Last week, we were in Mumbai working with Tata ClassEdge to explore edtech research and innovation projects in Indian schools. Tata ClassEdge is a recent spin-out from Tata Interactive Services – itself a part of the 100-company Tata Group (revenues 2013-14 $100bn+).
The purpose of the visit was to explore some key research questions in relation to the use of technology in Indian schools:
- How to measure the effectiveness of edtech?
- What impact is edtech having on teaching practice?
- What role will adaptive/personalization technologies play in the future?
To provide some context, Tata ClassEdge have been delivering their teaching platform for Indian schools since 2011. They currently have 1250 schools using the platform, engaging directly with 40,000 teachers and half a million students. That’s in a country with roughly 1.5 million schools, 6 million teachers and 300 million students (Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_India exact numbers are hard to find!).
The ClassEdge platform is currently focused on the needs of teachers, providing a whole series of lesson plans reinforced with media and simulation tools. The platform is delivered in the classroom via a projector – it’s designed to support the teacher by improving curriculum delivery in a traditional classroom setting.
It’s also designed to work alongside more traditional text books. To put that into context, there are roughly 350 publishers and 7600 text books in use across India. Tata ClassEdge have mapped them all to their product.
When they work with a school, Tata ClassEdge provide a whole school solution: the platform and content; technical infrastructure and hardware; competency training for teachers; and, a dedicated support person located in the school for the first year to drive adoption.
This is a practical solution: very few children have access to 1:1 learning devices and class sizes are big. The classroom dynamic is based on a traditional model, with the teacher at the front and the children in rows.
So how does it work in practice? We tool a trip out to Poorna Prajna Education Centre to see the platform in use.
The first thing to note is that this is a big school, with 3000 students across age groups 3-14 (Primary and Secondary students are catered for). The school was founded in 1962 and the building is designed for education – almost all the classrooms are based on an octagonal design to maximize teacher visibility of the class from the front. It’s a private, fee-paying school – however, the school serves the local community and offers free spaces to children from under-privileged backgrounds.
The school is proud of its innovative history with new technologies – they were one of the first in the country to introduce audio-visual technologies into teaching practice in the late 1990s – and the AV suite is still in use today as a teaching and learning resource.
Every classroom has a teaching computer and projector, providing direct access to the ClassEdge platform and content. Internet connectivity is unreliable, so the teachers work offline in the classroom – however, interactions with the platform are logged and provided back for data analytics and usage patterns.
The school staff room includes a planning station – two desktops where teachers can plan and build their lesson plans using the templates provided with the opportunity to add their own resources and personalize the plans. Teachers voluntarily go in to school on Saturday mornings to plan the following week’s lessons.
Classrooms are busy. There can be up to 80 students in a classroom designed for 40 – this is particularly true with the older class groups. There are no student ‘1:1’ devices in the school – however, there is a ‘computer lab’ where students are provided with timetabled access to desktops.
On the day we visited, almost all classes were using the software – teachers were clearly comfortable using it and the students were highly engaged and motivated by the material. Games-based approaches (including a cricket simulation, of course!), interactive resources, videos and multimedia were all being used to great effect. Anecdotally, teachers spoke of the improvements in delivery of the curriculum – and of increased student attainment levels in exams.
Three new students in class for the day
So, what does all this really mean in terms of innovation in teaching and learning?
In a country of over 1.27 billion people, where illiteracy and poverty still affect large numbers of the population, it may seem inconsequential to talk about the impact of edtech on teaching and learning. After all, ClassEdge is currently reaching less than 1% of the student population.
But turn those numbers around: ClassEdge is currently reaching a student population greater than the entire Irish Post-Primary student body. By 2025, India is predicted to overtake China as the most populous nation – and with an average age of just 29 years (compared to 37 for China). If the young hold the key to future economic prosperity, then education will need to play its part.
Changing teaching and learning practices is not easy. How do you introduce changes in teaching practice in a crowded classroom with 80 students? The adoption of the ClassEdge model illustrates an appetite for engagement with technology to drive change. The next step is to evaluate the outcomes and usage of the platform to date – in turn to better understand how the engagement with technology can be better harnessed in the future – supported by appropriate teacher professional development programmes.
In the future, new developments in technologies to support teaching and learning – in particular personalisation and adaptive techniques – can also be employed to improve productivity and learning outcomes. Combining innovative technology with innovation in policy and practice has the potential to deliver transformative and sustainable impact.
We look forward to playing our part in developing a strategic relationship with Trinity College and the Tata Group. It provides the potential for Learnovate and our industry partners to collaborate in the development of innovative approaches to technology enhanced learning in applied settings. Watch this space.