e learning in India
Digital LearningEducation System In India

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

― Nelson Mandela


If we bring in concepts like technology and e-learning into the realm of education, then Mandela’s belief holds true to the current scenario in India. Needless to say, technology has changed the way we lead our lives, interact with others, seek information, and learn new things.

Though relatively new, e-learning has pushed the education sector into a whole new level of digitization. The growing popularity of online learning in India in the past decade has not only paved the way for its bright future in the country but also proved beneficial to students in remote areas as well.

Added to that are the support and push received from the Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY). With a broader objective “to develop tools and technologies to promote e-learning”, DeitY has been supporting various R&D projects across educational institutions with a single-minded focus on imparting good quality education using multimedia tools, besides developing new tools and solutions to create a positive impact.

In the early Nineties, when unconventional concepts like computer-based training, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in computer applications had made their first appearance in India, there were a few curious-yet-apprehensive takers. However, as the information technology made quick inroads into the Indian education sector, by the late Nineties we have started taking giant steps towards smart classes and internet-based training sessions, which gave an impetus to not just e-learning but also to the literacy rate in India. Today, e-learning has crossed the boundaries of educational institutions to permeate different domains of the education sector including web-based coaching centers and tutorials.

So, how is this new-age learning changing the way the teachers teach and the students learn?

In a lot of ways, we would say! The Indian education sector is changing, and changing for the better. While information technology was the catalyst that helped India to adopt innovative and interactive learning, e-learning bridged the gaps in learning by understanding issues and offering needy students content that is best suited to their needs.

Greek philosopher Plato once said: “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” The facilities being offered by today’s online learning resources are a true reflection of Plato’s ingenious philosophy.

Before analyzing the huge scope, promise and potential that the e-learning sector holds in India, let’s first look at some advantages of e-learning.

  • Audio-visual tools, video content and 3D visual effects help not only in teaching difficult concepts or subjects like Math, Physics and Chemistry but also in making the sessions interesting to young children.
  • E-learning enables customized and guided learning, an advantage unavailable to teachers handling around 40-50 students in a classroom. Students have different needs when it comes to learning, and they can now learn at their own pace.
  • Live classes broadcast by specialized teachers are highly useful in increasing student-teacher interaction while giving scope to free-flowing discussions. With a fixed timetable, live sessions ensure that students can connect with teachers seamlessly, ask questions, clarify doubts and get instant feedback, while the session is in progress.
  • E-learning provides excellent teaching aids to teachers and amazing self-learning opportunities to kids – both of which help in shaping a consistent, coherent, and comprehensive approach to teaching-learning.
  • Smartphones and tablets with inbuilt curriculum and free e-learning websites like LearnNext, Eklavya, e-learningforkids and Funbrain are gaining popularity among students with their innovative learning options and utility value.
  • Though the basic concepts of a subject and the fundamentals of learning don’t change, the textbooks need regular updation to keep up with the latest trends, events and technology. If textbooks can be digitized, then upgradation becomes easy. The availability of tablets and e-readers can help tackle the issue at the most basic level.
  • Besides connecting teachers with students in remote locations, technology also presents better, richer and varied content, including animation and video.
  • All that a student needs to do is create a user account and s/he can have access to unlimited resources online – lessons, notes, answers to doubts/questions, everything in one place!
  • The current tech-savvy generation prefers “instant, accessible, self-driven and on the go” content. Today’s students expect seamless availability of constantly upgraded content, and an easy solution that depends on minimal infrastructure requirement.
  • A highly literate nation is bound to witness rapid economic growth and development, thanks to the transformation of its students which is made possible by e-learning.

A recent report on the growth and potential of e-learning in India believes that

  • Online education market in India is likely to double by 2017 to reach the $40 billion (Rs. 4000 crore) mark.
  • Beyond 35 crore enrolments in schools are expected by 2018.
  • India has one of the largest education systems in the world with a network of more than 1 million schools and 18,000 higher education institutions.
  • More than half of the country’s 1.2 billion population falls in the target market for education and related services.

When we look at the figures projected in the report, we realize that the opportunities they provide to e-learning providers in India is huge. The face of Indian education is changing and transforming the way teachers teach and students learn. If we go by the number of schools in India – both government and private – which is constantly on the rise, we realize that the potential of smartclasses is far greater than it is today.


What are some of the challenges that a country like ours might face while adapting to this new trend?

Though a few challenges keep cropping up in the e-learning space every now and then, the good news is they get solved almost immediately. The efficiency with which all stakeholders including Government agencies, private providers and teachers tackle these issues is praiseworthy. The intervention of Government with its various schemes also helped to promote e-learning in India.

In the initial stages, a lot of concerns were raised by various parties involved: will students prefer studying with teachers in a traditional classroom to guided learning online; will parents be okay with new-age learning methods; and will they pay for online courses; besides these were teachers’ apprehensions about getting replaced – all of which needed to be assuaged. Thankfully, smartclasses have become “a teacher’s best friend” now as educators understand that rather than harming the traditional modes of teaching, smartclasses supplement it.

When we take into account certain factors like cost, accessibility and internet penetration, we know that while the cost of devices and internet is going down, internet penetration and accessibility are on the rise. So, in order to transform learning in India, a collaborative effort between all stakeholders – from policy-makers and educators to students and e-learning providers – is essential to unleash the enormous potential offered by the field and provide everyone with the training required to reap the benefits of e-learning.

Only by working together we can arrive at effective solutions to the challenges posed and be at the forefront of the digital revolution.

Alternative schooling
Education System

Suppose you borrowed DeLorean for a day from Dr. Brown. You dial 21.06.2020 in the timemachine, hit 88 miles per hour and arrive in South of Market in San Francisco. As you drive by, a gray low building with a storefront and contrasting blue signage holds your gaze. The signage says “AltSchool”, and something strikes you as odd and you hit the breaks.

You’re thinking: whatever happened to old schools with imposing buildings and sprawling campuses? You step out of the time machine and step inside the school to see children swiping and tapping on their iPads. Wait a minute … iPads? Something’s wrong. iPads being the dominant technology in 2020 is as incongruous as schools with storefronts. It’s not 2020 afterall, you realize.

It’s 2015 and since you’re already in front of the school that looks futuristic, so why not take a peek inside.

Inside AltSchool

When the former Head of Personalization at Google decides to open a school, you can expect the school to make learning as personalized as possible. Failing to find halfway decent preschools for his children, Max Ventilla decided to take matters in his own hands and founded AltSchool with a mission to fix education. And he has a point: you don’t drive a car or wear clothes from the last century, so why lug around an outdated educational system.

AltSchool boasts of very impressive investor list – Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Andreessen Horowitz to name a few. But what about AltSchool makes Silicon Valley think that it will save education?

First off, AltSchool is the antithesis of the traditional education model. The students don’t read from textbooks — instead they have personalized playlists on their iPads. Unlike traditional schools where children are segregated into grades age-wise, AltSchool classrooms are filled with children of different ages. The teacher to student ratio is remarkable 1:8. And teachers, they are more guides on the side than sages on the stage.

Secondly, technology is at the heart of everything at AltSchool – from marking attendance to delivering personalized learning plans to helping teachers with learning tools, AltSchool’s use of technology puts even the most progressive schools to shame.

Last but not least, AltSchool really walks the talk it when it says that it is a part of the community in which it operates. Field trips are an important feature at AltSchool. ‘Teachers fantasize over making learning truly real world, but they tend to leave out the most important component of the real world, and that is, well, the real world.  In fact, the word “real world” has become so much of a buzzword that it’s become all too easy to forget what the term actually means’ says AltSchool teacher Paul France in a blogpost.

Oh AltSchool, if I had the money (about $20,875 a year) a kid, I’d send her to you.

Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH)

Let’s fix DeLorean and take her back to the New York City of year 2010. You arrive outside Flushing Meadows in Queens to find that U.S. Open has been delayed due to rain. You get inside, make your way to the VIP box and see IBM’s former CEO Sam Palmisano talking into the ear of Joel Klein, then-Chancellor of New York Schools.

You take a seat behind them to eavesdrop. “We’re not graduating kids with the qualifications to fill those jobs,” you hear Palmisano say. Thusly you witness the birth of an idea called P-TECH. It goes like this: IBM will launch a school which will take students that no other school will take and prepare them for the corporate world in a six-year program.

Is this just chit-chat or serious stuff? To find out, you head back to dear DeLorean and dial 24.08.2015 and hit the accelerator and voila! You’re suddenly driving through Albany Avenue in Brooklyn. You stop before an imposing, beige structure whose entryway says “Paul Robeson High School for Business and Technology”.

Inside this beige colored building is housed the P-TECH – a home to 434 students that no other institution would dare enroll. More than 80% of fourth-year kids have completed paid internships at IBM. All six graduating students of P-TECH have IBM offers in hand with starting salaries of $50,000. Not at all bad for 18-year-olds. And the fact that these boys and girls were written off as hopeless cases by the traditional educational system makes it all the more reason to replicate successes of P-TECH.


Let’s take DeLorean for a spin — not in time but in space. Let’s go 6.6 miles north to 16, Clarkson St. This is one of the locations of an alternative school that considers entire city as its campus. Founded in 1972 with 15 students, today the City-As-School has north of 600 students enrolled.

The philosophy is radically simple: want to earn a credit in culinary science? Intern with a baker or a restaurant. There are no formal assessments or grades. Instead, students have to build a portfolio in order to graduate. The classrooms wear a deserted look half of the time as students are out in the field, earning credits across 300 school-affiliated internship sites.

Most students here have faced rough times — from bullying to under-age pregnancy to trouble with the gangs. “There are students who come here, having received messages [their whole lives] that they don’t know how to learn,” says Veronica Savage, a social worker and the alumna of the school. City-As-School gives a new lease of life to these kids by giving them hope and self-esteem. The results speak for themselves: more than 60% of these kids graduate within six-year window.

Anand Niketan (Wardha)

Are you ready for another adventure? Let’s take DeLorean all the way to the town of Wardha in the India of 1960s. You will notice that tarmac roads you are used to have disappeared. You abandon the DeLorean and start hiking in the direction of little but well-known village of Sewagram, whose most well-known inhabitant was none other than the Father of the Nation — Mahatma Gandhi.

You arrive at this wonderful experiment in education that goes by the name of Anand Niketan, Nai Talim. ‘Nai Talim’ can be translated into new education, but many scholars prefer basic education.

This is unlike any schools you’ve seen. The buildings are rustic but immaculately clean. Later, you find out that children themselves are responsible for the upkeep of the place. Now this child labor might seem a little odd to you, the city-bred, but to a Gandhian, it is the cultivation of the hand part in head, heart and hand motto. And scientifically, learning by doing has been found to be more effective than passive reception of instruction. But you aren’t convinced, you follow this particular child around to really understand what the school is all about.

The child is Abhay. He has been assigned the task of finding out how much water a cow drinks in a day. Once he has figured that out, his next task is to calculate the litres of water needed to keep all the cows in the cowshed hydrated. He then has to construct a water tank with the capacity to satiate the thirst of all the cows. But not before figuring out how many bricks will be required to construct such a tank.

This has been an eye-opening experience and you travel back to the future. You are shocked to find out that Anand Niketan experiment in education didn’t last beyond the 60s. You find out that the school was shut down for the lack of government recognition and apathy. The scared parents had no option but to find a recognized school for children — a school that played safe with emphasis on rote than real. What a death of a beautiful dream!

Don’t feel sad. The school re-opened in 2005 and is taking baby steps to cover lost ground. The foundation is strong, all it needs is the regulatory scaffolding and faith of the community that Anand Niketan can really fix education.

What is Common in These Alternative Schools

AltSchool, City-as-School, P-TECH and Anand Niketan may seem different species but scratch the surface and you will find that they are built on same skeleton. It’s not hard to notice that these schools:

  • Recognize different learning paces. There is no set time-frame to finish something.
  • Have no grading system.
  • Focus on learning by doing. When AltSchool classrooms needed a redesign, students took a field trip to pottery barn for inspiration and ideas. City-As-Schoolers earn credits by interning across the city. Anand Niketan students do not memorize Botany jargon such as ‘palmate, divergent and reticulate’. They spot Papaya leaves instead.
  • Are a part of the community in which they operate.
child using tablet
Digital LearningEducational Technology

Vihan was about two when I bought my first tablet, an iPad, so I could use it to catch up on work while on the move. As an Apple aficionado, it was only natural that I chose an iPad and I thought it was just another fancy gadget that I acquired. But what followed the next morning was an eye-opener.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I’m the kind of parent who was always resistant to the idea of my child handling an electronic device at such a tender age. That was until the morning of March 20, 2012 — until I witnessed what a digital device could do for my child. I’m yet to understand how my son managed to switch on the device, unlock it and move the icons around. And I thought he was just a baby!

That day, I learnt something new about the world of possibilities that digitization opens up to toddlers. Now five, my son was instrumental in making me a firm believer in Digital Literacy! A recent research in the University of London, headed by Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, debunks the earlier myths about the negative effects of digital devices on young children and pushes me further to become an advocate of tablets. Prof Karmiloff-Smith, who believes that the children who have access to tablets will show better signs of development, says, “It is shocking how fast they learn, even faster than adults to do things like scroll up and down the text.”

Conflicting views

I’ve heard arguments both in favor of tablets and also those opposing the idea of children using devices. While the proponents believe that tablets are lighter, easier to carry, and store several hundreds of books, the opponents say they distract students more than engaging them and are expensive compared to the printed books. While I firmly believe that ebooks are cheaper than their printed counterparts and are also environment-friendly, tablets have a tendency to get outdated with each release of a newer version and also cost a bomb to fix any issue.

My wife and I are among those parents who express concern about their child’s screen time. However, in the past three years, we’ve realized that our child spending a lot of time on the screen is inevitable in today’s era, and we believe that it is better if he does it for education rather than entertainment. And with newer technologies and anti-glare screens available in the market, the tablet’s negative impact has been reduced. Despite the objections raised by a section of people that tablets lead to headaches and blurred vision, the 20-20-20 rule proposed by some clinicians that says “after every 20 minutes of screen time, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away” can be applied to keep children’s eyes safe when they are handling digital devices.

Age-appropriate Educational Content

After careful consideration, I thought it better to let my child engage with a tablet than with a television. A tablet or a mobile device holds more potential for a child and makes him/her creative and interactive. However, it’s the responsibility of the parents to ensure that the child has access to age-appropriate educational content. Dr. Carolyn Jaynes, a learning designer for Leapfrog Enterprises, rightly points out, “It’s important to focus on the content and message when making age-appropriate media choices. What children watch and play matters.”

Today, I can think of a hundred things that my iPad has helped my son with. For the benefit of parents who are still hesitant, let me list out some of the ways in which the tablet proved to be advantageous for my son’s progress.

  • Thanks to the tablet, my son learned the alphabet, the numbers, basic math, colors and shapes quickly and with ease.
  • After his admission to school, I’ve never seen Vihan shy away from studies or make excuses to not study.
  • Tablet users would find umpteen apps that are aimed at making difficult concepts in Math like metric conversion, time, distance, money and fractions easy for students.
  • Digital devices act as an extra layer of learning and give children essential tools that a traditional classroom setup cannot provide, thereby helping them learn the concepts better.
  • While reading a printed textbook, a child has found a difficult word and feels stuck. What does s/he do now? If it was an e-reader or a tablet, the meaning of the word can be found immediately either by using the built-in dictionary or by googling it.
  • With some of the best ways of learning on offer, the tablet provides unlimited knowledge children when compared to what is offered by printed textbooks.
  • Children learn things better when they have a chance to interact with the tools and materials used for learning. The touchscreen of a tablet engages with children at a different level keeping up their interest and enthusiasm.
  • A child can understand the scientific concepts or solve mathematical problems very well by accessing the 3D visuals available online on a tablet, which helps them learn things faster than when they read the description in a textbook.
  • While I agree that tablets are expensive at the outset than the textbooks, they tend to be cost-effective in the long term. I would say the longer the use, the better will be the ROI. Tablets don’t usually have recurring costs, unless there’s a major repair, like the printed textbooks which need to be purchased year after year.
  • The market is flooded with a wide range of educational and related activity apps which are mostly available for free. Even the paid apps are quite affordable. You can also teach your child to become environment-friendly by avoiding paper books.
  • One thing I really love about giving my child a tablet is that he can have access to his study materials anytime, anywhere – even when we are travelling or socializing. Actually, I’ve never heard my son making excuses about not being able to complete his homework because of our weekend outing.
  • Children love to learn in their own way and at their own pace. And this kind of individualized or personalized learning is made possible by a tablet, which is especially useful for young kids who find it difficult to focus on the task at hand without getting distracted.
  • Tablets offer a completely different dimension to learning and give children, who are slow in grasping concepts, the liberty to learn with ease, without getting ridiculed by their fast-learning peers.
  • Smartphones and tablets help students connect to the world beyond the traditional classrooms by making their learning relevant. Children who can solve puzzles on a tablet are better prepared to solve real-life problems as well.
  • The only recurring expense I incur due to the use of a tablet is the monthly bill payment towards Wi-Fi network connection. But, in this era, it’s almost impossible to find an educated household without an internet connection.

Still not convinced? Ms. Jackie Kennedy once said, “There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.” If you can help enlarge your child’s world and worldview via books on a tablet, why shouldn’t you go for it?

Childhood trauma
Child Psychology

How many of us can say with certainty that we never had to face minor traumatic events in our childhood? I’m not talking about huge traumatic events like murder and mayhem, I’m talking about minor things like pooping ones pants and becoming a filthy butt of joke for other children.

I don’t know about major childhood traumas, but trivial (to others) mean stuff we experienced as children sticks good and sticks forever. Let me tell you a story.

My father, like most fathers, is a stingy man (although he prefers economical). To postpone a future expense, he would get me school shoes a size bigger or a shirt too loose. “You’re gonna grow up, aren’t you?” he’d gruffly dismiss any counterargument.

While other kids looked sharp, I looked lousy in my ill fitting clothes. I soon earned the nickname “baggy boy”, which was okay with me.

Cut to next academic season. Since my feet didn’t outgrow my shoes, I had no choice but to wear same set of shoes for the next academic year. As I climbed the school staircase on the first day, a group of classmates standing at the landing remarked, “Kasim’s old shoes.” I felt a warm rush of embarrassment flush my face as they chuckled. I was so mad at my father that day.

For the uninformed, “Kasim’s old shoes” is a story about a guy who sets out to get rid of his old shoes but somehow the shoes would find their way back to him. In the end, he had to make peace with the shoes and accept them.

Why do we tend to remember the hurt better than we remember good stuff? Researchers have an answer. “Emotionally neutral events generally are not stored as long-term memories,” says Christa McIntyre, a researcher at the University of California. “On the other hand, emotionally arousing events, such as those of Sept. 11, tend to be well-remembered after a single experience because they activate the amygdala.”

To understand the science behind this, McIntyre and her colleagues conducted an experiment on rats. They put the rats in a brightly-lit compartment which naturally made them stressed and panicky.

In no time rats found a tunnel which led them from the brightly-lit compartment to a dark one. As soon as they arrived, the poor old rats were given a mild shock through the compartment floor. When put in light again, the rats rushed back to the dark compartment. To these rats, the mild shock didn’t qualify as a strong emotional experience and hence, didn’t register as a memory.

The researchers repeated the same drill with another set of rats. Only this time they chemically fired up their amygdalas for a strong emotional response as soon as they were given a mild electric shock in the dark compartment. When put in the brightly-lit compartment again, this set of rats chose to stay in the light, however uncomfortable, than going back to the “shockingly” dark place.

This experiment goes on to prove events that provoke a strong emotional response are remembered better than the events that don’t. Usually, negative events activate our amygdalas more than the positive ones.

Remembering negative events also has an evolutionary advantage. If you’ve been mugged in a dark alley, you would always avoid dark alleys in future. Once bitten is always twice shy.

Why Childhood Traumas must be Avoided at all Cost

Negative events are not only remembered better in the long term but they also impact the working memory – the short-term memory that helps us do things like crunch numbers or process stuff. A study conducted by Perlstein, Elbert & Stenger found evidence that negative emotional content affected working memory and performance of activities that it regulates.

It figures why a child who witnesses domestic violence underperforms in studies. It’s difficult to calculate what 78.6 times 27.8 is if anxieties and insecurities of strife at home cloud the working memory all the time.

It’s a series of unfortunate events for distressed kids. As they grapple with their blues, one small, seemingly innocuous but harsh remark by a teacher or a classmate may close the doors of learning forever for them.

If you’ve had sad childhood experiences, share them in the comments below.

Massive Online Open Courses
Collaborative LearningDigital LearningEducation System In IndiaEducational Technology

If you think Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are a phenomenon limited to countries with tech-savvy population and high internet bandwidth, this piece of stat will surprise you.

According to Coursera, 8% of its registered users are Indian students. To give you a perspective, around 1.1 million Indians have taken MOOCs on its platform. Anant Agarwal, president of edX believes “India ultimately will be a much bigger market for MOOCs than the U.S.”

Udacity is following suit. It has decided to partner with Google and Indian philanthropy Tata Trust to set up an education centre in India. This is Udacity’s first venture in a country other than the U.S.

India, the country with the second largest number of college and graduate students outside of the U.S. and second largest number of software developers in the world, which is about 3 million, became the logical choice for housing Udacity’s first overseas operations.

Why India Loves MOOCs

The soaring popularity of MOOCs in India can be attributed to country’s fascination with big brands in education. Where you went to study is an important determinant of success in India. An IIT/IIM tag guarantees all the success. The whole economy of dusty town of Kota is based on preparing hopefuls to crack the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology.

But only a handful make it to these premier institutions. A vast majority ends up in obscure engineering colleges in obscure suburban towns.

It is students in these obscure colleges who are lapping up MOOCs to make up for the learning deficit on account of subpar teacher quality. A very strong reason why MOOCs are so appealing to students from not-so-famous colleges is the bragging rights the students earn on successful completion of the course. A mention of foreign university in the CV or LinkedIn profile makes a candidate instantly desirable in the eyes of recruiters.

Tushar Sharma, a student of engineering at Panjab University, thinks MOOCs are a great equalizer. Considering his mediocre grades and zero practical knowledge, no company could have offered him an internship.

Following his elder brother’s advice, he took a Coursera course on Python programming. Ten weeks later, he had a bunch of paid internship offers to choose from.

But why do Indian students prefer MOOCs (not free) over Youtube lectures (free)?  Surely, getting the certificate from foreign university is great but couldn’t be the only motivator.

Many students choose MOOCs for the active learning experience they offer. You can watch a video, pause it, go straight to exercises and test your learning at will.

Moreover, you don’t just get to interact with teachers but also with fellow course-takers. In his TED talk, Anant Agarwal recalls three sleepless nights he spent answering questions of close to 1,50,000 students after launching his first wildly successful MOOC.

At 2 AM, a student from Pakistan had posted a question. Before Agrawal could type in the answer, two other students had already answered the question. Agarwal ended the thread with “good answer” that night.

Watching a video, on the other hand, is a passive experience. There are no exercises, no virtual activities or simulations to try.

The MOOC Point

Not all professors share Agarwal’s enthusiasm for MOOCs. Some IIT professors think MOOCs require them to “dumb down” their lectures in order to hold the attention of a vast audience with little or no prior knowledge on the subject.

While the prospect of reaching great number of students is thrilling, these professors would rather prefer a dedicated and inquisitive bunch of IIT students anyday. And the fact that 90% of those who sign up  for MOOCs don’t finish the course, some professors doubt if the audience is actually vast.

Steeped in tradition, some professors do not like the informal setting of the MOOCs. “You possibly can’t expect to learn something as complex as data science wearing your pyjamas and half asleep at 2 a.m. in the night,” dismisses one professor on learning about the fact that most edX courses are taken between midnight and 2 a.m.

“A number of well-known educators have said there isn’t going to be much learning in MOOCs, or if there is, it will be for people who are already well-educated,” says Professor David E Pritchard of MIT.

Professor Pritchard, in collaboration with researchers from Harvard and China’s Tsinghua University decided to test whether or not there is learning in MOOCs. They found the learning outcomes of students who took MOOCs were as good as those of students who attended the lectures.

Are MOOCs the Answer?

Vamshi Krishna Beeravelly, an alumnus of IIT Madras and a MOOC taker, thinks traditional educational system isn’t always fit to accommodate different learning styles.

“Traditional system of education presumes that all students have a standard pace of learning. There are some students who cannot keep up with the torrent of information coming from the teacher. This makes them skid over some important foundational concepts. And when some concepts are skipped, the entire structure of learning collapses,” says Beeravelly.

Beeravelly’s sentiment is echoed in the latest UN study on state of education. The report titled “Education for All – Global Monitoring Report 2013-2014” lauds India’s efforts for improving primary enrolment but questions the quality of learning. The report acknowledges India’s “ambitious” curriculum “outpaces what pupils can realistically learn and achieve in the context and time given.”

This is where MOOCs can be a game-changer, thinks Beeravelly. “If you missed the boat of learning in the classroom, just take a MOOC,” he says.

Beeravelly also thinks the standard pace of learning might also ‘stifle’ some unrecognized geniuses and destroy their potential instead of nurturing it.

“What if the cure for cancer is trapped in the mind of a kid in a village who can’t get decent education? How do we recognize and help Ramanujans and other unsung heroes out there?” he says.

To him, MOOCs are a surefire way to enable budding savants to skip unnecessary courses and choose the ones that take their learning to the next level.

MOOCing do with what you have

According to Ernst and Young Report, India needs 1,30,000 private schools by 2022 to meet the rising demand for education. This demand for quality education is fueled by rising middle class with rising disposable income. It is also a well known fact that India’s elite colleges cannot accommodate all who pass from India’s K-12 system, which is also the biggest in the world. How can India bridge this gap between the demand and supply?

Constructing schools and colleges en masse may not be a viable solution as the country also has a terrible shortage of good teachers. UNESCO’s survey of 3,000 schools in India found lack of “teachers who are trained, motivated and who enjoy teaching, who can identify and support weak learners.”

Under these peculiar circumstances of shortage of both talent and infrastructure, Indian education sector can benefit a lot from technology. MOOCs are surely one of the ways to leverage technology to make quality education accessible far and wide in the country.

Government’s ambitious Digital India campaign which has the vision of connecting even the remotest of corners with high speed broadband could be a step in right direction. Imagine a school in Leh delivering MOOCs by country’s best teachers to its students. This isn’t a pipe dream if you know the true story of a 15-year-old boy from Monglolia who aced the MIT’s MOOC on circuits and electronics.

For once, India needn’t look west for best practices. Up north, somebody in Mongolia has got it right.



myth of digital nativity
Digital LearningEducational Technology

Call me a millennial, I don’t mind. But call me a digital native, that’s a bit of a stretch.

I was born in the tail end of 20th century, and until recently believed in Marc Prensky’s digital nativity theory. To see my two-year-old niece swiping and tapping and watching her rhymes on the iPad, I felt there is some truth to Prensky’s passionate appeal to modify education to keep education relevant for digital natives. But when I found out that I qualify as a digital native, I said, Homer Simpson-like, “wait a minute.”

To disprove the myth of digital native, let me tell you a story … my story.

I was born in 1985 in a tiny hamlet in the Himalayas. I attended one of the good public schools. It was only in 1995 that I was first exposed to the computer. To get a glimpse of the much guarded machine, students had to remove their shoes before entering the computer lab lest the machine gathered dust. Ridiculous rules.

So what did we do on the school computer? Besides running some long-forgotten DOS commands, we took turns playing Dangerous Dave, if the teacher was generous. She was generous twice a year.

If I recall correctly, it was in 1997 I witnessed Windows 95 for the first time. Once again, in the school computer lab. The computer suddenly looked a lot better with a GUI. The computer education still sucked though. Instead of experiencing MS Office hands-on, we were taught the theory in the class. The whole new terminology comprising of the words like “macros”, “pivot tables” left my little brain fried.

So much for digital nativity that I had no knowledge of Internet as early (or late) as 1999. That’s when I first entered a chatroom on Yahoo Messenger. The prospect of connecting with people around the world was so compelling that I coaxed my folks to get me a PC. In 2000, I can say with pinch of salt, my digital literacy started. I googled for the first time on my super slow internet connection.

Back in those days, Google wasn’t a search engine. It was some sort of mythical all-knowing answering machine (despite not so refined algorithm). As my interest in Yahoo chat weaned, googling things became a favorite pastime. I ascribe my education less to my school and to Google search more. In retrospect, my google searches should’ve been more academic.

Then came my PlayStation phase. I was instantly hooked to Grand Theft Auto. To me, GTA was more than just mindless clubbing of hapless pedestrians with a baseball bat or random carjacking. It was more about visiting an immersive virtual universe of an imaginary city, loosely based on Los Angeles. GTA made me culturally aware, introduced me good music (yes, you can change radio channels in the stolen cars) and improved my critical thinking. I believe strategy games have educational value.

If you’re still reading this you must be thinking that instead of disproving the myth of digital native I’m actually feeding it. Despite fitting the profile of a digital native, why should I deny being one?

For one, I don’t agree with Marc Prensky’s overgeneralizations. He says:

“Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over

10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV).”

Where did he pull that stat out from? True that I got many a red eye playing video games late into the night but I’m sure if I add all that time up it’s nowhere close to 10,000 hours. It’s 1,000 hours tops.

Moreover, most video gamers I know are socially awkward loners (like yours truly). Most of my millennial acquaintances could never understand my addiction to video games. And I couldn’t understand the point of boisterous parties.

Marc Prensky also assumes that we, the digital natives, don’t like to read books. I for one devour more books than average Joe every year. I prefer real books over ebooks. Not that I don’t read ebooks at all, I don’t seem to finish them ever.

I’m not the only one who likes real reading over screen reading. Naomi S. Baron, an American University linguist studies digital communication. In her surveys she found that majority of digital natives prefer ink over e-ink. And most students still buy their books.

reading vs. e-reading

It is also said that digital natives do things intuitively than read manuals. This argument is partly true. In 2009, I was interning for a bank that had just launched a mobile app. I was assigned the task of conducting a study to ascertain people’s willingness to adopt banking technology. But before I started my research, my superior, a quinquagenarian, had to give me a demo of the mobile banking app. To help me get started he produced a tome of a manual. “Woah there, Grandpa,” I thought and took from him the phone with the application installed.

Five minutes later, I was intuitively figuring things out while he looked over my shoulder. In ten minutes, I had mastered the app.

But intuition doesn’t always help. Try using Pen tool in Adobe Illustrator for the first time. No amount of intuition can help you master the tool. So what do we do when intuition fails us?

We watch how-to video tutorials. A new form of user manual, if you like.






J Krishnamurti
Education SystemEducation System In India

Jiddu Krishnamurti was a victim of an educational system that prevails to this day. His teacher dismissed him as vacant little boy who could not memorize important facts. That vacant little boy went on to set man “unconditionally free.” Unconditionally free – from dogmas, fears, conditioning, power structures, and as he used to say, “all the rest of it.”

Almost a century after Krishnamurti dropped out of school, our educational systems still reel under the same problems. We still reward students on their ability to memorize facts. But that’s not the only thing that’s wrong with them. Our educational systems are preparing students to become “well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

To many, Krishnamurti’s teachings are discomfitting as they question everything, from religion to society to human relationships. But if we clearly see where the world is going – the so-called wars on terror, the greed  of the Wall Street, the rise of surveillance state, predatory organized religion, the murky takeover of democracy by the corporations – Krishnamurti’s teachings seem way ahead of his time and the only way out. As our outward freedoms are stripped systematically, we must understand what it means to be totally free inwardly.

According to Krishnamurti, freedom is much talked about but little understood. We say we live in a free society, we have free markets, we have freedom of speech, and so forth, but what is implied by freedom?

“Freedom is obviously not the capacity to do what one likes.” Krishnamurti said in a discussion with teachers in December, 1965. True freedom can only exist if we are free from our conditioning, biases, influences, dogmas and patterns of thinking. How do we go about liberating ourselves, and pass on that knowledge to our posterity?

“This can be done, but it demands great work. It demands hard, persistent enquiry which is more strenuous than learning from books, because to be very alert, very alive, we must be free from all dependence. To not only find out how much we are conditioned, held, and influenced, but also to be free of all that is very hard work,” Krishnamurti wrote.

To Krishnamurti, the job of a teacher is the most important job in the world because a teacher is responsible for shaping up a new generation. To bring about a real change in the world, you, as a teacher, must become deeply aware of your fears, motives, anxieties, desires and all the content of your consciousness. This awareness may lead you to question fundamental iniquities in the system, and you risk becoming the outcast, but until you do so, there cannot be a true change in the world.

Once this transformation occurs within you, you must deliberate upon this question: what is right education?

Right Education

“The function of right education is not only to help us work hard – competently and efficiently – outwardly, but also to help us never die inwardly… right education is the integration of activity – the inner with the outer,” Krishnamurti says. Traditional educational system can teach us all the tricks to become a productive citizen outwardly, but to unspool the inward tangles, it remains inadequate.

As teachers it is our duty that we do not pass on our anxieties, ambitions, greeds and fears to a young person. If we continue to equate success with money and power, we will continue to see the wrong that perpetuates in the world unchecked. We will continue to breed white collar criminals who have no accountability or relationship to the planet.

Ironically, a person with all the wealth and power isn’t any happier. Despite possessing all the money and power in the world, his thirst for more is unquenchable. He acquires more by depriving others, often illegitimately. Over time the laws are modified and altered  to make what once was illegal, legal, and in due course even moral.

How does a man become so corrupt? It’s about time to question the values that we are passing on to our children.


All teachers deal with the question of discipline all the time. Most teachers think, discipline is not possible without suppression and punishment. Many “successful” schools borrow tactics from the army to make students toe the line.

Is it possible for students to grow in such an environment? There is a designer who uses special moulds to direct the trees to grow into furniture, lampshades, and other such wonderful stuff. Forcing discipline on students is quite similar to imposing moulds on a tree.

What’s wrong with that? You ask. If the seed grows into a chair out of its own volition, there is nothing wrong with that.

“One has to be clear within oneself that freedom, and not force, is essential for growth,” Krishnamurti says.

We discussed freedom in the beginning, now let’s discuss intelligence.


Intelligence brings about real discipline–a discipline without suppression and force. Intelligence can only flourish in freedom. Intelligence is not being clever or being able to memorize great facts and recite from the scriptures. Intelligence is to see things as they are, without the distortion caused by desires, hopes, opinions and fears. How do you plant a seed of intelligence in a child?

First of all, you have to care. “Care–how you look, how you walk, how you sit, how you eat, because that is all a part of intelligence,” Krishnamurti continues “So, can you convey to the child this feeling of care? Do you care how he walks, how he talks, how he eats, what kind of clothes he puts on?”


Your job is the most important job in the world. As Krishnamurti puts it, “Your business as a teacher, which is the greatest profession, is to change the world because you are responsible for the new generation. So talk to them not from your filthy little mind, but from your heart.”

science education
Education System In India

When I was 14, I was asked by a well-meaning gentleman what I wanted to do in life. I replied, “I wanted to be a doctor.” He then went on “Just like your father eh? Good, good … tell me young lad, what is the definition of science?”

I was flustered and sheepishly, embarrassingly admitted my ignorance. He turned up his nose and droned “Science is a systematic study of phenomena through observation and experimentation.”

The well-meaning gentleman wasn’t well-meaning after all. Not only did he smash my hopes of becoming a doctor, he also, quite unwittingly, brought to surface something fundamentally wrong with education in India.

To illustrate my point, I need you to look at the gentleman’s definition of science again. Where is observation and experimentation in our science education? Aren’t our question papers skewed in favour of students who can memorize facts and “definitions”? Shouldn’t we be discouraging cramming and rewarding understanding instead?

I can count on fingers of my hand the number of crammers who went on to win Nobels. Wait … I’ve got no fingers. Just kidding.

You guessed it. The headline was just a ruse to get your attention. The post isn’t all about me ranting about lost opportunities. On the contrary, I’m thankful to that gentleman for killing my dreams of becoming a doctor. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have become a copywriter – a job I thoroughly enjoy.

So what is this post about then? It’s about …

Everything Wrong with Science Education in India

Here’s a list of things that I feel are wrong about the way science is treated in the classrooms across India.

A curriculum for a few

Indian curriculum doesn’t take into account all learning styles. It only favors those who can keep pace with teachers’ instructions and memorize like a parrot. The curriculum is so poorly designed that there is little or nothing for kinesthetic, visual and social learning styles.

Such learners can benefit a lot from hand-on activities and demonstrations. But sadly, such activities are considered extra-curricular rather than being a part of core curriculum. Despite National Curriculum Framework (NCF-2005) and Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) guidelines on making hand-on activities a regular part of the curriculum, most schools view these guidelines as an obligation.

Disjointed syllabus

Students are introduced to the concept of motion in seventh standard for the first time. A whole year goes by before they’re exposed to the concept again in ninth standard. By this time, their slate is wiped clean. In fact, students forget the concepts as soon as the seventh standard exams are over. This disconnect in the syllabus is only matched by the incoherence of the books.

The school books are usually authored by one person. This means students are exposed to a single viewpoint, which we all know can be a dangerous thing. What’s more, different subjects live on their private islands. Students fail to see the interdependence between subjects.

Theory, theory, theory

Learning science without experiments and hands-on activities is like learning to swim without taking a dip in water. But if science labs are ill-equipped or missing completely, how can scientific concepts be understood?

“Everybody knows the importance of labs in science teaching. But learning science has been reduced to mugging up things.” rues professor Yashpal, celebrated science columnist.

Teachers fail to make science relevant

This is how science was taught in my heyday:

  1. Teacher asks her favorite student to read aloud from the book.
  2. The teacher paraphrases with no additional examples.
  3. Finishing syllabus is as easy as 1, 2, 3 …

It’s not difficult to see why most teachers teach this way. Because this way requires no effort at all. No preparation of notes before the lecture. No lesson planning. Nada.

Really bad teachers

In 2011, CBSE introduced the Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET). In 2012, 99% of the 7.95 lakh teachers who took it failed. Here are the latest figures from 2015:

  • 17.90 % of the 207522 appearing candidates cleared paper I (Primary classes I-V)
  • 9.16% of the 470032 appearing candidates cleared paper II (Elementary classes VI – VIII)

Year-on-year, those are good results. Maybe, just maybe, the quality of teachers has dramatically improved in just three years.  Perhaps the exam has become easier. Or is it the mushrooming of coaching institutes?

Anyway, those who passed will go to CBSE-affiliated schools. What about the rest?

You got that right. There isn’t a dearth of low-paying schools in India as there is no dearth of shady B. Ed. colleges that regularly churn out mediocre talent.


Educational Technology

“Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.”

– Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

When Berners-Lee talked about data, he wouldn’t have imagined it growing to a gigantic size encompassing all spheres of life. Think of Big Data, and you’ll understand what we’re talking about. From retail marketing to cloud computing, from improved patient outcomes to enhanced teaching-learning processes, Big Data has a major role to play in every sector. Big Data in education could be leveraged to enhance creativity, potential, and problem-solving ability among students. It can also open up a wide array of possibilities for students and teachers by freeing their minds, and setting them to do bigger things – and things that matter – rather than sticking to a standardized pattern of education.

Imagine a connected world, wherein teachers can not only analyse students’ answer sheets to understand their learning abilities but also get insights on why do some students give wrong answers or why do they find certain concepts difficult to grasp. The data available in the connected world makes it easier for educators to see what works and what needs revision, gives them tips and pointers to improve, and enhances their ability in delivering tailor-made lectures to inspire and invigorate students.

With the advancement in internet technology, the demand for online education is increasing, and educational institutions are eager to comply with the new norms and implement newer methods of teaching via online tutorials and e-materials. This has also increased the demand for online courses which, in turn, led to vast amounts of data generation. At the heart of this digital revolution lies the Big Data. As more schools start providing e-content to their students, the need to store the data keeps increasing.

The kind of information that has been collected, stored, analyzed and utilized in the past 5 years has influenced every realm of human life. Let’s look at some ways in which Big Data has helped, and can further help, boost the education sector.

Data analysis: Many schools are now using various analytics platforms to analyze the data available to not only improve their services and offers but also to modify the methods of teaching and course content. A lot of data, which is being gathered from students at different points via online learning systems, is leveraged to make the teaching process more meaningful, useful and interesting. As the number of students and courses increase, it leads to the explosion of data, analyzing which will be extremely beneficial to schools as well as students.

Predict trends and provide feedback: Big Data helps not only in analyzing and understanding the learning ability of students, but also in predicting their performance based on current trends. This will give teachers an edge and help them scrutinize each student’s ability to grasp, memorize, recall and reproduce, besides keeping track of their grades and scores. Based on the observations made via data analysis, recommendations can be generated and provided as feedback to both students and teachers, giving them ample scope for improvement.

Improved grading methods: A data-driven classroom helps in tracking and reporting students’ performance. When we look at modern classrooms today, we understand how digital curriculum and Big Data are changing the way teachers work. As newer perspectives penetrate the classroom walls, teachers are eager to integrate modern methods of teaching into their sessions, and provide a systematic real-time assessment by using improved grading systems.

Connected classrooms: As the whole world runs on the fuel of connectivity, classrooms cannot stay far behind, especially when it comes to leveraging the potential of data. However, one cannot undermine the power of human mind which ensures that the teaching processes remain student-centric and effective. We cannot forget the role of a teacher who assesses, scores, grades her students’ work, and provides valuable feedback. If utilized properly, the analytics platforms can provide schools with right tools and new perspectives on the teaching-learning methods employed in their classrooms to benefit students.

Personalized learning: Richard Culatta, Director, Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of  Education, once said: “Data is powerful when it tells you where you’re going from where you’re now. When we have data, it enables us to make changes and updates in real-time. Now, that’s the power of Big Data. You can actually use to it make changes and recommendations which are meaningful. We should start thinking about how we use data to customize and personalize learning.” Data-driven classrooms offer unique, personalized learning experiences to students. Big Data in education also helps educators streamline assignments, create materials and simplify grading, besides telling them what is working or not working, and which modules of their lesson plan are beneficial to students.

From data collection to data connection: “You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data,” says Daniel Keys Moran. One of the biggest assets of Big Data is its ability to consolidate information from different sources of data, both structured and unstructured, that the schools have access to. Library resources, online/offline content provided by teachers, project research materials or even data collected by the administrative staff – anything works! Identifying learning patterns of students leads to success, and that’s where Big Data gives schools an upper hand.

Course content development: By leveraging Big Data, schools and educational institutions can make smart decisions in terms of planning, designing and developing course materials, identifying related courses and eBooks, developing various other educational activities – all of which will assure long-term success in management of the organization, student enrollment, development strategies, and implementation of smart curriculum.

Problem management: “Things get done only if the data we gather can inform and inspire those in a position to make [a] difference,” says Mike Schmoker, author of FOCUS:  Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning and the 2014 recipient of the ‘Distinguished Service Award’ by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). The Big Data is not only about huge volumes but also about the diversity of data which is delivered at the fraction of a second. When used in the right manner, it provides teachers with the essential tools to detect undesirable student behaviors and implement proper correctional methods, thus nipping problems at the bud.

Detect patterns via real-time data: Students are known to produce real-time and contextual data through online social media websites, blogs and geo maps. If such unstructured and informal data is mined well, educational institutions can benefit as it enables them to detect certain patterns and provide real-time information on learners. This not only brings students into the focus, but also enhances connected learning environments. Educational institutions can leverage analytics platforms to determine learner behavior, attention span, performance evaluation, student feedback on teachers, etc.

In her article titled “The Roles of Big Data and Research in Improving Teacher Quality”, Amy Moynihan, Content Manager at Hanover Research, raises questions on how to connect Big Data, teacher quality and student achievement, when she writes: “We know that Big Data is a tool to drive innovation in education and that teacher quality impacts student achievement. So how can we use Big Data to improve teacher quality with the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement? How can we use Big Data to better predict the success that teachers will have in the classroom? What role can Big Data play in improving teacher quality relating to the training of future teachers, the teacher hiring process, and improving professional development for teachers?”
With Big Data now being used in new and innovative ways, we hope that some of these questions will be answered soon.

Educational Technology

Students with cognitive, sensory and physical disabilities face several challenges in learning. For example, those having motor disabilities face difficulties in writing, as they cannot hold pencils or pens. On the other hand, those having learning difficulties face problems in decoding words. Since long, teachers across the world have been struggling hard to address the learning needs of such students. But, not anymore! Thanks to assistive technology, teachers these days are better equipped to cater to such students in classrooms and help them achieve academic excellence.

What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology (AT), which is considered an umbrella term, refers to adaptive, assistive and rehabilitative tools and devices that assist persons with disabilities in working around the challenges they have so that they can learn, work, and communicate better. These tools and devices are found to be effective in addressing various attention- and learning- related issues . They help students with difficulties to be more productive and academically successful, which ultimately boost their confidence and independence.

For example, if a student has poor vision, he/she can be introduced to a tool that helps him/her enlarge the text. On the other hand, a big, simplified computer keyboard can be of immense use to a student having motor difficulties. Non-verbal students can be introduced to talking switches, while students having reading problems can be empowered with a computer that scans as well as reads any text.

Indeed, the flexibility of assistive technology goes a long way in empowering teachers to use tools and materials in order to cater to students with various difficulties.

Classroom-based assistive technology

When it comes to classroom-based teaching and learning, several types of assistive technology can be used. Let’s discuss each in detail.

According to some studies, when students with physical difficulties are positioned properly in classrooms, they are able to pay more attention to teaching for a longer period. So, if you have such students in your classroom, you can use positioning equipment like walker, standing aids, beanbag chairs and so on. There are different types of communication devices that work wonders for students with articulation problems, dysfluent, or nonverbal.

Active listening is also important in the classroom. However, many students have listening problems. To improve such students’ classroom experience, various assistive devices for listening can be used. There are some listening devices that help students with hearing difficulties to tune in to their teachers’ voice even from a distance and follow the classroom lectures.

Assistive technology is also helpful for those students who use their vision as the main mode of learning. You can use several devices to help such learners. Some of these devices include audiobooks, light boxes, scanners, magnifiers, and screen enlargers.

When it comes to school life, the importance of recreation cannot be ignored, as it helps students interact with each other and improve their social skills. However, most of the schools provide little recreational scopes for students with difficulties. However, this situation is changing fast.

Thanks to assistive technology, schools can now offer such students a wide range of adapted recreational activities. Some of the adapted recreational activities include computer games and simulations, drawing software, adapted puzzles, just to name a few. Undoubtedly, these activities can make a significant difference to students having several disabilities.

A discussion on assistive technology remains incomplete if we do not talk about software. Software can be a great help to students with different types of disabilities. If you have students with learning difficulties, you can encourage them to use the software that provides feedback immediately. It will help them improve their academic performance and motivate them to perform better.

To help your students with developmental disabilities, you can introduce them to special software that compensate for their motor difficulties, organize their behavior, and communicate with less possibility of misunderstanding.

Talking software is another good example of assistive technology. By using this software, your students can listen to the words while reading them. At times, students with poor vocabulary and those with motor impairments face problems in writing. If you provide such students with word processing tool with word prediction facility, they will be able to perform better.

Accommodating students with attention deficit disorder in the classroom is also quite challenging for teachers. Now, with the growing penetration of modern technologies, teachers can opt for the software that minimize the effects of all external stimuli and help such students focus on studies.

Can you use assistive technology to assist other students too?

Now, the obvious question that arises in the reader’s’ mind is—Can assistive technology be used to assist general students who have no difficulties? The answer is a big ‘Yes’. Thanks to auditory, tactile and visual approaches of assistive technology, teachers can make the best use of technology to address students’ with different learning styles.

Further, assistive technology helps students become independent learners. It ultimately enables teachers to pay more attention to each student and focus more on various group activities.

Last but not the least; assistive technology helps create a positive learning environment in the classroom. When every student provides his/her undivided attention to the study, it gives a healthy boost to classroom-based teaching and learning.

Are assistive technology and educational technologies the same?

Most of the time, assistive and educational technologies are interrelated. And the reason? There is a very thin line between the two. While assistive technology is considered very personal to every student, the latter is mainly classroom-based.


It is now clear how assistive technology, along with educational technologies, has brought a significant change in the classroom-based teaching and learning. Most importantly, assistive technology promotes more independence among students having difficulties as well as general students. In a nutshell, assistive technology has helped take the overall teaching and learning to new heights of excellence.