Rohan Sandhu & Subir Gokarn: E-ducating India – Technology is only one piece of the puzzle




In two speeches over the past month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi outlined his ambition to digitize education, seeing technology as a way to improve access to quality learning. This is in line with previous statements by his government regarding the establishment of online schools, the deployment of broadband highways and the preparation of children for a knowledge society, as well as budgetary allocations for virtual classrooms. and online courses. While the digitization of education is clearly an objective, the challenge for the government now is to determine how this will be achieved, while fully understanding the scope of technology in transforming the education sector.

In terms of access issues, the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI) highlights some of the barriers related to the expansion of technology and communications infrastructure, the development of broadband and to the growth of information technology-based industries. Unable to exploit the opportunities presented by its low broadband and phone prices, competitive local markets and access to venture capital, India is currently ranked 83rd out of 148 countries – down 15 places from 2013. lack of digital infrastructure, electricity shortages, low production and individual use of technology, are some of the most important obstacles. Moreover, India ranks among the bottom for its business and innovation environment, owing to a political and regulatory apparatus characterized by red tape and high corporate taxes.

In education, the ability to harness the benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) is also hampered by various information gaps in the market for technological innovations. Until now, identifying and scaling best practices has largely been left to philanthropists and incubators, resulting in scattered initiatives that often reinvent the wheel. For technology to have broader system-wide implications, a regulatory framework that connects consumers and providers of education technologies, provides information on existing technologies, sets standards and adapts best practices, is needed. In this context, the United Progressive Alliance government of 2012 National mission on education sought to establish a clearing house and rating agency for web-based learning materials and a rating institution for internet-based knowledge content – ideas on which the new government must s ‘to lean on. The need for such agencies also figured prominently in discourses in other parts of the world. Chatterji and Jones (2012), for example, argue for a third-party rating agency in the United States to test various instructional technologies and disseminate information on effectiveness.1

However, access to technology is only one piece of the puzzle. We need to demystify the concept of e-enabled schools and set clear goals and objectives for the introduction of ICT in education. Conversations around technology in India have so far paralleled those around education more generally – prioritizing investment and access over experience and outcomes. Most policy documents have looked at technology either as a substitute for teachers where the traditional education system is not available, or through the narrow prism of “technical skills for a knowledge society”. But if the technology is embedded, its goals must evolve beyond that and aim to effect deeper system change.

In this context, the data-generating capacity of the technology offers a unique opportunity not only to provide real-time feedback on its return on investment, but also to evaluate the effectiveness of education programs. At the micro level, technology-assisted tools provide information about school performance to students, teachers, and parents, allowing teachers to gauge the response to different instructional approaches. The Social Networks Adapting Pedagogical Practice or SNAPP tool, for example, analyzes discussion forum activity within various open learning management systems, providing teachers with information on disconnected students, low performers and high-performing, as well as “before and after” measures to assess the impact of teacher- interventions.

Darrell West (2012) from the Brookings Institution provides examples of data mining techniques used in a similar way to identify at-risk students, in schools in 16 US states2. Analysts were able to identify students who drop out, using prediction models based on absenteeism, disciplinary issues, changes in course performance and overall grades. In India, social enterprises such as Zaya and Mindspark are filling this space, providing online testing platforms, after which reports on individual student performance are made available to teachers.

Finally, if this feedback is fed back constructively into the educational process, it makes it possible to individualize pedagogy, facilitating a democratization of the educational process. At the macro level, measuring results serves as a guide for policy makers, facilitating increased accountability and performance. Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier (2014) summarize these benefits of technology, writing that data generated by technology should be used in education, just as it has in areas such as retail and advertising. – to provide feedback on which approaches work best and allow for customization. according to individual needs.3

There are therefore at least three boundaries to consider when integrating technology into education – access and infrastructure, the market for technological innovations and the measurement of impact. Particularly in the third area, technology can be leveraged to solve a much larger and more important challenge, pushing the education system to focus on inputs and investments, on quality and outcomes.




Rohan Sandhu is a Research Assistant, Brookings India and Subir Gokarn is Director of Research, Brookings India. These opinions are personal.

1. Chatterji, A., & Jones, B. (2012). Harnessing technology to improve K-12 education. Hamilton project.

2. West, DM (2012). Big data for education: data mining, data analysis and web dashboards. Brookings Institution.

3. Mayer-Schönberger, V., & Cukier, K. (2014). Learning with big data: the future of education. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Previous In Indian schools, discrimination leads to school dropout
Next India's technological opportunity