ensured to enhance per batch productivity.  Moreover, specialization should be encouraged among teachers so as to enable them to focus on engaging themselves with only a particular class and its accompanying technological component.

Note:

The general observation is that if the principal is proactive, the project runs smoothly. The proactive principal involves and evokes interest among all the stakeholders – teachers, parents and the DEO office authorities so that the children are benefited the most. Considering this fact, a general counseling and training session should be conducted by a district nodal agency under the purview of the Human Resource Development Ministry, to encourage the school principals to play a proactive role in the implementation of novel methodological and technological interventions in their schools.

  • Intern’s suggestion: The other issue, though not explicitly children-related, is syncing the lesson plan of the teachers with that of the questions pre-loaded onto the tablets. For instance, a teacher taught 2 sub-topics from section 8.1. Now, she conducts a test on the tablets. Since the questions are pre-loaded, children may face questions not particular to what he has been taught but also from other sub-topics. To solve this problem, it is better to have a centralized lesson plan (and also assessments)
  • Student
  1. After implementation began, the dominant complaints about Tata Edge are its limited content and accent of the narrator. Both are valid concerns. The content was not designed for students from rural background and it is natural both face difficulty in understanding the narrator. Also, the standard of English of the question papers (prepared by Edutor) is high relative to that of the students.
    • Lesson Learnt: Content should be customized to meet the requirements of the students keeping in mind their social, linguistic and geographical background. There should be no disjuncture between the frequency of the transmitter of the message and that of its receiver. The issue of the standard of the language used calls for a two-pronged approach: First, enhance the quality of English education imparted to the students; and secondly, to tone down the level of English language used to frame content, until the students have arrived at a higher level of English.