Worldwide, 91% of children go to primary school, but 68% of them will reach the last grade of primary without minimum levels of proficiency in reading. [i]
Data that reports the deficiencies of primary and secondary education, is almost a daily feature in the media now. This, despite additional resources provided by the governments and regulations put in place, such as providing mid-day meals.
Fifteen years ago, in 2004, the American India Foundation decided to experiment with an innovative approach called Digital Equalizer to reduce the gap in learning outcomes across public schools in India by using technology in classrooms. 70% of India’s children go to public schools, and by definition, the most under privileged children end up in these schools. The journey since then has been more of experimenting with what works and customizing the approach to meet the demand gap.
Students, teachers, and parents are eager to move away from rote learning – the “chalk & talk” method or “see and repeat” process where students are expected to memorize and regurgitate. Rote learning has several drawbacks: the community does not feel connected to the school system; teachers are not empowered to create change; and critical thinking is not part of the curriculum.
Students want to learn how to think for themselves – Young people are eager to learn by doing and want to put their knowledge into action. 65% of the children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist [ii]. Students want to work individually and in teams to solve problems, understanding that there are multiple ways to get to similar outcomes.
Addressing the Need
According to the latest UDISE data, only 41% of public schools in India have access to technology. This places them at a significant disadvantage to prepare students for the knowledge economy. Many international development actors view technology as essential to meeting the UN’s SDGs, which call for inclusive and quality education for all.
AIF’s Digital Equalizer program works in under resourced public schools across India, using technology to transform classrooms into dynamic places to teach and learn. AIF believes in the teacher as the agent of change and empowers teachers to be more effective while motivating and inspiring students to continue their education and open doors of opportunity. Today’s students are fundamentally different from students 30 years ago. Given the technology revolution, students have more screen-interface than ever before.
How it Works
Digital Equalizer partners with state governments, leveraging existing infrastructure, investment, and mandate. By using a blended learning model, Digital Equalizer complements content delivered in classrooms by teachers resulting in increased student engagement. Students also learn the digital skills they will need later in life. Most importantly, the program recognizes the role of the teacher as an agent of change, and empowers teachers to be more effective while motivating and inspiring students to continue their education. At the core of the program lies the principle that technology is not a replacement for teachers, rather it is a solution that enhances the work of educators, resulting in high-quality teaching and collaborative learning in the classroom. The goal of Digital Equalizer is improved learning outcomes.
Digital Equalizer creates impact by:
- Training teachers on pedagogy and technology in under-resourced government schools
- Complementing content across subjects including Science, Mathematics, Humanities and English as well as other components which are important for children – IT, Financial Literacy and WASH and Hygiene
In 2018-19 alone, there were significant measured improvements [iii]
- 13% increase in the learning outcomes of Math, Science, and Social Science
- 96% teachers use technology in the classroom
- 30% reduction in absenteeism
Since 2004, Digital Equalizer has reached close to four million students and trained 150,000 teachers across 15 states of India.
The success of AIF’s Digital Equalizer program lies in its earliest and strongest advocates who placed their unflinching support, namely Kumar Malavalli, who gave the first million-dollar grant to the program fifteen years ago, enabling what was then merely an idea to turn into an actuality; the Desai-Sethi Foundation; Satjiv Chail; Cognizant; The Hans Foundation / RIST; Citi Foundation and Dell Technologies, to name a few.
The world needs 16 million teachers to reach universal education by 2020. Governments often see the first priority as increasing supply, rather than improving quality. After they graduate, few teachers receive additional training. By building the capacity of teachers and improving last-mile service delivery, Digital Equalizer focuses on integrating technology and teaching, so that children can have a better learning experience and are prepared for a digital future. Educators’ in-person ability to engage with students is bolstered, as also classroom participation from the students. In some cases, Digital Equalizer has also customized content to local languages, context, and culture. What began as an innovative attempt to bridge the educational and digital divide has now evolved into evidence that low-cost integration of tech in teaching and learning can demonstrate significant results – something that we hope will champion its role in the classroom with decision makers in Government as well as non-state actors and corporates.
-Rowena Kay Mascarenhas
[i] Source: “UIS Fact Sheet” UNESCO 2016.
[ii] Source: “The Future of Jobs” World Economic Forum 2016
[iii] Source: External evaluation study conducted by Karvy Insights (2018-19)