Making technology in schools effective - Hindustan Times
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Making technology in schools effective

ByHindustan Times
May 20, 2024 03:13 PM IST

Authored by - S Suresh Kumar, commissioner of school education and principal secretary, skill development and training, government of Andhra Pradesh.

Just as technology has fundamentally transformed several facets of our lives, it can also strengthen our government school programmes. School education departments across the country have recognised this; more than 3,900 crores was budgeted last year for providing computer labs and smart classrooms in government schools under the Samagra Siksha scheme. While budgets are an important step in ensuring technology is available in government schools, it is quality implementation that helps deliver the promise of better learning to our students.

Students studying at secondary school in Prayagraj. (Pic is for representation)
Students studying at secondary school in Prayagraj. (Pic is for representation)

The department of school education, Andhra Pradesh has seen great results in the adoption of the Personalised Adaptive Learning (PAL) programme in computer labs in government schools by focusing on rigorous implementation. Over the past year, we were able to drive a fivefold increase in the usage of PAL software by students of Grade 6 to 9 in 560 schools, benefitting more than 1.5 lakh students in improving their maths skills.

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Be clear on the why: We had identified that students in secondary schools were struggling with maths, and it was taking a lot of time and effort for the teachers to bring lagging students to grade level — a problem exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. We were informed by research studies from across the world that suggested that PAL helps weaker students bridge their learning gap and reach grade level. Hence, we deployed PAL software in the computer labs of 560 government schools in 18 districts.

We saw that having clarity on the ‘why’ helps sharpen the programme design and build alignment. For instance, PAL is an individualised intervention where every student needs one-on-one time with the solution. Thus, we need to maximise the number of devices in the computer lab. We explored several combinations within the available budgets and were able to provide 30 devices per lab. These devices varied between tablets, laptops, and computers based on the options available.

We further committed to the ‘why’ of this initiative by partnering with the University of Chicago and Central Square Foundation to study the impact of this intervention on student learning, especially that of the relatively weaker students. ProfMichael Kremer, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 2019, leads this partnership.

Make it real for the schools; Traditionally when any new technology provision is made to schools, we send a notification to the district administration and expect it to cascade down to the schools. However, for this PAL initiative, we wanted to help the schools visualise and plan better for the technology they will receive. We facilitated a blend of in-person and online orientation for headmasters and teachers, helping them understand each aspect of the programme. We focused on bringing attention to the problem we are trying to address with this approach. This helped us to achieve a significant buy-in from all concerned stakeholders.

School-level plans specific to the technology being provided were enabled. Given that the programme is an individualised intervention and requires one device per student, physical seating charts at a school level were created. Additionally, wherever the section size exceeded the number of available devices, the sections were split into batches. We also supported schools in creating batch-wise timetables. These steps were taken to ensure optimum usage and device management. Schools also developed individual tracking systems for students to ensure their progress in the PAL lab aligns with what they're learning in their regular classrooms. Further, to address any hardware and software issues, a clear escalation matrix and support structure were established. Offering substantial support to schools for understanding and preparing for the programme has paid off handsomely, fostering a sense of ownership at the grassroots level.

Create visible leadership for the programme: We indicated the importance of the PAL programme to all stakeholders by involving senior officials in the orientation and review meetings. A dedicated nodal officer at the state level supported by district-level nodal officers was nominated to conduct field visits and weekly reviews to troubleshoot further. These reviews also included appreciating school headmasters/ headmistresses and teachers who were delivering consistently high usage. Periodic reviews with senior bureaucrats also ensured that the focus on the programme was sustained throughout the school year.

Define deliverables that can be tracked: Lastly, by understanding the importance of monitoring, we revamped the PAL programme this year by setting trackable goals at the school, district, and state levels. Clear targets of weekly usage for each student were set. Robust dashboards have been created at various levels to capture usage and schools have been directed to sync these devices weekly to ensure seamless usage-data flow.

Equipped with this data, we have been able to conduct effective state-level reviews and provide support to districts that found it difficult to maintain the required usage. Availability of data is a distinct advantage that a technology-led programme can have, implementations that don’t take this into account significantly undercut the potential of the programme.

It takes time and focus to perfect the implementation to move towards student learning improvement. As we go into the next year of the programme, we have identified a few areas that we would like to strengthen to improve the quality of implementation. These include making it easy for teachers to take action using the learning gap data from the PAL platform and minimising setup time to start the programme in parallel with the commencement of the new academic session. As we continue to implement with rigour, we will be able to harness the potential of technology to its fullest in the coming years.

This article is authored by S Suresh Kumar, commissioner of school education and principal secretary, skill development and training, government of Andhra Pradesh.

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