During the virtual orientation, the AIF Fellowship Class of 2020-21 was given an overview of the American India Foundation’s (AIF) commitment in catalyzing social and economic change through high impact interventions in the fields of education, livelihood and public health. Coming from an education background, I found the programs of Digital Equalizer (DE) and Learning and Migration Program (LAMP) very inspiring and was keen on visiting the project sites in person to acquire a more nuanced understanding of the impact of technology based learning on students learning levels as well as the ramifications of migration on children’s education. Since my Fellowship host location is in Gujarat, I undertook an exposure visit in the districts of Surat and Dang for DE and LAMP programs respectively.
Currently, the Digital Equalizer program is running across 18 government schools in Surat integrating STEM education into classroom learning for children in grades 6-8. With funding support from Larsen & Toubro, the American India Foundation has provided science and math activity kits to under resourced schools to foster experiential learning as well as bridge the digital divide with the provision of a computer and projector in the classroom. The AIF facilitators are responsible for identifying age appropriate digital content in the form of presentation decks and videos as well as supporting the teachers in preparing formative assessments to continuously monitor children’s learning levels and close on the learning gaps.
By leveraging technology into classroom pedagogy, the traditional approach of chalk and duster has paved way for student directed classroom engagement. The Digital Equalizer (DE) and Flipped Methods are two progressive approaches used in the classroom space to improve upon students’ learning outcomes. The DE approach emphasizes on student engagement to first consolidate upon the learning before proceeding with the lesson. During instructional time, the teacher takes help of digital contents such as ppts and videos that have already been mapped to the curriculum by the AIF facilitators to further build upon the student’s understanding of the topic. In the project based learning, students undertake experiments suggested in the NCERT book as well as develop similar models displayed in the activity kits before reflecting upon their learning by completing a set of questionnaire in the worksheet. The Flip Method approach on the contrary to DE is not a teacher driven classroom engagement. Once the content is screened before the class, students are made to sit in peer learning groups. Teachers’ play the role of active facilitator to ensure everyone gets a fair chance to contribute to the group discussion and that there is no misunderstanding in any of the concepts. Finally, the students are given an assessment to review upon their learning.
The National Education Policy “emphasizes on conceptual understanding rather than rote learning” (NCF 2020)  . The culture of rote learning is largely still present today across both government and private schools wherein children are made to “recall facts and demonstrate routine skills without understanding their basis or when to use them” (CCS 2001) . The National Curriculum Framework notes, “We have bartered away understanding for memory-based, short term information accumulation” (NCF 2005) . To address the culture of rote learning, the NEP 2020 suggests constructive teaching learning environments in classrooms and flexible adaptation of the school curriculum as per the local context and children’s learning needs.
While interacting with school leaders across three government institutions, I learnt that they were all very supportive of the Digital Equalizer program given the improved learning outcomes in children for math and science subjects. The technology contributed in bridging the digital divide, reducing the fear of learning and transforming the classroom space from rote learning to a more experiential dynamic approach in which students learn by doing, thereby, connecting classroom learning with their day-to-day lived realities.
Last year, during the prolonged months of school closure in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIF facilitators were the first to initiate online learning for children in the DE partnered schools. They first collected children’s names and phone numbers from the school teacher and then reached out to them personally over the phone before sending across videos and worksheets on WhatsApp. For those children who got access to their smartphones only by the evening were reached out separately and were likewise sent voice notes with necessary instructions. The resourcefulness of the DE team to reduce the learning loss in children actually helped the government teachers later to quickly adapt to online teaching using WhatsApp as the digital medium of instruction.
The parents’ community has been supportive of the DE program because children have started regularly attending school given the dynamic teaching methods and experiential nature of learning in classrooms. The facilitators informed me that parents whose children study in nearby private schools have been inspired by the technology based learning environment in government schools and assistance provided by the AIF facilitators to bridge the learning gaps of children early in the pandemic. In view of the constant support provided by the DE field team to improve upon the learning outcomes of children in government schools; many parents in the locality have started considering government schools as a better alternative to low fee private schools given the project based learning and digital classroom transaction.
 National Education Policy (2020).
 Centre for Civil Society (2016). Report on Budget Private Schools. Chapter V: Discussion on education outcomes in budget private schools based on data from large-scale assessments studies.
 Ministry of Human Resource Development [MHRD]. (2005). National Curriculum Framework.