New Delhi: At a time when the central government is mulling how to regulate the mushrooming EdTech (education technology) sector in the country, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh are already working to bring in some changes in the ecosystem.
These states are putting in place a framework of parameters which EdTech companies must meet to provide content for smart classrooms in select government schools.
The three states are ensuring that the content provided by EdTechs is homogeneous across schools and aligns with the course content of State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) textbooks.
While Uttar Pradesh will have its own group of trained experts within SCERT who will vet the content of the EdTech companies, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have roped in consultants from the private sector for the job.
Central government’s think tank NITI Aayog, too, has started a pilot programme in 70 schools each in four aspirational districts of Uttar Pradesh — Balrampur, Fatehpur, Sonbhadra and Chandauli — where content developed by an EdTech company is being used to teach students from classes III to VIII. The two-year pilot, starting in April this year, will impact around 70,000 students.
Sources in the NITI Aayog say that if the pilot is successful, it may be implemented in the country’s other aspirational districts, i.e. those affected by poor socio-economic indicators.
The content of the NITI Aayog programme, which puts high emphasis on Personalised Adaptive Learning (PAL), has been selected through a vetting process that rates the quality of learning content on various parameters, including pedagogy, content and software.
Explaining the importance of PAL, an official with the Haryana education department, who wished to not be named, told ThePrint that it is essentially an interactive artificial intelligence–based tool that assesses a student’s learning of every concept and determines the difficulty of the next lesson based on their previous performance.
The development comes after an advisory was issued by the central government in December 2021 following several instances of malpractices being reported. It asked students and parents to be cautious before signing up for any online courses.
“Do not trust the ‘success stories’ shared by EdTech companies without proper check as they might be a trap to gather more audience,” Dr Subhas Sarkar, minister of state for education, had said.
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What are states doing
In Uttar Pradesh, the government will set up a validation committee that will check for content and technology that the EdTechs will offer for use in the government’s 18,000 smart classrooms across upper primary schools that will come up this year, said Vijay Kiran Anand, director general of school education in Uttar Pradesh, to ThePrint.
The state government, however, is yet to select the EdTech company.
The content taught in these classrooms will have to be in tandem with the SCERT and a trained “content validation committee” will vet the content of EdTechs bidding for the project, Anand said.
According to him, the government will distribute 2.9 lakh tablets to school teachers from the upcoming academic session, starting June. The initiative, costing over Rs 600 crore, will be utilising funds from the state as well as the centrally sponsored Samagra Shiksha scheme, he added.
“We will be creating an entire ecosystem of effective learning and teaching where everything — right from content, software, technology, assessment and maintenance, among other things — will be provided to the schools,” Anand said.
Meanwhile, Haryana was way ahead in the game — it was the first state to adopt tablet-based personalised learning.
In May last year, the government used evaluation by EdTech Tulna to select the EdTech partner for providing software and content using PAL in the 5 lakh tablets distributed among school students in Haryana under the e-Adhigam scheme.
Created by IIT-Bombay and Central Square Foundation, Tulna is a research-based “EdTech product evaluation index” that can be used to review existing EdTech products against a quality framework.
It focuses on the evaluation of the design of products along three constructs — content quality, pedagogical alignment, and technology and design.
In Madhya Pradesh, the government has mandated that only those EdTechs will be preferred that score high on the three parameter frameworks designed by Tulna.
The state’s education department had released a Request for Proposal, seen by ThePrint, last year with the intention of setting up technology labs in 2,592 government schools across 52 districts to adopt PAL for classes VI to VIII. The selection of EdTechs is still underway, ThePrint has learnt.
ThePrint reached Rashmi Arun Shami, principal secretary of the school education department in Madhya Pradesh, via calls and messages. The report will be updated once a response is received.
Tulna is not only being used by Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. Even NITI Aayog is using it to vet the content and software to be provided by EdTechs.
Mohit Bahri of GDi Partners, a consulting firm working for NITI Aayog, said the project is first-of-its-kind where compensation to the EdTech involved will be based on the learning outcomes of the children. To ensure that the best quality content was employed, IIT-Bombay created a special rubric to vet the AI softwares.
“The need for top-notch PAL content was so important that the Request For Proposal mentioned that EdTech platforms with ratings published on Tulna platform will be given a preference,” he added.
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Discussions around regulation
While the Union government is yet to come up with regulatory guidelines for the sector, a group of EdTech companies in January 2022 came together to form a self-regulatory body — India EdTech Consortium (IEC) — to protect consumer interests and streamline operations.
Experts believe that the EdTech ecosystem in India currently faces key challenges due to lack of quality standards for EdTech companies coupled with a high degree of information asymmetry.
Anil Swarup, former secretary with the education ministry, who is also on the advisory board of Tulna, said that the Union government should not regulate the sector as it lacks the tools to do so and because it could usher in “inspector raj”.
“Instead, using an assessment framework like Tulna will help the market evolve and the users make informed decisions. The government may very well acknowledge such parameters and then let the market forces determine the value of such tools.”
“This platform in its essence is an enabler, which will ensure that quality content is selected by smart end users,” he explained.
Jairaj Bhattacharya, co-founder of ConveGenius, an EdTech social enterprise, told ThePrint that state regulation in the industry will simply mean evolution of the industry.
Comparing it to the telecom sector, he said, “If there is such evaluation, it will raise the bar and give stakeholders a certain quality of content to expect. Eventually, every industry gets commodified. Like how Indian Standards Institute, or Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) give quality certification, the EdTech industry can have its equivalent as well.”
The Noida-based company has won the bid for the implementation of the NITI Aayog project mentioned above and is in the stage of installation of hardware in schools across these districts.
(Edited by Richa Mishra)
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