Fixing The Bug: Implementing Ed-Tech Development Programs
There has arguably never been a single event in the history of the world that has put a spotlight on ‘digital education’, more than the ongoing COVID19 pandemic has. However, leveraging technology for education is not a novel idea born out of the 2020 crisis.
The acknowledgement of the efficacy of technology-enhanced education has been held in high regard since the 20th century. The pandemic has only bent and twisted the backbone of various education systems globally and while flexible systems are adapting to its challenges, frailties in other systems are being widely exposed. So, while we now look around and hear conversations about education technology as the equaliser ‘solution’ in societies that can afford it, we lie on the other side of the hurdle with a lesson or two on how to ‘fix the bugs’ in implementing ed-tech programs in a “developing” context like India, where technology adoption could itself be a challenge.
The Digital Divide
The first and most obvious challenge in implementing wide scale ed-tech programs in a developing context like India is the ‘digital divide’ between classes. Students in rural areas (who are intended to be the biggest beneficiaries of most digital education technology programs) are the ones who lack proper infrastructure (mobile phones, internet connectivity, etc.) that prevent them from availing benefits from these programs, even if they are seemingly offered for ‘free’. In addition, is the related problem of the unavailability of electricity, where only 47% of households in India receive electricity for more than 12 hours a day.
Our Solution To Overcoming A Lack of Preparedness
Apart from challenges of the targeted beneficiaries of digital education technology, the students, the ongoing COVID19 pandemic has also uncovered the lack of preparedness and training of facilitators of education via technology. So, while some societies smoothly transitioned into online classes during the lockdown, in most parts of India, teachers were not technically trained on how to use technology to deliver lessons and thus, the educational outcomes of students suffered. Our program at Turn The Bus mitigates this challenge by directly delivering quality educational content via digital platforms to students in need and we believe that this is a solution that is effective, without being overly dependent on emergency preparedness of human resources in education.
Behavioural Change Is Essential To Technology Adoption
Finally, the most pertinent challenge for adopting and implementing digital education technologies in developing countries stems from the very assumption that households would automatically adapt to them. Even if there is availability of mobile phones and internet data in a household, cultural barriers may prevent students from fully utilising these resources to achieve their set objectives. For example, parents may not allow their children to spend multiple hours on their phones as they do not relate to this form of education to more traditional classroom education. To overcome this challenge, programs need to go beyond just direct primary beneficiaries and prioritise the local community and context to bring about important behavioural changes that would better facilitate the adoption of digital education in the local context.
Where technology is mostly celebrated as a ‘bridge’ that closes gaps between economically polarised communities, we need to be aware of how even this apparent solution can itself pose a challenge in developing contexts. The first step then, in resolving such challenges, lies in constantly reflecting on and amending one’s own assumption of the world and its very much subjective realities.