Silent but powerful education revolution taking off in rural India
A silent education revolution taking off in rural India, offering valuable insights to educationists, edtech, and the larger developmental sector.
Until very recently in India’s educational history, there was a huge chasm between educational ambition, intent, and actual attainment. On paper, citizens from across the country stood an equal chance of studying hard and using their education as a pathway for jobs in the private or the public sector.
But in very real terms, the cost involved is often prohibitive. Coaching centres directly influence how well children comprehended school curriculums. Cognizant of the role that they play in children’s futures, they charged a hefty premium for helping students tackle answering difficult exam questions.
To put this into greater perspective, India’s exams – GATE, UPSC, Railways, Banking, CTET, CA, NEET, etc. –are acknowledged are some of the world’s toughest. Consequently, aspirants travel from coaching institute to institute to simultaneously prepare for each exam, constantly navigating a tough cadence of copious and nuanced notes, daily assignments, and weekly tests.
For an education system which has only recently begun putting conceptual learning over rote – a major priority of the National Educational Policy 2020 – these after-school tuition lessons are mission-critical to the kind of problem-solving that these exams need. But the fee goes into lakhs, automatically shutting the doors to those whose parents cannot afford the classes. Thus, while the exams are open to all, they are actually relevant to those who can afford the gruelling months of preparation. This is the Indian context of education that has been needed to be solved for.
However, a silent but powerful education revolution is now taking off in rural India. It offers valuable insights to educationists, edtech, and the larger developmental sector.
First, democratising – and revolutionising – education
Every day, tens of millions of Indian students are logging on to YouTube to get the latest notes, practice exams, lectures, doubt clearing walkthroughs - everything they need to take on exams. The prep material is trusted by students because it is created and rolled out by educators and content creators with first-hand experience of these exams. The material is usually available for free, if not for a fraction of the fees of coaching institutes; more importantly, it can be watched again and again, the nuances of tough topics like differential geometry made easier through step-by-step problem-solving.
Second, decoupling learning from rote
The NEP’s offensive on rote learning has struck a strong chord in the education community because it has been an enduring and formidable challenge with lasting impact. The poor educational outcomes that come from rote learning can be held liable for the lack of job-readiness that India Inc regularly points in their fresher workforce. In this regard, the large volumes of videos focussed on conceptual learning allow students to develop foundational learning blocks at their own pace and fill in the gaps. Freed of depending on memorisation, students are more than exam-crackers – they are problem solvers. Imbued with a stronger grasp of the inner workings of the sciences, today’s conceptual learners can put India’s education system on a trajectory of greater academic confidence.
Third, decoupling money from merit
Parents who spend large volumes towards exam coaching do expect a return on investment – nothing less than stellar results -- putting students under inordinate amounts of pressure to perform. While the competitive nature of India’s exams cannot be done away with, e-learning at least gives them a level playing field, placing them at par with students who can afford the coaching, and in a way, supports the government’s goal of educational equity.
Fourth, reducing the pressure on India’s education ecosystem
The transition away from rote learning and towards conceptual learning cannot happen overnight. Conceptual learning requires more time and individualised attention per student, a challenge amidst a nationwide shortage of teachers. It also requires students to study with a sense of curiosity and the awareness that every chapter is yet another learning block, a piece of a puzzle.
Depending on coaching institutes to fill in learning gaps is not only unaffordable for India’s masses, but also runs the risk of merely spoon-feeding students. Nor does paying the coaching fees actually translate to the assurance of learning. On the other hand, online classes, with their focus on breaking down the material into consumable, well-explained learning packages, offer a better chance of igniting student curiosity and interest. They are also more relevant to students in a Digital India, as they are accustomed to consuming information on-demand and being constantly informed and updated with a regular feed of information. It is also the closest that many students will come to personalised learning.
Fifth, bridging the gender education divide
Rural and tier-2/3 India poses an enduring last-mile challenge: Classrooms and coaching institutes are often far from home. The distance can discourage parents, particularly those with daughters, from sending them out to the coaching institutes. However, as Central Square Foundation’s Bharat Survey for EdTech (BaSE) 2023 found, there are no notable variations between school-going boys and girls when it comes to access to technology for learning. Most Indian rural households have at least one smartphone and internet access, and half the surveyed children reported self-learning through Ed-Tech, mostly through YouTube, citing the ‘ease of understanding of complicated topics. Distilled, the survey’s findings indicate that students, both boys and girls, are using digital learning in greater numbers.
That a critical mass of students is shaping their educational journeys, unencumbered by the legacy challenges of money or physical distance speaks to the power of the online learning platform. Much like UPI did for financial inclusion, online video is seamlessly evolving into a pillar of educational inclusion, empowering students from all strata of society.
(Author Alakh Pandey; CEO & Founder Physics Wallah. Views expressed here are personal.)