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The explorations made in education during the pandemic have led to several lessons for teaching during normal times.

One major problem in the present way of instruction is the lack of personalized teaching. Ed-tech platforms were used extensively during COVID-19 for home-schooling, and one of the unintended learnings from their extensive use has been that classroom teaching can be made pleasurable and lead to better learning outcomes.

One key takeaway of learning during the pandemic is that it is possible to make the child do what she enjoys doing. For this, a pedagogically sound curriculum is required where the methodology would prompt students to apply their minds, ask questions, communicate ideas, and take up projects. For example, a 30-hour module on running a club could involve mathematics for budget control as well as creative writing or coding a game to bring in fans.

Let us see how teaching Chemistry can be made more interesting. Suppose the objective is to teach a three-hour module on the periodic table in Chemistry. It would start with an interactive session to bring out the elements and their groups or ‘social networks’ of elements, then, go on to experiment with how they react with one another, thereby building deeper engagement than a typical Chemistry lesson.

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In both these illustrations, AI-based real-time analytics could be developed and deployed to assess learner performance and reinforce learning with material that is based on the personalized needs of each student. At the same time, the teacher becomes a facilitator or coach for self-learning and collaboration. A useful digital tool for such coaching is the use of online pods. Each coach could handle online pods for, say, six children at a time, aiming to give enough scope for personalized attention.

The pandemic has also opened up opportunities to use tools for more engaging or holistic learning than mere test preparation, which is what present-day teaching has been reduced to.

One example is to have a play-set with a tray, where kids place letters as is done in Scrabble. But these are smart letters that get connected to a user’s tablet. A digital phonics tutor and a library of downloadable games help the kids learn the sounds of letters and meanings of words until they’re able to start reading on their own.

The new ways of teaching, including increasing emphasis on gamification, is even more relevant for teaching children below seven years of age. Pre-kindergarten years are the most important because this is the time when most of the brain and neural networks are formed, but most Ed-tech platforms are produced for older children and hardly any cater to foundational learning in early childhood. The reason is that it is harder to build content for this segment compared to test prep or teaching algebra to class five students.

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California-based startup Square Panda entered India this year, partnering with State Government organizations to deliver foundational literacy to kids in the age group of 2-8 years. Noted tennis player Andre Agassi, who wrote about his own struggle with schooling in his autobiography ‘Open’, became a leading investor in Square Panda in 2016. The startup sold hundreds of thousands of the USD 99 phygital playsets in the US and other markets like China.

In India, Square Panda was launched about a year ago and is rolling out a programme in Uttar Pradesh government schools and anganwadis where teachers learn to use Square Panda to get young kids up to hone their English. To make it affordable, Square Panda has done away with the play-sets, letting the kids use virtual keypads on smartphones to play around with letters and words in the downloaded games. The startup is in talks with several other states to implement this in 2021.

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Another example is Bengaluru startup Quizizz, whose app enables teachers to engage students with quizzes – it went from 20 million monthly active users (MAU) around this time last year to over 60 million MAU at present.

The market is also recognizing and supporting these frugal innovations in education and Ed-tech has started to attract increasing investments. Nearly $1.1 billion was invested into Ed-tech startups in India in the third quarter of this year. This is almost equal to the total funding made during the previous two years combined. The major companies where investment has gone are: Byju’s – $1.3 billion; Unacademy – $264 million; and $144 million for Vedantu.

Undoubtedly, there are multiple challenges to be surmounted. It is hard to switch over from brick-and-mortar to digital, to communicate the unique value proposition contained in switching over to personalized learning on Ed-tech platforms, and to obtain the buy-in of teachers, students and parents.

Most importantly, building inquiry-led learning modules and enabling teachers to unlearn old styles and adapt to this new way of inquiry-driven way of teaching are likely to present significant scaling issues. In this new paradigm, education would no longer be seen as jaded or a recycled version of the past. #KhabarLive #hydnews

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