Education Technology – A Privilege Check

This year, all of us got a taste of what online learning looks like. We learned how to adapt with this mode. However, privilege plays a pivotal role in deciding how our learning experiences shapes out to be. 

2020 was a good year for the Ed-tech industry. As learning moved online, India’s ed-tech sector, understandably got a chance to shine, and to perhaps cast a lasting shadow on the conventional methods of classroom education. There was massive investments in companies like Byju’s, Vedantu, Unacademy etc. which corresponded to record number of users for these companies.  

However, there is a catch. Companies have target audiences, and a majority proportion of India’s students don’t fall in the purview of these companies. The english-first, smartphone friendly lessons provided by these companies cater to an elite, metro audience which make up just a mere 10-20% of the total student population of 285 million. It becomes clear that this private sector is not equally accessible for all.

The onus of imparting equitable online education then falls on “public” edtech structures. Non-profit organisations like Avanti Fellows, Central Square Foundation as well state education departments, and government school teachers have worked together on this. The aim is to send quality vernacular content sponsored by non profits, curated by state education departments through familiar channels, like Whatsapp, TV Channels. 

This frugally funded public ed-tech structure has raked up a user base significant enough to counter its private competitors.

Whatsapp- Affordable Tech

While classes for us shifted to Microsoft Teams and Zoom, for those who can’t afford these data expensive options, WhatsApp became the next best alternative. The messaging service provides a familiar interface for both teachers and parents in the government school structures. Student engagement with learning material sent over WhatsApp has shown great promise.

In stark contrast to this, is the student population of elite schools that charge exorbitant fees. For them, the availability of channels like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams meant that their learning never stopped. Features like “Hand Raising” and “Breakout Rooms” did well in providing a classroom experience akin to normal classes.

India’s  private schools are broadly divided into above three categories. As fees decreases, the schools and the student population they cater to increases.

This gives a feeling of deja-vu, when it was the physical classroom that were used to draw comparison between elite schools and schools for the working class, now it’s access to online classes.

What this means for Higher Education

India has always had a problem with inequitable distribution of education resources. A learning gap has always existed, where those with monetary resources have been able to purchase good education like a commodity. With the pandemic, this learning gap has increased significantly. The major impact of this will fall on the shoulders of the 113 million government school students, who typically study in low resource settings, have limited access to smart phones and online content. This will translate to increased elitism in the higher education.

Abhishek Chauhan

[email protected]

Image Credits : Household Social Consumption on Education in India, Report by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation

Feature Image Credits : Buzzle.com


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