EdTech platforms: Same old wine in new bottle?

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EdTech platforms: Same old wine in new bottle?

Sunday, 25 July 2021 | Piyush Kamal

EdTech platforms: Same old wine in new bottle?

Do we actually need them? The content and delivery by most of these EdTech platforms are woefully dated, with a minimum collaboration, participation, and feedback from students. EdTech platforms need to find a way to cut through the noise and reach students across the social divide

For a country as populated as ours, where a large section struggles to make a decent living, access to basic education still remains a privilege. However, there exists an inherent paradox where even a good percentage of the educated population find it difficult to have gainful and stable employment. So, given this paradox, how do we expect that educating the underprivileged lot will somehow help them in finding a better livelihood?

But before making an attempt to decipher the underlying code behind this paradox, we need to dig a little deeper beneath the surface to come up with an answer to this question.

Who exactly are the stakeholders that tend to benefit most out of the current education system?

All the educational institutes usually serve the purpose of signalling certain qualities like intelligence, diligence, compliance, and conformity to potential employers. As a result, there is a widespread clamour among students to get themselves validated through a paper degree as it presumably increases the chances of landing a well-paying job.

Therefore, as long as we don’t find any fault in subscribing to a free market doctrine, only skills and experiences that are directly convertible to income are considered useful. As a consequence, the need for the education system to make itself sufficiently market aligned has always managed to remain the top priority, where institutes keep thriving by serving as a certification agency. As long as both the stakeholders (students and institutes) are happy with this arrangement, the 20th-century educational ecosystem will keep haunting us even in the 21st century.

Whereas the third stakeholder (parents) doesn’t seem to bother much about the present education system, primarily because they themselves are a product of that system. Besides, in India, the sense of pride associated with raising an academically exceptional child is something difficult to express in words. It is the ultimate validation to prove their worth as successful parents. It helps parents in covering every other possible flaws in their parenting. Not only that, but it also gives them a false sense of assurance that their children will eventually become an overachiever in actual life.

The false promise!

Now given this ground reality, the more we see change around this system, the more they seem to remain the same. And that seems to be true for the growth in EdTech platforms. All the changes introduced so far in the education ecosystem remind us of the earlier models of coaching centres that held a promise of a better tomorrow if you could afford their fees.

However, despite these apparent shortcomings, the media is never tired of celebrating the success of EdTech initiatives that are nothing but a rehash of the same old wine in the shinier bottle. The content and delivery by most of these EdTech platforms are woefully dated, with a minimum collaboration, participation, and feedback from students.

Now given the widespread celebration in media, there is a temptation to accept education as a potent investment opportunity for people with deep pockets. Given the poor quality associated with most forms of public education, people, in general, have been conditioned to accept the association of good quality education at a cost. As a result, there is no dearth of institutes claiming to offer the same.

As an integral part of targeting the gullible parents and students, there is a deliberate attempt from these EdTech entities with deep pockets to sell their product as something very essential for the success of students — an unsubstantiated claim sold as gospel truth.

Celebrity endorsement is another potent method to capture the attention of insecure parents. These insecure parents are made to feel guilty if they dare to deny their kids “the key to success” on financial grounds. There is a lot of unnecessary noise created in the media about the potency of their life-altering products and courses. A kid as young as 5 years is not spared from their tempting media campaigns.

Is there a way to weed out these outright commercial entities occupying the educational space?

In the era of low-cost internet, the availability of good quality free content has never been in question. It’s the concomitant contextual understanding and subsequent follow-up lectures that make the whole difference. You can’t expect a student with limited working knowledge of English to comprehend a two-hour lecture by Harvard faculty on quantum physics.

So, what’s the solution?

Given the kind of complexity inherent in the problem, the solution needs to incorporate the seemingly conflicting interest of different stakeholders into account. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to come up with one size solution that fits everyone.

It’s important to embrace the true potential of EdTech. It’s not just about reformatting books into pdf or teaching remotely, it’s also about using tech to deliver brand-new learning architecture,

opening up the world of education to new audiences, boosting student engagement, while cutting costs to improve access for all.

There is no denying that the pre-university generation is digital natives; they favour individual expression and personalisation to such an extent that they expect to resolve all of life’s problems with the device in the palm of their hands. They don’t mind being bombarded with information via social media.

Therefore, there is a need to go straight to the heart of social media, where Gen Z spends a lot of time. EdTech platforms need to find a way to cut through the noise and reach students across the social divides who could be given the needed support.

In the name of online classes whatever is being done with books and whiteboard can merely be termed as a good start especially for visual learners, but can’t be termed as a technological revolution in the education space by any stretch of the imagination. Because a forward-looking twenty-first-century education envisages more than exposing students to audio-visual content. Here every learner is expected to collaborate, communicate, be creative and think critically to solve problems!

We need to prepare students to work in teams, exchange ideas with peers who may be in different geographies. The students are expected to find solutions by thinking out of the box with the world of information at their fingertips. We need to outgrow the mentality of spoon-feeding, and allow children to learn for themselves and be there to support them as a facilitator.

Till we succeed in bringing these much-needed changes within the existing ecosystem, the promise of gaining a better livelihood after going through the pain of years of formal education will eventually turn out to be a hollow one.

(The writer is an educator, former IRS officer & author of upcoming book “The Current Perspective on INDIAN ECONOMY.”)

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