What do you do when Rs. 50,000 crore investment for past 6 years is Locked Down?
Education Is Delhi Government’s Key Unique Political Point (UPP), a differentiator in Indian politics. Yet, COVID lockdowns threatened to derail the competitive advantage totally. The Govt had to respond. And it did. Read this report on some innovative ways Delhi Govt and its “Deptt. of Education” has embraced online digital technologies for education.
Since it came to power in 2015, the AAP government in Delhi has focused on Education like no other government in India. With the Chief Minister committed to the idea that “only education can make India a developed nation” and his Deputy passionate about education, being an ex-teacher himself, the govt set about changing the perception of “Govt run Education”, ie poor quality buildings, dirty toilets, missing teachers, violent students, unmotivated principals and rotting stench of decay in the minds of the public.
AAP committed 25% of its budget to education and set about upgrading infrastructure — buildings, classrooms, equipment; content — new paradigms of teaching / learning; delivery — motivating teacher, global training, mentor teachers and ecosystem — parent involvement thru PTMs and local school management boards.
The result? Delhi Govt schools started to improve its performance by leaps and bounds. Images of swanky buildings, proud kids, motivated teachers, global training trips, vibrant PTMs flooded news media and every nook and corner of India came to know that there was a “new way to run govt schools in Delhi”. Politically AAP won a 2nd term with handsome margin. Socially, the change created will have impact for decades.
A resurgent AAP had huge plans for education in its second term. However, no sooner had it completed its swearing-in, that Delhi was struck by communal riots that took focus away. And even as the Govt mobilized to help the riot victims, COVID-19 struck India. By mid-March 2020, all schools were closed and by last week of March, a national lockdown had been declared.
Lockdown Knocks Off On-Premise Infrastructure & Capability
All the wonderful buildings, smart classrooms, projectors were now idle and mostly inaccessible. Children were home with limited devices (laptops, smartphones), uncertain connectivity (bandwidth) and facing uncertain future on their learning journeys. Teachers had to stay back home and manage home chores, family work. The education team was faced with one of its biggest challenges — how to continue education/learning using available technology and retain the momentum built towards improved learning outcomes.
Enter “Aspiration.ai”, an initiative of Career Launcher, a leader in education technology for past two decades plus. Using its insights, experiences, content, delivery methodologies CL had created a portal for remote learning that had the potential to bring students, teachers, school managers, parents, education administrators (govt officials) on the same platform. The idea was to build a digital supplement to traditional education — host classes, provide on-demand online content, and use digital convenience of anytime, anywhere for 360-degree learning. But it was not tested for massive scale and was designed as a supplement, rather than a primary learning channel.
Exceptional times demand exceptional efforts. And are made possible by exceptional leadership. Once the Delhi education team understood the power of the “aspiration.ai” platform to quickly help them bring the kids onto online learning at the shortest possible notice, they quickly committed themselves to making the most of it and fixing whatever limitations as they went along. The CL leadership also took the exceptional leadership position of offering the entire platform for FREE, knowing that perhaps the platform was under-tested for the scale and putting a value may be premature. A partnership was forged.
The first step towards building an online education delivery program was to ensure that the teachers, who would be the prime vehicles to use the platform, do the lectures, connect with students, engage on chats and offer all the assistance that they usually provide in classrooms and at school, to make the platform their own and get familiar and bought into the promise and capability.
Building Capacity for Online Education Delivery
An Online Educators Certification Program was started:
· 28.3.2020 — Teachers in the govt schools notified about the certification programme
· 29.3.2020 — Best 300 teachers selected from the entire government school system
· 31.3.2020 — Intense, week-long ONLINE EDUCATORS CERTIFICATION programme commenced
· 05.4.2020 — Sixty of the 300, fulfilled all the requirements to graduate from the programme
The teachers had been trained and were roaring to go. The stage was now set to try a pilot with students.
Piloting with Students
The students attending Delhi Govt schools come from a diverse range of social and economic backgrounds and the Govt has been particularly sensitive to offering equality and equanimity to all in its policy and approach. The online world unfortunately is biased towards more affluent families given the need for bandwidth, device availability. The number of students attending class XII is around 1.65 lakh, not a small number by any means.
The solution was in offering both a synchronous (live class) option and an asynchronous (recorded option). Students with devices could access the live class (typically 40% of the students) and those with only 1 device in the family could “catch up” on the class, the discussions, the conversations later.
Although the RPVV / Schools of Excellence teachers and students were provided Tablets earlier, most students did not have access to laptops and used the phones available at home. The Delhi Govt has arranged to pay the internet access fees (Rs. 200/-) per month to enable the access.
The team took a phased approach to on-boarding and scaling to reach all the students.
Phase 1: 6.4.2020–10,000 students commenced their classes
A pilot was started, with 10,000 students, presently in class XI (who will move to class XII next term) onboarded onto the “Aspirations.ai” platform (meaning students were registered with login id, password, class details, teacher details etc). Using the Aspirations tool, students could attend live classes (via Zoom) and interact with teachers. All content was available post live recording for further study. Tests, quizzes, notes, the full range of learning management tools (LMS) was available to enrich the live class.
The students, the smartphone generation, took to the digital platform like ducks to water. In a week’s time 90% of the total students enrolled and registered on www.aspiration.ai, had watched a class, revised, taken the quizzes, done home assignments and submits the doubts. The end-to-end value of the platform was established.
Phase 2: 13.4.2020 — about 60,000 students could access the classes
The feedback and the review from the initial pilot demonstrated that online platforms were powerful tools for educators and the levels of engagement, attention, presentation, questions rose up sharply. The whole extended class (the numbers were in the tens of thousands from 40–60) was totally focused on the lecture and surrounding engagement tools.
The review also showed that the asynchronous option was working well with 90% of students being able to catch up to live lectures and complete their home-work assignments within a week.
Based on this, the coverage was increased to 60,000 students in Phase 2.
[The Aspirations.ai has reported that within a week, over 90% of all students have seen the class video, revised the chapter, taken the quiz, submitted the homework and clarified doubts]
Phase 3: 20.4.2020 — The classes are accessible for all of the 1.65 lakh students
By end of April, over 1.65 lakh students were onboarded on the platform. 3 to 4 classes of 1.5 hour duration were being done daily with a team of teachers from different schools collaborating to manage the lecture, backup to the lecture in case the audio/video had a problem for the primary speaker; managing Q&A and resolving the same, alerting the main speaker of the questions raised; school managers and even government officials attending.
Feedback So Far
The feedback from the experience has been positive all around. Online lectures have reached nearly 40,000 live attendees on some days and teachers are amazed at the ability of online platforms to draw audiences. It spurred them to be more creative in content, interactivity, animations, engagement as the limitations of physical infrastructure were bypassed and the full range of digital options struck home. Teachers are staying up nights to create lectures with videos, images, animations, presentations and brining the best of digital online content into their lectures.
Students are enjoying learning from a panel of teachers, getting attention in front of massive 40k class (solve a quiz and be recognized), the ability to ask questions and get instant answers, the ability to learn at their own pace, the feeling of being part of an innovative and productive new learning model.
Lessons for Educators & Governments
Digital online education is free of geographic boundaries. Already there are requests from teachers from other states to share the video lectures / YouTube links with them so that they may be able to share with their students.
Imagine a situation where the best teachers from across India can collaborate to teach classes of 3–5 lakh students and a panel can interact with them at local levels answering doubts and questions. Imagine the impact of investments in teacher training in Delhi being felt in Madhubani, Bihar or 24 Pargana, Bengal?
Technology Will Evolve
The technologies used to deliver the lecture, store the video, access the video, manage the Q&A may evolve but the direction is clear. Online education can open a whole new learning paradigm for students even after pandemic threat / lockdown is over.
In the Aspiration.ai project, Classes started using video conferencing tools by Zoom. But Zoom was expensive for such a large audience. The team found a way to stream the Zoom content to YouTube which has massive distribution basically free of cost. Now one could have concurrent classes on zoom, streamed to YouTube channels with large audience. Teachers could monitor YouTube for Q&A and 2-way interactivity.
However, as the channel became known and its content quality was recognised, it attracted unwanted audience and some noise crept into the Q&A / comments making it hard for the teacher panel to manage. The team had to move to private YouTube access authenticated by login/password to keep noise away.
What Next? A “New Normal” for Education?
The initial 2-month experiment with “Aspirations.ai’ has shown that governments can offer massive scalable education delivery in controlled measured and regulated environment thru digital platforms.
Asynchronous and Synchronous modes of delivery ensure very high coverage and digital tools can further target and raise flags for those not attending classes / submitting homework.
The quality of content on digital platforms is higher than physical lectures in many cases and will evolve constantly as more teachers add to the content repository. The knowledge base for students is the collective wisdom of the entire teaching community and this has the potential to unlock great value for learners.
The collaborative experience enjoyed by the teachers is showing that a nation-wide collaboration of teachers will be similarly successful and will give both teachers, students and administrators great joy in changing our education system, as many of educators have always wanted to.
The students are getting first-hand exposure to immersive online learning and are being challenged to excel in front of large “class” size. They are exposed to multi-dimensional thinking thru Q&A raised from across the spectrum of students. Many Delhi Govt students for example would not be able to afford to use online education tools but the innovation of their teachers is preparing similarly engaging content for them within the school system.
India Can Become an Online Economy Leader In Education
What remains is using and putting the collective wisdom of the nation, its educators, policy makers, teachers, officers to design a roadmap for massive online shift in our education infrastructure, capability. Let’s become the leading nation on the planet for education. Let’s build new online schools, colleges, universities and offer to the world.
Covid-19 is a forcing function for change. Here’s hoping our governments embrace this change with both hands, feet and every sq cm of skin on their bodies. I am planning to write a separate blog piece going into details of how state govts can embrace digital online platforms and leapfrog the limitations of physical infrastructure neglected since many years. I will also attempt to identify opportunity for Indian education to offer its skills to the world thru the online opportunity window. Stay tuned.
ps — My thanks to Satya, Founder & Chairman at Career Launcher (CL Educate Ltd.) and R. Sreenivasan, Co-Founder for their generous support in sharing details of this innovative experiment.