Digital learning and the key role of vernacular languages

  • Edtech platforms, with regional language content, are stepping in to fill the learning gap that was exacerbated by the pandemic. 
The NEP 2020 also stressed the need to bridge the gap between the language spoken by the child and the medium of education. (Getty Images/iStockphoto) PREMIUM
The NEP 2020 also stressed the need to bridge the gap between the language spoken by the child and the medium of education. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Published on May 20, 2022 06:16 PM IST
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In 2020, an India Spend analysis of data from around the world stated that early education in a child’s mother tongue can improve learning, increase participation, and decrease dropout rates. Over the past few years, as debates on the criticality of regional languages continue to crop up, these statistics prove, at the very foundational level, why local languages hold one of the keys to a well-rounded education.

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 also stressed the need to bridge the gap between the language spoken by the child and the medium of education. This is by ensuring that all children from classes 5 to 8 are taught in their mother tongue. In the school system, teachers are crucial players, which is why the policy also highlights the need for quality recruitment and the personal and all-round development of teachers.

A major concern that emerges with the implementation of the NEP 2020 is the quality of educational content in regional languages along with the skill levels of teachers, especially at the primary level. This is where education technology (edtech) can step in to fill implementation gaps to train and assist teachers.

This becomes crucial especially today due to the learning loss that many students have faced due to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupted the education system. With personalised content on various edtech platforms, the ease of tailor-made classes in native languages will aid in future-proofing India's school system through technology.

However, while the NEP has regarded three years old to be the age of a "formal entry point in education", it is only after about 20 years that the person is ready to enter the job market. Therefore, there is a need to inculcate soft skills and holistic learning early, to ensure that in 20 years, every student is employable. To achieve this, children must be exposed to educational content that is innovative and interactive, along with content that contributes to elevating their conceptual understanding. Here, vernacular solutions bridge the language gap in understanding and education, thereby democratising education at a foundational level. Since the best learning happens when communication is seamless, regional language education contributes to guaranteeing better comprehension. Edtech platforms offer these simple solutions.

The boom in edtech is not new; digital learning has been a part of our education system for some time now. The renewed focus on education because of the fallout caused by Covid-19 has just catapulted the attention needed to tier-two and tier-three cities. Where once edtech companies focused on bringing cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions to an English-speaking audience, the current startups are turning their focus to one of the key obstacles in Indian education: The language barrier.

 

As per the 2011 population census, 96.71% of the Indian population speaks 22 languages and more than 19,500 dialects. With increasing digital penetration in India and the popularity of platforms such as YouTube and Instagram among others, the way for a widely accessible medium of expression has been paved. In the education sector, creating greater demand for edtech can create an education boom in tier-two and tier-three cities.

As the learning-employment wheel turns, e-courses in vernacular languages are aiding in job creation, thereby, further fuelling the demand for vernacular content. While knowledge of English is still a crucial job skill, especially in urban India, it should be taught as an addition to an existing system. The employability gap that was created by a lack of its knowledge needs to be filled in languages that ease comprehension for learners and job seekers.

From an industry standpoint, as per a MarketsandMarkets estimate, the global edtech and smart classroom market size is expected to grow from $85.8 billion in 2020 to $181.3 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.1% during the forecast period. The major factors driving this growth include the increasing penetration of mobile devices and the resultant increase in internet users, the gaps in education caused by Covid-19 which prompted the growth of blended learning — a combination of online and offline learning to keep the education system from halting if another crisis emerges.

As Covid-19 highlighted this urgent need for online learning, it also exacerbated the digital divide and pushed for an urgent impetus to get digital learning solutions to every corner of India. At such a time, the need emerged for platforms to not only offer learning within the confines of one's home, but also to ensure that digital accessibility — in terms of language as well — was available.

The task ahead to ensure and promote digital literacy among India's youth is becoming clearer every day. The country's edtech companies must leverage the existing market in smaller towns and cities, expand their businesses, and work with the government to ensure that public-private partnership results in advanced pedagogy. Private players can work with the government and ensure easy, accessible, and affordable technological solutions in the academic space. As Union education minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, recently highlighted, there is a need to empower the youth by providing them with skill development and digital training. He further said that India’s potential is the 53-crore youth of the country. He also emphasised that students must aspire to become employers, instead of studying to be employees.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to harness the existing potential and usher in an educational revolution riding on the wave of digitisation in India. Only then can one ensure that, in matters of education and learning, no child is left behind.

Himanshu Gautam is the co-founder and CEO, Safalta

The views expressed are personal

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Sunday, July 03, 2022