Live, from a classroom near you!

Technology can help bridge the gap between quality education available at top colleges and in those with lesser resources. This could turn into reality if the government works in tandem with premier institutes and NGOs

SNEHAMOY MUKHERJEE

Imagine a quiet remote hamlet in the interiors of India, where inside a small tin roofed shelter that serves as the village school, students are sitting on a mud floor and a small projector from a computer is screening a recorded session on the fundamentals of physics by Salman Khan, the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)-educated, modern crusader for free online education of exceptional quality. The students find it quick and easy to grasp the concepts and the American accent is no showstopper – an Indian NGO had dubbed Khan’s classes in the local language. Welcome to a brave new world of quality education, which can transgress boundaries, continents, language barriers to reach anyone who thirsts for knowledge. One would no longer need to study at the best schools and colleges in the country to get the best education that money, circumstances or awareness can buy. This is a scene from my dream world.But for a world brimming with disruptive influences and full of people who want to make a difference, it doesn’t look like a distant dream.

At the other end of the spectrum, imagine video recorded classes of IIT’s best professors being shown to students as part of their curriculum in diploma institutes for technology across the country, which cannot boast of the same quality of faculty.These institutes can ride on the back of quality discourses from IIT professors to provide quality education to their otherwise neglected students.

Such recorded discourses can be useful in premier institutions too. Imagine a professor’s lectures at reputed institutes being recorded and shared with the students in advance, and the students have to view these lectures as a pre-read and come to the class only to field their questions and clarify their doubts. What a colossal time saving initiative that would be! I can imagine professors getting more time to concentrate on their research rather than spending time, preparing to teach the same lectures, semester after semester, year after year. It will also create a culture of excellence, since when you are forced to record a lecture, you will be forced to give your best – you cannot have an off day. You will need to do retakes before you get it right but once, you have the best possible video that you can make for each of your lectures, the returns on this investment of professors is astronomical.The other great advantage is that students can replay the lectures so that they do not have to waste time writing notes, but listen more carefully to the discourses and imbibe more from each lecture and repeat them wherever necessary.As the years roll by, the professors can spend time, refining the lectures, which can then be edited and stitched to the main lecture videos.

Imagine how uplifting it would be for village schools, if alongside textbooks, they are provided with quality lecture/discourse videos from the best teachers from the best schools across the country.

A Salman Khan or a Khan Academy alone cannot change the world. We need our government to invest both time and resources to make sure that this revolution that has started in the world of education is made available to the poorest of the poor, so that the coming generation has already taken a giant leap towards equality. A Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may make huge grants to NGOs to execute such tasks, but policy level decisions by the government alone can bring about change in the basic fabric of our education system. There needs to be acceptance and recognition of quality education and hence, a conscious attempt to not just print new text books, prescribe new grading systems, tinker with existing pillars of excellence like the IITs and their selection procedures, but to use new technology enablers to create a better future for our teeming millions.The best teachers should be amply rewarded for creating exceptional content and lectures.

In reality

The fundamental difference between a student from a city who ‘has made it in life’ versus someone from a village who is driving an autorickshaw in Mumbai, despite a masters in chemistry, boils down to the difference in the quality of education that he/she has received. Like mobile phones, which have created small revolutions in the lives of our common masses, here is a much bigger revolution waiting to happen. We have the opportunity of a lifetime to make this happen and take our country to the same pedestal as the developed nations.

To highlight the fact that this reality of education is not too far away, let me take a few examples to fructify the claims of my vision. There is a startup company called Jigsaw Academy, based out of Bangalore, which has been successfully imparting online education.Through live online classrooms, which have taken the world of analytics by storm, and by sharing the recorded lectures of each class with the students, they give a semblance of permanence to what they teach. The students rewind the lectures; go through parts of the lecture that they did not understand in the live discourse, hence giving them a tremendous opportunity to learn again, without the need for taking copious notes. The company has also started recording videos which they share with their students in advance, so that the time spent in the classroom is used for questions and answers and for discussing case studies. They have also found out that recorded sessions help in ensuring that all topics are covered. They are crisper and to the point as you can edit the recordings and then record the portions and add them to the main video.

My second example is a US-based company called Lynda.com,which shares recorded content with students and the students have the flexibility to sign up for courses at their own pace. Lynda specialises on producing technology content and offers how-to videos on some of the most popular apps from Adobe, Apple, Autodesk, and Microsoft. It offers videos in instalments, and depending on what users want to learn, they can graduate to more advanced content as they move up the ladder. They have a virtual video library of over 1,200 educational, how-to videos. Lynda’s video courses are taught by industry experts, working professionals, and veteran teachers, while there are around one million paying members/students who take the courses.

Model rural schools:proof of concept

To go back to my original theme mentioned in the beginning, I foresee the creation of model rural schools to experiment the new way of teaching that I have espoused. We would need the government or a few NGOs to come forward and focus money and resources to record classes from the best teachers in the best schools in the country (even the government does run some great schools and has some great teachers) and share them with a few selected schools that need better quality of teaching. The school children could learn from these recorded classes while their regular teachers would be in attendance during the video telecast of the classes, to provide any further clarifications/explanations if required. This would also help the teachers learn from the best teachers and refresh their concepts, and they can spend more time giving individual attention to the needy students and also carry out more ‘class work’. The freeing up of the teachers’ time would also ensure that they get more time to spend in correcting the homework/classwork that they assign to their students.

Keeping in mind the step-wise approach, the task force (assuming that the government assigns one for this task) created for this purpose would first need to identify a particular class for testing this experiment. My view would be to either create the teaching material for class 6 or class 8 as these are the classes where there is a sudden step change in the level of difficulty of the curriculum. This is where the impact could be felt most and once the success of this new mode of teaching is established, it could then be rolled out to other schools and then to other classes.

On top of this, if we are able to get a tablet in the hands of every student in the country, then ‘Aakash (sky) is the limit’.


Snehamoy Mukherjee is a part of the Strategic Leadership Team at Axtria, a New Jersey based Analytics firm, where he is responsible for business development, solution development, delivery leadership and strategy formulation. Prior to this, he used to head the analytics practice at Technopak Advisors and has over a decade of experience in the analytics industry having worked in multiple domains like retail consulting, FMCG/CPG, insurance and market research.