It’s well documented how Covid-19 has amplified the existing gaps in the Indian education system. The country, which was already struggling with problems of inadequate access to education for its 600 million young people, suffered a further blow when educational institutions halted physical operations due to the nationwide lockdown in March.
Only 42 percent of urban Indian households and less than 15 percent of rural households have internet access, according to a report by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 201718. The Remote Learning Reachability report issued by UNICEF in August pointed out, “In India, over 1.5 million (15 lakh) schools have been closed due to the pandemic, affecting 286 million (28.6 crore) children from pre-primary to secondary levels, (of which 49 percent are girls). This adds to the 6 million (60 lakh) girls and boys who were already out of school before the Covid-19 crisis.”
Education via digital platforms has been an alien concept for many underdeveloped cities in India. A survey conducted by Oxfam India in September across five Indian states revealed that over 80 percent of children enrolled in government schools had not received any form of education since the lockdown, while only 20 percent of teachers of government schools were trained for delivering classes online.
By approving the New Education Policy in Parliament, the government has taken a much-needed step towards digitisation of education in the country. The policy, which seems to be the harbinger of change for the post-pandemic world, stresses the need for making a wide variety of digital resources available and accessible for the learning requirements of students across the country.
Newer methods of teaching and coming up with innovative ways to make education accessible to children and youth, especially the underprivileged, have become the need of the hour. Entrepreneurs, innovators and non-profits have been quick to respond and strive towards provide equitable access to education across social and economic strata in the country. We look at some of the most disruptive methods and innovations that were brought to life in these testing times.
EDUAURAA: AS AFFORDABLE AS OTT
At 23, Akanksha Chaturvedi has only one vision: Use world-class technology to make quality education available in every corner of India at an affordable price. “Limited access to good education has led to a surge in tuition culture and about 11-12 percent of the average family income is dedicated to tuitions,” she says.
When she came back after completing her undergraduate studies in the US, she says she was surprised to see how many people across various socio-economic backgrounds were hooked to watching content on OTT platforms on their smartphones. This got her thinking, what if we did the same with education.
With a vision to make education affordable and accessible via OTT platforms, she launched Eduauraa via OTT platform Zee5 in September 2020. In the last two months, they have already garnered about 5 lakh subscribers. “We have deployed the best teachers from the top 10 schools in India, subject-matter experts, visualisers, animators, editors and directors to help create an engaging learning experience,” says Chaturvedi. Eduauraa can be accessed by users via its application, website or on Zee5. There are three forms of yearly subscription packages, starting with the base video pack subscription at ₹999, the value-added service pack subscription at ₹1,999 and the allinclusive subscription at ₹2,499.
Based on the subscription pack chosen, the edtech startup also offers reference materials and resources to students like ebooks, which serve as great revision guides, mind-maps and past paper books with questions and answers. “We have included features such as the Eduauraa Proficiency Quotient (EPQ) which analyses the child, adds a personalisation factor and enables the student to schedule his/her studies,” explains Chaturvedi, who was set to launch the platform in April-May 2020, but had to delay it because of the pandemic. The platform currently offers education for various state education boards in both English and Hindi.
The startup, with a team of 250 employees, is working on expanding to other regional languages and curating content for 11th and 12th graders, followed by IIT, JEE and NEET examinations. “Additionally, we are working on materials and offerings for civil services/IAS exams that see over 50 lakh to 1 crore students appearing every year,” she adds. Eventually, Chaturvedi hopes to create a community where students from ages 11 to 36 can study with via Eduauraa.
VEATIVE LABS: VIRTUAL REALITY ON A BROWSER
Education technology provider Veative Labs offers hundreds of STEM and ELL (English language learning) modules in virtual reality (VR) for interactive learning. Since the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world, Veative has converted their entire STEM and Virtual Tour library into a WebXR format. “The module, initially a project for UNICEF, allows students in even economically-depressed countries to access immersive content on any PC, by simply using a browser,” says Ankur Agarwal, CEO, Veative Labs.
“Our business model was severely affected by the pandemic as we deal with a VR device, which is by nature attached to the user’s face. There is an understandable reluctance to share such a device. We strategised to come up with a way to make that content available to users who are away from school, not in possession of a VR device, as well as provide analytics for teachers to monitor student activity and progress. And that made us pivot to the WebXR model,” explains Agarwal.
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