Reorienting the focus of Indian edtech on the learning needs of the girl child - Hindustan Times
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Reorienting the focus of Indian edtech on the learning needs of the girl child

Jul 19, 2023 08:38 PM IST

Edtech is revolutionizing education for girls in India, overcoming distance and affordability barriers.

Edtech is enabling India to bring education to girls in last-mile areas, rewriting the historic challenges of distance and affordability For generations, girl children have been a group underserved by higher education. They have been held back, to a large extent, because parents have been afraid for their safety while travelling long distances to classrooms and coaching centres. This has historically limited girls from investing the time and effort needed to develop strong conceptual fundamentals.

Reorienting the focus of Indian edtech on the learning needs of the girl child
Reorienting the focus of Indian edtech on the learning needs of the girl child

However, affordable high-speed data and accelerating smartphone access, which has tackled many of the last-mile challenges once considered unsurmountable, is now bringing the benefits of education to them. In this regard, we must acknowledge the role of the smartphone, which in girl students’ hands is serving as a powerful tool of educational inclusion. Particularly telling are the findings of the Central Square Foundation’s Bharat Survey for Edtech 2023, which find that there are no notable variations between school-going boys and girls when it comes to tech access. While 68% of girls shared family access to smartphones (compared to 64% of boys), 7% of boys had ‘dedicated access’ to smartphones (compared to 3% of girls), the survey found. More significantly, half of the children surveyed (of both sexes) were using edtech and spending time in self-learning, with YouTube serving as the most popular self-learning tool. Edtech has brought an ease to understanding complicated issues, enabled them to learn at their own pace, and delivered learning material in a variety of Indian languages. As the findings demonstrate, technology is playing a critical role in taking on many challenges that have kept girls away from school. YouTube, the preferred medium of edtech delivery, is serving them practice exams, lectures, doubt-clearing walkthroughs – in short, everything they need to not only do well in their exams, but also develop the strong conceptual knowledge needed for higher education and beyond.

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The different facets of topics as complex as calculus to differential geometry are explained with minute detail that replaces doubts with certainty to make girls into confident problem solvers. Thus, without stepping foot outside their door, rural girls are getting access to a more level playing field, both at par with girls. Though it is opening doors to inclusive education like never before, Edtech has a much larger role in educating and empowering girls. First, we must acknowledge that simply putting smartphones in the hands of girls is not enough. Unlike the classroom blackboard learning experience which has remained largely static over the decades, tech products, their operating systems and features are being constantly upgraded. For example, only in the past three years of the pandemic has India become confident with workspace chat and videoconferencing tools to replicate the full classroom experience online, even though these technologies predate the pandemic by many years. To ensure that girls are making the most of digital learning products, Edtech companies can consider setting up a network of tech guides at the panchayat or district level to village community level to handhold their customers through the digital learning curve.

Second, content must solve for ease of comprehension and conceptual learning. One of Edtech’s major differentiators in the Indian context has been the well-packaged and detailed educational content that has given girls the reassurance of addressing their fundamentals. Edtech companies must commit to positioning educational content in a way that positions each concept and lesson as yet another learning block, a piece of a puzzle. This will allow students to study with a sense of curiosity and growing confidence. Edtech players must also ensure that their offerings keep in touch with the syllabus transformation envisioned under the National Education Policy. As curriculums evolve from rote and formulaic to progressive and concept-driven, so must the content and pedagogy.

Third, Indian families have strong privacy and safety concerns, especially when it comes to their daughters. Along with ensuring robust security measures over the private data of students, Edtech companies must also ensure an ironclad standard of safe conduct when it comes to remote learning modalities (e.g., classes done via video calls).

Fourth, edtech companies must strengthen their commitment to actively design and roll out offerings that address the needs of girls across all societal strata.

Educated girls can unlock a range of possibilities for themselves, their families, and communities. Emphasis on vernacular language and serving educational content to girls from low-internet connectivity households will ensure that no girl is left behind.

Today, as India addresses last mile challenges through a fast-accelerating digital revolution, we have the opportunity to use a fast-growing arsenal of digital tools to deliver quality learning for girls, from high-tech to low-tech backgrounds. The strong performance by girls in the topper ranks of state board and the central board (CBSE), fairly democratised exams, has set a strong foundation for girls to now take on NEET and JEE and achieve better representation in the IITs. Edtech must embrace this opportunity and continue to democratise education with a greater sense of purpose.

The author is Co-Founder, PhysicsWallah

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