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Archive for October, 2012

In an interesting article in Forbes India by Joshua Kim titled 3 Reasons why India will lead EdTech in the 21st Century, Joshua argues that the next big thing in Education is going to be India.

Josh believes that, firstly, “(T)he reason that the next technology revolution will occur in India is the degree to which the culture prizes learning and scholarship.” The statement does not necessarily hold true because merely having a “culture that prizes learning to a degree” is insufficient to predicate that the culture prizes learning through technology. Also, if other cultures also prize learning, then it automatically does not mean that they will encounter revolutions in technology. In India, it is a great leap of faith to even assume that people (“at every income level”) will pay for educational apps or platforms in any large way, or that there will be any large population that is able to access technology based education solutions like these in the near future. Furthermore, look at the entrepreneurial activity in EdTech – not much to talk about in terms of investment capital or ideas. Perhaps more damning is the realization (at least mine), that faced with lack of choice and awareness, students make choices based on brand, placements and costs, rather than on learning pedagogy or the institution’s use of EdTech. Paradoxically, our culture is also indicative of our democratic inertia and the ability for the vast majority to believe in Destiny.

Secondly, Josh believes there is incredible demand just given the demographics. The Indian projection of HE students is 40 mn by 2020 which will take the creation of 33,000 new colleges. I think we all know the low probability of that supply side infrastructure (physical or virtual) being in place by then or of ramping up in time. Add to that regulatory mechanisms for promoting use of EdTech is going to be severely limited in the near future because of systemic issues, and we simply do not have mechanisms to ensure the supply of critical resources (such as skilled teachers) in the chain. Even from the demand side,  we are fast learning that ability of learners to pay is severely limited and the ability of the government to subsidize education at that scale is severely constrained. What will end up happening is that existing institutions will cut quality to accommodate additional capacity (actually that is happening even as I write this), low quality and higher cost private and public-private institutional alternatives will start emerging and that the progression will be ad-hoc and skewed to meet only a subset of needs.

Thirdly, Josh believes that mobility will drive the vision of classrooms of the future. This presupposes that content exists in 28+ national languages, across all (or major parts) of the curriculum, with skilled facilitators/teachers manning the endpoints, and among other things (not even looking at the abilities of these ubiquitous devices, most of the 850 million are plain text based low cost and low end phones – IBEF estimated smartphones to be 6% of the total in 2011), and degree granting capabilities of institutions leveraging these mobile technologies. This is not even considering that the pedagogical practices based on mobile technologies are, even now, in infancy.

Given all that, and I don’t mean to be pessimistic about the vision of India being an EdTech leader  (which I would perhaps like to see happen more than anyone else in India), I think the three reasons why India will NOT live up to that vision are:

1. India has no concerted strategy to build capability, all its focus is on capacity

This is a showstopper for all EdTech in India. We do not have enough resources (or plan to develop enough resources) that are skilled in building that vision for India, far less for executing any of it. We have very little research in EdTech and very little awareness of what is happening worldwide (particularly in experiences of countries like Africa, who are next in line to gear up to face the impending young, working population boom). We do not have any consolidation of existing EdTech expertise and platforms. Somewhere along the line, I think we are saying (at the Policy maker level) that we have thought enough, and that it is time to execute.

2. We are not leveraging our scale to meet the equally large scale of the challenge

All our approaches are more or less centralized and policy driven with little or no thought given to how we can turn scale to our advantage. In a country of over a billion people, we have just a few million  teachers, very few really skilled educational administrators or planners and no online educational infrastructure worth talking about. There are simple ways to enable local level participation, to decentralize and to even achieve higher quality outcomes.

3.  The Leadership DNA is missing

We don’t have it in the education space. It starts with Policy makers and planners, then with educational administrators, then with academics and goes all the way to the students themselves. The DNA that creates the necessary ecosystems for innovation, invention and implementation is almost absent.

Endgame

While these three reasons may seem pretty damning, the solutions are equally obvious and straightforward. They are also easy to implement and will enable us to meet our challenges and fulfil Josh’s shared vision. We have to build capability, decentralize & democratize the education system and create an ecosystem that enable us to take the leadership position. We have that potential to be the leader. It just remains to be seen if we shall be able to exploit that.

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I had a good time at the Serious Gaming and Social Connect 2012 Conference organized by Christopher Ng and Ivan Boo in Singapore between Oct 4-6. Kudos to the organizers and their terrific effort at getting so many different stakeholders in one place. It was also great to have NASSG members Amruth (Vitabeans), Rajiv (Knolskape), Inder (Wisecells) and a bunch of people from India there. I presented a India Country Update as well.

There were quite a few takeaways for me.  There were a lot of different interpretations around definitions – Serious Games, Gamification, Simulations, AR Games, Virtual Worlds and Social Network based games (no mention of Alternate Reality Games).  These are different genres with different points of relevance.

The conference was not limited to use of these genres in education, but took wider perspectives from other industries such as healthcare and governance, although I have not seen genuine examples of serious games in healthcare and governance yet, and I believe that applications in healthcare and public safety often are mistaken for serious games, when in fact they should fall under the simulations genre.

I gradually realized that Singapore, really all of South East Asia, is really way ahead in terms of games. They are riding on the immense video game and entertainment industry in the region and game makers are slowly exploring the role of these technologies in K12 and Higher Education spaces. Governments also recognize the power of serious games, and edTech infrastructure in solving their educational needs. In fact, Singapore has a target to convert 20% of the curriculum using these approaches by 2015.

There were sessions and discussions around monetization and business models around serious games. In the panel I was on that discussed this issue, I flipped around the question of monetization, especially for the education space, and asked instead what could create value in the mind of the student and the teacher (which in turn will create value for the entire ecosystem). Turns out that it was not an easy question to answer!
We discussed standards as well, in that context and later (in my presentation).

My belief is that we are fast approaching a point where we need standards to be conceived of for this industry. There are obvious benefits (as are there obvious tensions) in this quest, but at some point there perhaps needs to be concerted efforts from a group of stakeholders across the world to put standards in design, development, use and marketing of serious games. Some participants discussed game abuse & psychological problems and suggested a separate rating/certification mechanism for educational games.

As we reach the next inflection point (the industry is already supposed to be USD 3 bn worldwide, some estimates put it at USD 10 bn), accompanying standards will make the key challenge of adoption more tractable and will provide an ecosystem in which production will thrive.

Perhaps even more interesting are initiatives to make game authoring accessible, in an open manner, to educators. Sid Jain from Playware Studios made an impressive case for this. Learning Analytics for games and adaptive learning through game technology also were part of the focus of some of the presenters. A lot of the work happening in the USA was presented by Aaron Walsh @ Immersive Education and Sue Bohle @ The Bohle Company who also leads the Serious Games Association in the USA, who are collating and publish a load of examples and research evidence about the benefits of these game genres.

India has to take a deep look at these genres (so does China, really). Recent experiences with people leading the edTech panels that advise policy makers (and the latter themselves) have shown to me the lack of awareness and appreciation of these genres. Without these, the nascent serious games space will not make much progress.

I came away with the belief that NASSG, the association we have formed for Simulations and Serious Games, has a responsibility and a pivotal role in making this happen. NASSG is now part of a council of South and South East Asian country representative that will contribute to greater collaboration and sharing between countries such as Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and India. There is also now an agenda to hold monthly meet ups across Indian cities and also to host the 2015 Serious Games Conference.

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