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Very recently, the Indian government announced a demonetization measure by removing 500 and 1000 rupee notes as legal tender, ostensibly to combat cash hoarding (black money) and counterfeiting (which was helping fund terror). Of course, we have seen the impact of fiscal demonetization on the economy in the short term, though the long term prognosis is yet to emerge.

The immediate impacts that I see on the system of education in our country are as follows (not an exhaustive list):

  • Slowdown in the rate of growth of private schools. Slowdown in money chasing real estate, regulatory clearances, investments and siphoning of money in Education, at least in the short to medium term. This may be accompanied by a corresponding growth/investment in the public system.
  • The push to online payments at school. I believe more schools will now start accepting money in non-cash forms. This means a fillip to existing fee payment, school uniform and bookstore platforms.
  • The increased visibility of the coaching institution and the individual tutor. More and more tuition teachers and coaching schools (at one point claimed to be a USD 23 bn parallel system expected to be about 40 bn USD in 2015) will move to online payments.
  • Lowered spends on research. Research shall be impacted, with owners who are already handicapped by ‘marketing spends’ kind of vision on research, holding back on new projects. In fact, all facile investment will reduce.
  • Higher international collaboration. Cleaner international money will flow and it is time to leverage that for maximal impact.

On another note. What would be the equivalent of currency in education? Is there a parallel with the black money and counterfeiting that is happening with regular currency, but in the educational market? Is there a ‘currency’ of the educational market? And therefore, if a demonetization of that ‘currency’ has to happen for similar reasons, what would that look like?

If we look at ‘currency’ in the educational context, it would be most likely be constituted by marks or scores (more literally marksheets) and certificates (such as degree certificates and work certificates).

A quick look around clearly shows the menace of fake certificates. The screening firm, First Advantage, found that 51% of the prior experience certificates were fake globally, India being a notorious example. Then there are websites advertising fake education certificates, sometimes in connivance with officials in the system, it seems, all over the world. Many instances abound in India as well.

What would be the equivalent of educational black money? Little harder to trace an equivalent there if one is not probing the real currency angle. But let us look at it from the lens of employability, the argument being that the degrees or certificates that provide a social and economic return to the economy are ‘white’ educational currency, while the rest are ‘black’ educational currency.

Less than 20% of our graduates are employable. In that sense, the rest are unwittingly just hoarding ‘black’ degrees and certificates. Institutions are hoarding degree certificates, sitting on a stock of certificates for the foreseeable future depending upon their capacity and their authorization by the government.

There may be more interpretations, for example, extending to institutions who are building capacity they cannot fill or usefully utilize.

So what would happen if we made a move to demonetize this education currency?

For example, de-recognize all degrees for a year and make it mandatory for anyone holding a degree to prove its authenticity? Or for all institutions to be stripped of its ability to provide a degree certificate till they can prove that they have a structure in place and systems to ensure employable graduates and provide real data on their current state of being able to generate ’employability’? Or breakup degrees into smaller chunks that have to be individually certified? Or for government to stop mandating this educational currency, in all or part, for their own recruitment?

A move like that would be inconvenient for most, but may have similar (to fiscal demonetization) longer term effects. It may push a greater academia-industry interaction, move us to digital certificates and transparent scoring mechanisms, bring more professionals into the running of institutions and set up fences against black marketeers entering the education space – all of which sound like the right things to do, whatever the process.

Lessons that Lessen

This jewel from Alice in Wonderland:

And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’

‘What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.

‘That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: ‘because they lessen from day to day.

There are many ways the Lessons lessen in our educational system. The system essentially dilutes more with its structure than it promotes. Instructional design, school structures, curricular boundaries – all contribute to that dilution. Not making a ‘school makes you dumber‘ or ‘don’t let your schooling interfere with your education‘ or ‘how schools kill creativity‘ kind of an argument, but rather making the point that our systems tend to lessen our lessons due to their impact on our innate ability to learn.

What are some of these lessons (if I may so dare)?

The first lesson is to allow yourselves to be and remain curious – express your wonder at your first discoveries, making the first contact, learn from your first failures, connect the dots – basically, have those Aha! moments.

The second lesson is to remain open to discovery, events and opinions – give logic and reason a chance to get embedded in your style of thinking.

The third lesson is to express yourself – through the spoken word, through song, through music and expressions – they form the repertoire that you will use for your entire life.

The fourth lesson is to understand your limits and when you need help or support – give a chance for people to guide you, for others to show you the way, to never be afraid of asking and to never disguise your ignorance.

The fifth lesson is to actively engage in finding your passion – whatever that may be – and to be loyal to it as long as you feel the need, never to let it consume you altogether so much so that everything else fades to oblivion.

There are doubtless many more such lessons that lessen over time. Grit, perseverance, humility and many more. If you have learned these lessons well, you will perhaps be happily educated and build happiness and prosperity around yourself.

There a happy spirals and sad spirals in our learning journey. The happy ones are those which expand and grow our lessons, while the sad spirals lessen them. In our educational system, there is not much autonomy to decide which spiral to aspire towards, because of the tyranny by design and practice. A lucky few may break out of the sad spirals and some may find their environments contributing to more and more happy spirals. The large majority will be simply miserable in trying to meet goals they do not understand.

Perhaps this story of humanity has to underlie the story of education?

An open letter to CABE

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meets on October 25, 2016 to discuss many important issues. The apex education advisory organization features education ministers, HRD officials, key institutional heads and key influencers from outside government. The CABE takes the important decisions about education in our country.

This time around, on the tentative agenda are a spate of important things. Such as:

  1. The scrapping of the no-detention policy
  2. The extension of RTE (the Right to Education) Act to span pre-school and secondary education
  3. The re-institution of a Class X board exam

The Class X Board Exam

It was found that only 4% of the students went through the school-based Summative Assessment 2 exam as prescribed by Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) (on an average in the past three years). They found that not only were the school based exams considered medium standard, but also that the huge psychological stress barrier of a boards based exam, when removed, actually resulted in a lax attitude by students and a decline in quality of education itself. Students ended up losing the habit of regular studies given a virtual no-detention on the basis of the large proportion of co-scholastic evaluation counting in the final exam. They also found that the majority of parents, teachers and principals (the latter overwhelmingly so) wanted a board mandated exam instead.

In summary, they feel that the CCE scheme was unwarranted, misinformed and counter-productive, which is why board exams need to come back carrying 80% weightage and school assessment carrying 20% weightage, with a minimum passing score of 33% in each.

Perhaps the answer does not lie in standardizing exams, as most of the world is finding out (look at the gaokao noose in China and the resistance to standardized testing in the USA). The core system behind continuous, rather than one-shot assessments with a weightage to co-scholastic performance is most definitely a better system for learning than a rote-based, performance only driven system. The fact that neither could the board do away completely with board exams (by merely making it optional, there was no compulsion to change over for most schools, thereby keeping 96% of the students at a conventional advantage as compared with the 4% who did take the option), nor could it also not drive the program effectively as a change agent. They took a quick dip, found it is not working (across two ‘sarkars’) and decided to abandon it, in effect throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The CABE could take the view that CCE was improperly implemented, not uniformly adopted, and ineffectively communicated as a transformative change. It could argue that change in the education system is gradual and generational, needs emphasis and change management. It could state that the CCE was placed in a system that basically had the power to shape it in its own mould, in much the same way as it conducted the regular pre-CCE scheme of studies, and in essence defeating its very objective. Perhaps the CCE could have evolved in the face of this emergent response of a system under threat, but it did not, and that is where its demise may begin.

Perhaps we do have spine still in the education system. But then perhaps, we don’t. How can we argue that 4% of the students virtually lost interest in studying because they no longer were faced with the stress and indiscriminate rigor of a rote based system? It is like saying we would all end up committing heinous crimes if we did not have a mandate to the electric chair waiting for us if we did.

The scrapping of the No-detention policy

My perspective on this policy is that it basically helped get the gross enrolment ratio up. With no threat of ‘failure’, there was an easy progression on the way up and therefore also incentivized retention. A perfect fit to the Right to Education Act. It allowed people to take advantage of the system while unknowingly serving the political goals of getting every child to school. Teachers got the short end of the stick here, with no way to enforce discipline. No one really wanted to come to school to learn, they just wanted a certificate they could get a job with.

Different stakeholders are blamed, rightfully or wrongfully, on either side of the fence, for the failure of our aspiration to do things differently. Many states have blamed the policy for a downfall in educational outcomes and quality.

Five states out of 23 have asked to stay with No-detention. Different states and committees have given different suggestions on how to implement this policy – like the New Education Policy recommended we have no detention only up to age 11/grade V; some have suggested external (ostensibly ‘board’) exams at class III/V/VIII levels; and so on.

A series of important perspectives on these two issues are available here, for and against:

No respite for edTech

The complete absence of attention to Educational Technologies (edTech) in the CABE agenda is striking. Not even one small part of the agenda is focused on how we can truly leverage edTech to act as an agent for scale or performance. This, at a time when edTech is perhaps at par with other burning issues such as teacher education, curricular reform and inclusive education. Does this mean that the highest body in Education in India today does not regard edTech as a real force and change agent? Or will there be lip service to this domain?

What is the point in all this?

What we are doing successfully is that we are missing the point. We are trying to deal with two different themes altogether. One, which emphasizes learning and creativity and technology, and the other which emphasizes rote and certificatory cultures.

The twain shall not meet in ordinary circumstances, but our uncommon wisdom seems to guide us towards mixing the two up upfront. You cannot expect to twist the dominant paradigm into an aspirational one and then expect it to remain significantly unchanged at every level of exit. More often than not, and clearly visible in this case, the dominant paradigm has dwarfed, sabotaged and mutated the aspirational one.

What this means is that if we truly want to be inclusive about alternate systems of education, we have to stop trying to channel their outcomes into the singular dominant paradigm. And if you really wanted to change the dominant paradigm itself, you would need to deal with supporting the change and its agents fully, over a period of time, in smaller incremental steps. You cannot hope to make big bang changes which you easily discard when you fail.

What if we really wanted to make our aspiration more mainstream? Were there any other ways to make this work?

Possible Solutions

Perhaps yes. If the right incentivization was put into effect for each stakeholder so that they knew it was alright to experiment, without any terminal concerns, it may just work. For example, if schools were given extra autonomy, reduced curricular load, better pay & progression structures for teachers, necessary infrastructure, and allowed to build a different structure for performance evaluation & excellence which extended right to college and thereon to job opportunities, it may just work.

If the CABE decides to do this as a parallel system, it will perhaps be able to leverage the right resources to scale at the right time. Rightsizing the aspirations will mean that we recognize the aspirations for better educational opportunities at every stage and then credibility for performance and excellence in those opportunities when students compete for employment.

One of the ways that we could do this is to set up a separate Board altogether. Let us call it the National Progressive Board (NPB). The NPB would receive the same level of stature and credibility as the CBSE or State Boards for all practical purposes. The NPB would conduct its own performance evaluation and its evaluation would be normalized for entry to higher education with respect to other Boards. Rather than melting into one common examination for entry to (say) engineering and management institutions, this Board would get weightage basis its own evaluation structure. It would be subject to the same level of scrutiny as other boards are with respect to their performance.

But instead of using one single yardstick to view their output, different (not inferior) yardsticks could be equally applied for this board – sort of leveling the playing field. It does not make sense to align all competitive exams to the curriculum followed by the dominant board only – it marginalizes other boards and makes it difficult for them to sustain their identity.

Therein also lies a challenge. Boards often end up competing, directly or indirectly, for reach, student numbers and visibility. It is often noted that some Boards are not perceived nearly as good as others, and sometimes entry level criteria in (say) colleges are mutated to fit those discrepancies. Sometimes location-based or reservation-based policies for entry also mitigate the discrepancies. So a system exists that is inclusive and understands that there is no one-size-fits-all criteria for excellence, but it needs tweaking to ensure parity.

So if it was possible to incentivize interested stakeholder to adopt the NPB, and as a systemic intervention, the performance objectives of the NPB could be aligned with downstream educational and work opportunities for students coming from other boards, we would have a solution that could scale when we need it to.

Over time, if the NPB performs and its students and teachers can demonstrate that results are comparable (or better, hopefully, than systems following rote and certificatory rigor), it can start scaling up to larger audiences. This is perhaps how the Charter Schools in the USA started, and perhaps many more such initiatives across the world. If the NPB does not perform, there are systemic corrections that will happen precisely because stakeholders are unable to extract value. Over a period of time, expectations and alignment to the bigger vision will happen, if done correctly.

A Resurgence

The NPB could be charged with taking edTech seriously. It could evolve its own curriculum and train its teachers differently. They would have the time and space to do so, taking the best practices from all around the world and localizing them to our unique context.

The structure could also vary significantly. Rather than having age determined grade levels, the NPB could look at competency driven structures which are leveled progressions. Mobility from one certifying level to another would then perhaps even imply mobility from one type of institution to another within the NPB – schools that are meant to deal with different competency structures within a single Board, perhaps.

Teachers could then be specifically targeted for different certifying levels, with a minimum target level being assured by legislative acts like the RTE (instead of years of schooling). More specifically, teachers could be tasked very differently compared to the existing system – perhaps on the number of students they were successfully able to move from one certifying level to another rather than having to focus on completing an year of mandatory curriculum.

We talked about the NPB in context of school education, but what is to stop us from moving further to skills and Higher Ed with similar structures? They are faced with similar systemic issues and it does not make sense to stop the innovation at the end of school. I am guessing the premier institutions also could benefit from a healthy dose of progressive thinking in a similar vein.

Having a well defined competency based progression to higher and tertiary education may make for a more integrated and credible system.

At each level, the focus will be on outcomes, the same as any other board. But not every student will have to be judged the same way and exposed to unified age-based curricula. This will make the system flexible to meet various different needs and aspirations, while giving credibility to each structure.

Employability also needs to be addressed in a similar manner. The fact is that the current systems are not really producing enough employable people, as has been witnessed by many a study and bemoaned by both academia and industry. In that sense, even if we were to remove no-detention and even reintroduce board driven external examinations at every level, it still would not improve the terminal employability outcomes. It is chimerical to assume that detention or external board driven exam will improve the quality of the education system – we have not witnessed adequate terminal efficiencies in that legacy approach either. It’s like saying let us fix the ship so that it sails, even if it is in the wrong direction.

We have achieved this in some way in our diverse education system already, so it may not be an altogether novel approach. Our ability to split streams from core to vocational is one such example. Our distinction of ITI vs. IIT is another example of meeting different needs and aspirations. However, most of these initiatives stem from a singular approach to structuring education – age driven curricula, uniform one-size-fits-all approach to curricula, year based exit criteria, subject silos and so on. Perhaps it is time to innovate within the structure effectively and introduce greater structural flexibility, choice and focus.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for CABE to set things right this time, to get to root causes instead of just agreeing to the incidental and expected symptoms. I hope in my heart they will democratically evaluate alternate initiatives on merit, initiatives that are capable of systemic transformation, not demagoguery, myopia or bias.

There are three things I believe are necessary for success in product development, and perhaps in other endeavors in Life as well.

Courage. You need the courage to dream on a very wide canvas, the courage to fail and make mistakes, the courage to acknowledge what can defeat you and persist in your efforts to resolve it. You need the courage of commitment to stay the course despite what others may have to say or how detractors may perform their dance of distractions. You need the courage to be able to listen, shed your prior biases and conviction. You need the courage to trust your team and play an important part in keeping them challenged, ever growing as people.

Craft. Your craft – the skills you bring to meet the challenge – is really critical. It is not all about what you know already. It is more about what you can learn and teach and share. It is about how open you can be to ideas and thoughts – and how respectful you can be towards the contributions of others, small or large. It is the craft that distinguishes the weak from the strong, the doers from the doomsayers. If you don’t grow while making your product, it is never going to grow either.

Character. A product without character and a team without a conscience are bound to fail. It is the moral intent behind the product that helps it transcend the domains of the merely useful. To be transformational, there must be a soul to the product and its own consciousness and integrity. This is very important to realize and practice – which aspect of your product promotes or has the potential to promote greater social good, and which part is only purely parochial and transient, driven by greed rather than compassion or ingenuity.

Courage. Craft. Character. Three things that are perhaps extremely relevant in many areas – including edTech. Education, though, needs much more emphasis on Character than before. Large players with the ability to disseminate and scale the product, need to shoulder the responsibility for operating with professional, social and financial integrity. And if this happens, the sky is indeed no limit.

Our classrooms are digitally isolated by their very design. It is a distortion of our bureaucratic education systems wherein, on the one hand, grade levels are broken down into separate groups/classrooms, insulated from each other, while each group is encouraged (or mostly not) to independently interact with the outside world.

As a result, students learning the same concepts (from perhaps the same teachers), cannot break the confines of their own classroom group, to celebrate their own local diversity, far less the diversity offered by classrooms worldwide doing almost exactly the same thing, separated by time and space.

This distortion is brought upon us by our approach to managing scale in the education system. Although at one end, developing nations like India still see a significant number of one-room schools (multi-grade single teacher classrooms; in India the figure is around 10%), the vast majority of our classrooms at any level of education stand singularly insulated.

Is this distortion healthy? It is not. In an inter-connected world, fast augmented by accessible technology, our research shows us that increased diversity in the classroom leads to more tolerance, better thinkers, stronger communities, more successful employees and happier lives. It improves the self-efficacy of learners so they become exponentially better performers for the long-term and not just at a particular grade level or assessment. By also co-operating and sharing, they increase their own capacity to learn – a skill that is severely under-rated by bureaucratic systems of education, leading to reflections such as Do Schools Kill Creativity. Clearly, group wise insulation implies a loss of shared experience, so vital for individual sense-making.

This distortion permeates other aspects as well – for example, teacher performance is measured group-wise and in isolation from teacher performance elsewhere. Even for teachers, there is this near-complete isolation between the classrooms she teaches and what others teach, in the same location or worldwide. Thus this impacts teacher self-efficacy as well – her ability to evolve and grow. The same could be said for school leaders.

In a system so shorn of collaboration, we cannot celebrate the benefits of diversity and connected-ness. The distortion in the system ensures greater isolation, thereby lower levels of efficiency for all stakeholders. So far, this distortion is likened to commonsense, with increased diversity desirable but deemed impractical at scale. As a result, very little, if at all, of our education system is geared towards connection-making (in the Connectivist sense) for teaching and learning.

It behoves us to step outside the frame. By looking at increasing connected-ness and diversity in and across our classrooms, we can generate more opportunities for achieving high levels of quality in our systems of education.

The New Education Policy, 2016, has to give mission level status and significance to education technology by:

  1. Systematically building up our intellectual and institutional capabilities in edTech
  2. Planning and implementing strategic edTech initiatives
  3. Actively promoting edTech entrepreneurship and R&D

Mission Level Focus on edTech

The NEP draft places no mission level emphasis on education technologies (edTech).

A mission level emphasis on edTech is critical if India is to achieve the objectives of equity and excellence at our scale and align effectively with other government initiatives such as Digital India, Smart Cities and Make in India.

Although the policy mentions the term “ICT” at many places, “edTech” goes above and beyond “ICT” in many ways (more details in Appendix 1). It would be a mistake to conflate the two. ICT is more concerned about access, while edTech is concerned about effectiveness.

There are several, far-reaching benefits to treating edTech with a separate mission-level focus. When leveraged properly, edTech can:

  1. Improve learning outcomes significantly in both online and offline modes
  2. Increase the capability of teachers to not just teach better, but to actually achieve the goal of student centred learning that has for long been the aspiration of many a National Education Policy
  3. Describe, with the help of data and analytics, student performance outcomes and proactively predict failures to meet outcomes.

Mission Objectives

The potential objectives or goals for this mission-level focus on edTech could be:

  1. Build edTech capability and awareness in a systematic manner through edTech innovation centres, PhD and certificate programs and open-source community projects
  2. Plan and execute national and state-level edTech blueprints for maximum impact on educational outcomes and effective access to education. The blueprints would span areas such as:
    1. Education programs for teachers and administrators
    2. Incubations & Entrepreneurship
    3. Platforms and Applications
    4. Digital Identity Management
    5. Digital Curriculum and Courseware including MOOCs
    6. Techniques including Adaptive learning, MOOCs, Gamification, Augmented Reality and others
    7. Metadata, Tracking and Learning Analytics
    8. Certificate depository/blockchain
    9. Implementation schemes & formats
    10. IT Infrastructure provision
  3. Lower and remove barriers to adoption of edTech by all educational institutions by increasing choice, limiting regulation, infrastructure investment and sufficient funding

While there are many approaches to achieving this mission mode emphasis on edTech, some possible techniques are suggested below.

  1. Set up a separate mission-mode edTech initiative, staff it with competent people with comprehensive state-level participation. Equip each state with a state mission secretariat which has sufficient authority to push not just infrastructural ICT initiatives but also work closely with state education departments to promote edTech and indoctrinate new edTech methods within institutions. Provide sufficient funding, autonomy & control to operate.
  2. Set up a fund to enable 500 PhDs in edTech in the next 5 years. Participants should get international experience and then come back to work with the Centre and States. This could be managed by top class universities.
  3. Actively identify, seed-fund, incubate and promote local and rural entrepreneurs including a special focus on women entrepreneurs
  4. Create a Chief Learning Officer position for India. The CLO will be responsible for all mission-level outcomes and will coordinate and partner with other initiatives and agencies. This position can be complemented by the positions of Chief Academic Officer, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Operations Officer or equivalent. States could have similar positions.
  5. Completely revamp and promote the use of edTech starting with all open and distance learning institutions, teacher education institutes, departments of education and institutions like NCERT, NUEPA etc.
  6. Ease regulations to use of online learning for credit, subject to an accreditation mechanism to prevent misuse.
  7. Start small and grow organically
  8. The policy goals could also be based around the following major aspects:
    1. Infrastructure: Energy, Computing and Network
    2. Community
    3. Content
    4. Innovation and Entrepreneurship
    5. Policy
    6. Education Technology and R&D

Note: These are further detailed in the Appendix II.

Expected Outcomes

Conceived and implemented properly, the mission level focus could deliver on many fronts such as:

  1. Designated stakeholder entities/institutions reliably connected, trained and supported
  2. edTech champions (teachers, administrators and experts) trained to harness the network potential across India that can handle Higher Education, VET and School Education teacher capability building
  3. Aggregation and implementation/deployment of all past and current technology and content initiatives for Technology enabled learning or ICT enabled learning
  4. Development of rich interactive media content as necessary
  5. Cutting edge IP in administration, collaboration, learning, content and assessment technologies (among others)
  6. Teacher certifications and the building up of Teacher Assessors and Mentors
  7. Awareness generation and capability building across all HE
  8. R&D centres dedicated to evolving edTech
  9. Internationally recognized PhDs
  10. Highly productive and cutting edge global partnerships
  11. Many Ed Tech startups incubated
  12. A large number of disadvantaged individual or small scale businesses granted funds and supported by the mission
  13. Inclusive and equitable strategy, tuned for excellence

This is a scalable approach from which we can derive a high quality, continuously adaptive & improving growth engine for India.

Appendix I

ICT Vs. edTech

So far Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been treated as the most important focus in education. It is obvious to appreciate how digital technology can help connect people, disseminate information and empower people and processes with necessary tools. This is our idea of ICT, which is a widely recognized paradigm since the late 90s.

But ICT for Education (also called Technology Enabled Learning) and education technology (edTech) are two very different domains.

Key Differences

To understand why education technology is so different from ICTs, one needs to understand the limits of ICT. ICTs are mainly concerned with the following:

  1. Establishing networks – developing physical and Wireless networks like the NKN and NMEICT (also underlying newer and wider initiatives such as Digital India and Smart Cities) to enable people and devices to connect, communicate and share data and voice services.
  2. Building Applications – conceivably every area of operations needs applications for automation to bring about large scale efficiencies, decrease response times and increase accuracy. ICTs enable these and we have made significant progress using ICTs for automation, even in education. Apart from automation of public services, the other significant uses include analytics, research & development and public security.
  3. Content Creation and Dissemination – a large effort arising out of ICTs is in the creation and dissemination of information. For public or private use, using ICTs for content dissemination is a necessary tool.

However, edTech is concerned with not just the specific applications of ICT for the Education system, but more importantly, the development of altogether new techniques and methods specific only to the education system. Some of these very specific areas include:

  1. Course creation – establishing content taxonomies, re-usable learning assets, metadata, building adaptive content, reusable competency definitions are all activities in the edTech domain but find no similarities in the ICT domain.
  2. Course delivery – learning paths, personalized learning, mentor and coaching models, proctoring, andragogy and self-directed heutagogical learning, badging & certifications, gamification, Augmented Reality – are all terms not to be found in any ICT vocabulary
  3. Analytics – academic analytics, learning analytics, social network analysis, sentiment analytics, digital identity are all specific to edTech, but often conflated with business intelligence paradigms. In fact, Learning Analytics models have been proven to identify at-risk students (sort of an early warning system that can help us much more than post-facto PISA type of analytics)

Digital courseware content is usually clubbed with ICTs (e.g. the largest content development initiative is the National Mission on Education using ICT). However, edTech champions would strongly differentiate the type of content, its developmental process, tools, delivery techniques and quality assurance to the point where it has no resemblance to the same types, processes, tools, delivery and quality assurance of other forms of ICT driven content.

To give an example, creating a video and posting it on Youtube would be classified as an ICT skill. When imparted as a skill to educators, they would be trained in creating videos and pushed to generate Youtube (or other) video content for their students. However, a video does not equate to an educational experience without many other pedagogical components such as interactivity, student progress tracking and analytics of various kinds.

This is the reason why, in the rush to create content since the NPTEL started, we still do not have any way to know how students and teachers are in fact interacting with and using the content, and to what outcomes. We just know video views and unique users, which are important ICT based statistics, but not significant enough if we want to understand if the students actually learnt something using the videos. The same holds true for almost all the components of the 4-quadrant model created under the NMEICT/NPTEL. Creating a Youtube channel for a course, is perhaps the most primitive and inaccurate step taken to disseminate the educational content.

In the area of MOOCs, a similar issue confronts us. When viewing the MOOC as a way to broadcast video lectures and objective tests, with or without facilitation (blended models of MOOCs), we are in fact doing great injustice to how MOOCs were initially conceived and implemented – the early MOOCs showed that education technology could be harnessed to help learners learn via networks and to regain control over their own learning through community interaction and reflection. However, the ICT view of courses is so widespread that MOOCs have become only a wellspring of static content, not interaction.

There are many other examples that can be taken that show how mistaken the conflation of ICT with edTech really is. This conflation is also visible in funding decisions by the government and in government policy. While there is a significant infrastructural investment in ICTs to be made, there is negligible effort in promoting edTech, and an even more fragile appreciation that edTech also requires research and development investment.

We must have a clear focus on edTech. This is crucial given the path-breaking initiatives for a digital and self-reliant India, the problems of access, quality and equity, the problems of governance of education and the diversity inherent in our education system.

Appendix II

Infrastructure: Energy, Computing and Network

  1. Provision of affordable and reliable power, computing and network services to selected entities involved in education.
  2. Provision of and integration with existing technology, content repositories and other services on a nationwide network (aggregate all existing efforts in technology, content and R&D) by a core team of 50 Ed Tech professionals over 5 years with support from existing initiatives
    1. Identity Management: The ability to uniquely identify a stakeholder and reach out to through multiple identified channels
    2. Campus ERP: A minimalistic ERP system that is based on a SaaS model
    3. Knowledge and Community Networking Services: A mechanism for dissemination and sharing information for, by and of the networks
    4. Communication & Collaboration Services: A mechanism for collaboration
  1. Virtual on-demand classrooms
  2. Audio and Video Conferencing, including application sharing
  • FM and Community Radio interfaces
  1. Satellite based two-way interactive TV

Community

  1. Creation of an elite cadre of 170,000 EdTech champions across the country that shall be certified to create awareness, build & grow educational networks, disseminate information and act as a strategic implementation arm of the MHRD.

Content

  1. Creation of localizable, rich media advanced elearning and offline materials across subjects (including vocational, medical and agriculture, in close cooperation with those and other councils)
  2. Integration of domestic community and Open content repositories through a process of academic, pedagogical and technical validation
  3. Creation of Teacher and Student Resource Kits and kits for assessment of teachers for continuing certification in ET.

Education Technology and R&D

  1. Development of cutting edge technology and EdTech pedagogy by a core team of Ed Tech professionals over 5 years with support from existing initiatives
    1. Personal Learning Environments for every connected person
    2. MOOC based learning environments on demand for community learning initiatives
    3. Social Networking tools for learning, recruitment and professional collaboration
    4. BIG Data Capture and Analytic Services: Provision for data collection services for each node, type of data and type of network. This will involve designing and implementing a single framework for organizing and assessing data, closely integrated with initiatives such as the UID and ERP for HEI. Create the systems for collecting and analysing educational data in ways that make the teaching-learning process adaptive and responsive
    5. Creation and implementation of cutting edge learning content management systems that will allow mass generation of authentic rich media content
    6. Web 3.0 and Semantic Web based development of educational services and applications
    7. Mobile Learning solutions
    8. Offline solutions
    9. Adaptive Learning and Personalization systems
    10. Content Security
    11. Virtual Labs, Simulations and Serious Games frameworks development/procurement
    12. Research and Development in edTech: Establish a mechanism to develop and integrate increasing amounts of intellectual capital/ human resources that can facilitate the network effect and lead & extend the state of the art; development of 500 international level PhD holders in 5 years

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

  1. Provide seed funding of 5 cr for 10 entrepreneurs each year in the field of edTech
  2. Provide 1,000 small scale women, disabled, socially and economically weaker sections INR 5 lakhs grants per year for supporting HEIs with products and services; provide easy loan schemes or microfinance initiatives for this audience
  3. Provide a support system (ET Labs and other institutions) for these ecosystems for design-through-adoption cycles

Policy

  1. Implement edTech certification in teacher career progression (and pay scale) systems; reward performers with more incentives
  2. Process to renew certification (not in terms of the licensed practitioner model that the policy proposes) every year that requires teachers to demonstrate project experience (employing ET in teaching practice evidence) and conform to ET guidelines
  3. Policy for creating champion teachers and teacher assessors
  4. Setting directives and guidelines for the use of funds and for the cooperation between and across MHRD, industry and academia.

Reclaiming SWAYAM

Today’s news article on the SWAYAM MOOCs and open-ness by Anil Sasi of the Indian Express raises some very important questions about the future of MOOCs in this country.

The facts of the matter are as follows. A proprietary rather than open source approach has been adopted because open source seems not be open after all. Choosing EdX, for example, they believe compromises intellectual property and requires a big fee to be paid to MIT (even after EdX, at the behest of IIT Mumbai and MHRD gave over the full source code and support to India in 2013 and assured that all IP will remain with India). Secondly, it seems they believe that open source systems do not have the depth of being able to handle enterprise grade learning environments. Third, this is the conclusion of expert committees of the government after in-depth deliberations, I assume, with a wide range of industry, technical and MOOC experts. Fourthly, the RFP itself built by PwC and the government, the basis of the INR 38 cr project award to Microsoft, is in itself plagiarized and deficient.

This defies logic. A really large part of the world runs on open source. The open source movement has shown that enterprise grade, mission critical applications can be made to work with community support. Total cost of development ownership is lower with use of open source. And open source, by definition, fosters collaboration and innovation.

At the risk of repetition, instead of manufacturing large systems, the government should invest in building API and making integration possible between systems. They should fund edTech startups to build MOOC based learning environments. They should enable an open architecture, not just in technological terms, but also in terms of an open architecture of participation.

How would that work?

On the technology front, let us assume we are API focused. Then we must openly build the following API sets (and more):

  1. User API – API that allows users of different types and institutions to be managed, for different stakeholders and their roles
  2. Identity API – that allows users to be uniquely and securely identified through the course of their life, with probable integrations with other systems like Aadhar
  3. Curriculum API – API that enables metadata and classification systems for content and pedagogy, that brings Corporate, VET, School and Higher education taxonomies together
  4. Assessment API – API that enables taking online assessments of different types, enables proctoring controls, provides secure test-taking and great analytics
  5. Certifications/Badging API – that allows certification/degree providers to create online badges and certificates that can be awarded; secure lifelong eportfolios and linked certificate depositories
  6. Authoring API – that allows quick and easy authoring, review and collaboration
  7. Content Delivery API – API that allows video streaming (live and VOD), CDN-grade access, shared folders and cloud distribution
  8. Network API – that enables social discovery, network and group formations, sharing and amplification and social profile aggregation; building both social and learning graphs
  9. Services API – that enables tutors to connect to students, mentors and coaches to their mentees, institutions to parents and so on, and provide services such as fee payments, digital and offline educational content, tutoring, adaptivity, virtual classrooms and so on.
  10. Andragogy/Heutagogy/Pedagogy API – that enables different techniques to teaching-learning to be used as desired by teachers and students, e.g. blended models or SPOCs.
  11. Learning Analytics API – that provides new ways of deciphering engagement, learning and interaction.
  12. Language API – that enables multi-lingual content and internationalization

(Remember that technology and all this talk about API is merely the greasing in the wheel. The real work is in exploring new paradigms of teaching and learning, especially online and blended. And this does not mean building online courses and calling them MOOCs.)

These API sets (and others I may have missed) would need to be supported by a strong developer program, funds allocated for several incubation initiatives with participation from private funds, R&D labs, education programs to build engineers and architects of future learning environments and many more. important aspects known to us from the experimentation & learning of the open community in discovering what works at scale.

Now imagine a time when these API are available (in fact a large number already are available in the open domain, they just need to be contextualized in some cases) for use by indigenous developers. They are not starting from scratch. They are not restricted by a monolithic RFP or scope. They are not constrained to be this one very large proprietary solution (although some may want to build such systems on top of the open stack, which is just fine). If things go well, a number of people will focus on developing alternative solutions to pieces of the puzzle, while others will integrate them into solutions that can be used in different contexts. No one size fits all.

This will give a boost to indigenous development, which at the current time is laboriously trying to build each component. It will bring about that strategic 10x inflection in edTech in India enabling thousands of providers, who are operating mostly in isolation, to get a framework around their efforts and build for scale. Strategic funding for R&D will help us achieve breakthrough innovations in teaching and learning at all scales. Private sector funding of edTech will find a purpose.

This is what the government should do. And only a government can achieve this at strategic scale, tying up all the piece of the supply and demand chains, particularly in a system so dominated by public education.

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