A rant and a wishlist for ed-tech in India

(This article was “written in public”. After a skeleton draft was posted on LinkedIn and Twitter seeking feedback, the attributed responses below were used to further refine and add to the key takeaways.)

The term “Ed Tech” feels like an oxymoron in India, an attempt to change the cover of a book when the book itself needs a replacement. Most technology-first solutions attempting to revamp education in India are primarily using the scale, speed, and standardization of technology to accelerate the adoption of an outdated educational experience. An enterprise architect himself, Vivek Anand, shared his experience of attempting free trial lessons for his son from some of the ed-tech start-ups. He states that the one-size-fits-all approach leads to poor user engagement.

True education reform in India is primarily a service-design problem, not a technology issue alone.

What qualifications do I have to censure what is purported to be approximately a $2 billion industry in India in 2020? None. However, as a parent of two, I am exasperated to observe the infatuation with technology alone to solve what is inherently a human experience problem.

Swetha Ramaswamy, a UX designer, agrees here that “ed-tech is a service design problem”. She further contends from her mother’s experience as a teacher that “teachers have more insight into this problem, more than designers, business people or technologists”.

Outside of a few exceptions that are accessible only in the cities for a premium, there are very few bright spots in search of an education reinforced for the future for more than half of India that is expected to live in rural areas at least for the next 3 decades.

Like most service-design problems, creating an educational experience for the future will require starting with the end in the mind.

What would a successful education reform look like? And then figure out how much of that can be assisted by technology. As a parent I may be naively optimistic, however, I would love to see these three elements given focus:

1. The educational experience prepares students for jobs that would be relevant 15 years from now, not for the jobs of today

For example, if what you do today has a list of predictable steps over a finite domain of knowledge, someone somewhere is writing code to automate it. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to learn to code (although we should for other reasons). Policy always lags behind technology. For the world of the future, we need cross-disciplinary leaders in business and politics who can blend sociology, economics, and technology to lead the conversation of how technology should evolve to play a meaningful role in our lives before it does its own thing. This will involve experiential learning and a maker mindset.

Amrulla Khan Patan is the founder and CTO for PhyLab and focuses on virtualizing laboratory environments for college students to renew interest in hands-on practical knowledge. His aim is to “enable learn by doing approach in education than reading and learning a concept.”

2. The focus of the education infrastructure extends beyond the students’ experience

The education system of tomorrow should be able to re-imagine and elevate the role of the constituents in the students’ environment, specifically, the teacher and the parents, given how much impact conditioning has on future success. This is especially important when you have one generation with an education experience before the inflection point of the technology boom attempting to prepare a future generation.

Shweta Doshi, a co-founder of GreyAtom, outlines in this thread what a learner-centered school of the future look like where teachers don the role of a facilitator that spans across multiple years of a sustained relationship with students and parents.

3. The educational experience allows an individual to elevate the quality of life

More specifically, no matter where you live, once you have done enough to reasonably meet the basic needs of your lifestyle, the next jump in the quality of your life is not going to come from external factors. It will depend on what you cultivate inside of you — the quality of your thoughts. The education of the future should enable you with life skills to pursue this.

Arnold Mascarenhas is able to relate to the anguish with ed-tech. He is working to bring awareness to vital and relevant life skills for young adults at Lokyatha.

I struggled with these thoughts all of last year. So I thought I would vent it all out and start fresh in the new year. If you know of start-ups and grass root level organizations addressing this the right way and need space to bounce ideas, I would be happy to assist. No strings attached.

In conclusion, I agree with Tanay Pratap when he contends “Money should go in enhancing the experience instead it has gone into running fake ads and hiring more salespeople”. Alongside his engineering gig at Microsoft, Tanay is an online educator focused on helping students get industry ready via neog.camp and roc8HQ. I loved his independently posted analogy:

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