By Vivek Varshney
In metros and Tier-1 cities, students refusing to cut down on mobile screen time is among the biggest challenges for parents. Children aged 11 to 16 are not mature enough to understand a good balance between screen time and other physical activities. In many cases, our children are on mobiles for more than six hours a day, putting their mental health and concentration levels at terrible risk, leading to high anxiety and depression. In the US, the problem has become extremely severe and children as young as 13 (or screenagers) are being treated for mobile addiction. Easy and cheap technology access both connects and isolates at the same time. A ‘smartphone rehab’ centre in Seattle, USA, offers residential “intensive recovery programs” for children.
Over the last decade, over $3 billion has been invested in hundreds of edtech platforms across the world. There is a constant news flow about how some new tech and video lectures will transform education to make it fun. Edtech start-ups are still ‘figuring out how to make things work’. It is very easy to get caught up in the promised potential of edtech, and everyone says that their solution is poised to put students on fast track. AI Technology is an incredible accelerator but it still lacks a proven pedagogy and enthusiastic teachers. Only teachers can harness the true power of technology in education.
Content + Flexibility + Access does not equal learning
Most edtech interventions are offering access and flexibility but the real problem is learning gaps. Most edtech interventions focus on using technology to solve problems related to access, flexibility and analytics. Technology has and will continue to play a big role in the K-12 space.
The role of a ‘teacher’ has been greatly undermined in today’s “mobile learning” purgatory. Apps have taken the focus away from chalk-and-slate traditional teachers, those kind angels who would hold your hands and teach you how to draw a W appropriately until you become good at it. We were made to repeat single words (A for Apple, B for Bat, C for Cat) thousands of times, until they became so engraved in our memory that we can still remember them. Even those wooden scale drubbings had an important life lesson attached to them, and still remind us to behave, exactly as teacher taught us.
Most edtech products don’t focus on the actual needs of teachers and students, but rather on the perceived needs. For example,
- Students not interested in maths, okay, let’s make a game!
- Teachers want engaging presentations? Let’s make a video for students to watch on the sofa!
- Students can’t gauge their performance? Let’s put up tons of analytics and tests!
The need is a sustained engagement over the academic year. Heavy marketing and TV, newspaper ads can lure parents into buying expensive products because they want to make education and learning to fun. That’s precisely the problem.
The access to fun videos to young students undermines the efforts of school teachers and home tutors significantly. Students tend to focus less on teaching in classrooms, and this also reduces their mental involvement and interaction in the class. Providing technology on their mobile or tablet can help only up to a point. The pivotal role played by teachers needs to evolve for the real change. Teachers should be trained well to use technology and deliver the personalised education to each student. Personalisation in education means a right set of practice problems for each student, proper tracking of efforts and identification of gaps, and a matching supplementary support to each student.
Right Use of Technology: A desktop is always better than a mobile
Technology enables right connections; it can be used to build upon fundamentals and concepts; and for communication. It cannot be our teacher, mentor, peer and challenger. It is a powerful additional tool to enhance the classroom experience.
The desktop ensures two free hands, the right sitting posture for learning and not mobile addiction. Hand, eye and brain coordination is the most important aspect of learning. Just by watching videos on a sofa won’t deliver any learning to your child.
Another challenge is the concerns on the teachers’ end. The way most online edtech tools are positioned and marketed, the message is that “with this app or software, you can learn better”, which completely eliminates the teacher from the equation. This position can’t more misleading. Eliminating the tutor from the picture and giving tablets in the hands of students is not a solution. Changing the delivery model with the help of a tutor is the real solution. Technology can achieve personalisation and address the fundamental issue of one-size-fits-all mentality prevalent in the education sector today, but not without a teacher. It is important to understand that, to achieve individualised learning, we must first individualise teaching.
I have visited 50+ odd schools across India. While the willingness to add technology to their pedagogy exists, the behavioural change will take place at a slow rate. The Tutor with Tech Hybrid Model has to first prove the results in metro cities, where technology is already integrated to some extent.
When the printer was invented, we thought it would change education; it gave us more books. When the computer arrived, it gave us more power analytics, and engagement. Now with increased mobile tech, we have more flexibility, reach and personalisation. And accordingly, the role of the teacher needs to evolve to be more effective in providing personalised education.
Without notes, without practice, without sincere focus, can a series of fun videos deliver learning? Will it not develop wrong study habits from childhood? Many more questions and thoughts need to be discussed before we blindly expose our children to such video lecture apps and do long-term damage to their learning patterns.
Edtech cool videos are like new colas. Both are not helpful for health, require heavy marketing to sell (big stars and cricketers) and the selling price is 10 times more than the real value. Should we confuse the students that learning is fun instead of sincere lasting outcomes? Video lectures give a fake sense of learning without proper internalisation through practice. At the same time, there is very little evidence available that video lectures improve the learning outcomes.
(The writer is CEO and Founder of SpeedLabs.)