Digital Learning Materials Empower Teachers and Improve Educational Achievements

We take a look at the Gyanodaya project of Adani Foundation in the Godda district of Jharkhand. As part of this, the Foundation has provided basic infrastructure (including TV sets) for smart-classrooms and digital learning materials to 293 government schools in the district. These learning materials, prepared by Eckovation’ – an edu-tech company, are based on the Jharkhand State Board syllabus.

Gyanodaya Teachers Training 2 900x675

Gyanodaya Project, Adani Foundation, Godda, Jharkhand

Introduction

There has been an increase in the use of digital technology in education, more notably, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Edu-tech companies are growing rapidly and are attracting sizeable amounts of investments. These developments have generated apprehensions in the minds of educationists and others who believe in holistic education. Their fears include the possible relegation of face-to-face education and school teachers due to the use of technology; focus on certain tangible outcomes leading to the neglect of other important but not so tangible aspects of education; the impact of the digital divide on the outcomes of education when technology is used by a section of society and is not available/​accessible to others; and so on.1

On the other hand, it is also argued that digital technology and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can play an important role in education if it can empower school teachers.2 It is in this context that we take a look at the Gyanodaya project of Adani Foundation in the Godda district of Jharkhand. As part of this project, the Foundation provided basic infrastructure (including TV sets) for smart-classrooms and digital learning materials to 293 government schools in the district. These learning materials are prepared by Eckovation’ – an edu-tech company and are based on the syllabus of the Jharkhand State education board. The Foundation has procured the learning materials from Eckovation and finances a set of personnel from the company for regular on-site monitoring and technical handholding in the use of these materials by school teachers. This project began in 2018. The Foundation operated mobile classrooms using the same digital learning materials during COVID-19. The total expenditure on the programme is nearly three lakh rupees per school so far. A major part of the expenditure could be for the TV set and infrastructure of the smart-classroom.

A smart-classroom in session.

Since this programme has been going on for the last five years, certain indicators of its impact are visible. The district had a poor pass rate in class X examination. However, its position has improved drastically in the last two years. Besides an increase in student attendance, anecdotal evidence from teachers, other education functionaries, parents, and students also indicate the usefulness of the programme.

Rather than doing an impact evaluation of the project, this report looks at the context where this programme is being implemented, the processes, and the factors which may have contributed to its positive impact. It also outlines certain challenges that the programme faces which may work against realising its full potential. This report is based on a short-period field visit in the district covering four schools, observing classes in which digital learning materials are used, discussions with teachers, head masters, block-level education functionaries, a few parents and community elders and other government officials. It also includes conversations with a student who scored very high marks in the class X examination and also a sub-divisional magistrate who has been associated with this programme since the beginning.

Gyanodaya avoids the pitfalls of typical edu-tech initiatives

This section discusses the known limitations of edu-tech ventures and how the Gyanodaya project overcame these.

1. Digital learning materials are comprehensive
The digital learning materials which are prepared for the Gyanodaya initiative are based on the Jharkhand state education board. Hence, they cover all subjects and proficiencies which are part of the syllabus and which, in turn, may be framed within the National Curriculum Framework. The use of technology, then, does not lead to the neglect of some aspects of the syllabus or focusing exclusively on measurable or tangible aspects at the cost of other competencies.

2. Digital learning empowers teachers
The main concern about edu-tech is that it may replace teachers. At the same time, international assessments have shown that the effectiveness of technology in education is much higher when it is a tool in the hands of school teachers. The Gyanodaya project is envisaged to empower teachers. In most cases, digital learning materials are shown to students after the same portions are taught in regular sessions. It is the teachers who handle these sessions (in most cases). They may use the digital learning material as additional learning materials to help children grasp and understand better. Hence, the project is in no way aimed at replacing teachers or substituting face-to-face interactions that take place in school. We have seen proactive teachers use these materials. They may have earlier used manually prepared learning tools, and for them, the digital materials are an additional tool. Most teachers whom we could interview expressed happiness in using these materials, and we could see some of them very actively use these in their classrooms.

A teacher capacity-building session in progress.

3. Addresses the digital divide to a great extent
Many children do not have access to smartphones; the electricity supply in many parts of India is erratic – these factors widen the digital divide. However, Gyanodaya is designed to address these challenges. The programme is offline, and teachers conduct smart-classes without an internet connection. Backup electricity supply has been provided and the Government of Jharkhand (electricity department) has extended electricity connections to villages which did not have electricity. Since materials used in classrooms do not require an internet connection, the digital divide among school students may not affect the effectiveness of this programme. (Though the use of these materials by students outside the classroom or at home may be affected by access to smartphones and the internet.)

Mobile classrooms run during the pandemic.

4. Not just a distributor of learning materials
Making electronic learning materials accessible is in itself an important intervention when we note that almost all children who attend government schools in these parts of the country come from poor families. They may not be able to access these digital materials on their own (though children from middle-class families who are most likely to study in private schools may be able to do so without such an intervention). This project goes beyond making these materials accessible. It has not only created adequate infrastructure in schools for use of these materials but also ensures that these are used effectively. The personnel supported by the project visit every school and see that the teachers are able to use these learning materials. There is also monitoring of students’ attendance. Much more than this, there is a provision to measure the learning outcomes of children based on each session. Hence, there can be a clear connection between the use of digital learning materials and the learning outcomes of children.

The context of the intervention

Government schools in the Godda district cater to children from poor families. Though a section of children drops out of school, this share seems to have come down according to the teachers we interviewed. There seems to be an increase in the demand for education, even among the marginalised social groups within the district. The data from the Gyanodaya project shows that attendance was around 60 percent in 2018, which has gone up to about 75 percent in 2022.

We could see improvement in the infrastructure of schools. Almost all schools which we visited had permanent buildings and clean surroundings. The infrastructure was lacking in some schools where we could see around 50 students sitting without proper furniture in classrooms. Electricity supply remains erratic in most parts of the district and schools are affected by it.

However, the major problem that we have observed is the severe shortage of teachers. There are schools where eighty percent of the sanctioned positions of teachers are vacant. One can imagine the impact on education when only two teachers are available where ten are needed (based on acceptable PTR). The main reason for this is that there has been a significant delay in the recruitment of teachers in Jharkhand. This is acknowledged by government officials too. The practice of hiring contract teachers has been discontinued. This would mean that the absence of teachers cannot be addressed locally through the active participation of School Management Committees. It is not clear whether the non-recruitment of teachers is due to bureaucratic delays or the lack of public resources with the state government. Whatever the reason, the severe scarcity of teachers can have a major negative impact on education in the district where Gyanodaya functions.

Sessions with parents, School Management Committees, and education department functionaries.

It looks like teachers and education functionaries (and other government officials) are supportive of the Gyanodaya project. This support is important for the success of this initiative. Though there may be opposition or resistance from a small set of teachers (as noted by the project personnel on site), that may not be a major constraint.

Pathways of the positive impact of Gyanodaya

Our observations indicate that school children may have benefitted from the Gynaodaya project in different ways. Some of these are discussed in the following sections.

1. Improving attendance in schools
Given the high level of irregular attendance in government schools used by poor and marginalised groups in many parts of India, the use of digital learning materials seems to have increased the regularity of attendance in schools in the Godda district. This was also evident from the discussions with school teachers and education functionaries. The data from the project indicates this trend, though a comparison between schools with and without the project would have confirmed it. Irregularity of attendance in India is driven by two sets of barriers: first is the students’ lack of excitement in school activities, including classroom sessions; and secondly, the family and socioeconomic conditions which may compel students to be away from the school on certain days. The use of digital learning materials can have some mitigating impact on the first barrier (though it may not be adequate to address the second factor). Teachers and students note that smart-classrooms have attracted those students who were otherwise not very keen to attend classes.

2. Facilitates a certain level of learning in schools which face severe shortages of teachers
The severe scarcity of teachers as noted in the previous section can affect the quality of instruction in schools in different ways. There may be a need to combine students from different grades in the same classroom. One teacher may have to handle subjects (even in higher grades) in which he/​she may not have the required qualifications. Even those teachers who are qualified may find it difficult to give equal attention to students since the class strength is more than desirable. We have seen classrooms that do not have enough seating. All these factors can reduce the impact and quality of instruction.

We have seen schools where smart-class sessions were going on (with the help of digital learning materials) in the absence of the teacher. The project associates have also noted such instances and also those where one of the proficient students would run these sessions. Though these digital learning materials are designed to be used by teachers, the use of materials by students without the active presence of a teacher is also useful. The use of smart-classes (even without an active teacher) may be contributing to a certain level of learning, especially when we compare the situation to one in which adequate teaching/​learning could not happen due to the grossly inadequate number of teachers. Though not an ideal situation, this scenario is still better and may be an important contribution of the Gyanodaya project.

3. Improving learning better than that achieved through regular classroom sessions
It is obvious that in those schools where there are enough number of teachers, resulting in smaller class sizes, the learning experience of children is enhanced. In such schools, teachers cover the parts of the syllabus in their normal classroom sessions with whatever conventional learning materials that they have/​use and then expose students to digital learning materials. Based on the response of students, digital materials can improve learning (a) by attracting the attention of students; and (b) the visualisation of materials may help students understand the topics better. These two factors may help students who are generally weak in their studies. (On the other hand, those who are proficient and committed may do well even with conventional classroom instruction). One student who scored very high marks in the district noted this benefit for her peers who are not that proficient. Through this process, the share of students who can score more may go up, and it can reflect in the pass percentage also.

The learning experience of children is enhanced when the class size is small.

4. Digital learning materials can improve teacher-capacity
Many educationists and policymakers are concerned about the not-so-good quality of teacher education in India. The need to improve the quality of teacher education has been established.3 However, this may take time given the large number of poor-quality teacher-education institutions in India, the inadequate number of well-qualified teacher educators, etc. However, digital learning materials in all subjects (based on a standard syllabus) which are prepared by a set of proficient educators can indirectly improve the quality of teachers. This can become an indirect in-service training programme and is especially useful when teachers are forced to teach subjects in which they have not acquired appropriate education. This capacity building is through their use of these materials in their classrooms. When these teachers compare their own regular classroom sessions and smart-class sessions, they may be able to acquire insights into better pedagogic practices. Also, zealous teachers may then get motivated to change their regular classroom practices to incorporate these digital lessons.

Scope for improving learning in smart-classrooms

Despite the positive impact of the Gyanodaya project, our observations indicate that there is significant scope for improving the digital learning materials and their use in classrooms. Some of these are mentioned in this section.

1. Making the learning materials more child- and learning-friendly
Though we are not school teachers or subject matter experts, our perception is that there is scope for improvement in the presentation of learning materials. Some of these materials are presented in ways that are by and large close to what is attempted in standard textbooks. If this is generally the case, it will not help the realisation of the full potential of technology. Also, there may be scope for better visualisation so that it attracts students’ attention and makes concepts clearer to those who are not proficient or interested in learning. The audio (or voice) part of these videos can be improved to make them clearer and more attractive to students.

These materials were given to and wetted by a set of school teachers from the district before their use in the classrooms. This is a useful strategy but may not be adequate. It may be better to present these materials before a set of creative educators for suggestions to make these more child- and learning-friendly. Given that these materials are already in use, it may be better to get these reviewed by a set of creative educators to identify possible improvements. The modification of learning materials based on this may make the Gyanodaya project a lot more impactful.

2. Need for contextualising learning materials
The digital learning materials are prepared in Hindi and are also based on the syllabus of the Jharkhand state. In that sense, the materials are context specific. However, further contextualisation may help. One obvious need is the use of languages of tribal or other communities. Though the project has attempted to prepare learning materials in Santalese and Pahadia, it is not complete or has not been very successful. The use of these languages may help children from communities or locations where Hindi is not the first language. Moreover, digital learning materials must use local examples liberally to make the concepts clearer to children especially those who come from poor and marginalised groups and whose parents have not gone through modern education.

3. Addressing the variations in pedagogy in the use of digital materials
While observing smart-classroom sessions by school teachers, we could see that there is a lot of variation in their ways of using digital learning materials. Some of these teachers are somewhat passive and limit their intervention to pausing videos and asking students whether they have understood or not. The response of students was more often than not, silence, given the tendency in many Indian rural schools where children do not ask questions unhesitatingly. On the other hand, there were other teachers who used digital materials a lot more creatively and actively to enhance the quality of the learning experience for the children.

These variations in the use of learning materials are not surprising and, in fact, are a reflection of the differences in the interest, capabilities and attitudes of school teachers. However, there can be some interventions to improve the pedagogic practices related to the use of these new learning materials. Best practices can be popularised through informal interactions or social media. There can be better thinking on things, such as where to pause a video or what should be shown before asking questions, etc. Practices based on these thoughts can be communicated to teachers. There can also be other support and some of these are mentioned in the following point.

4. Need for organising academic support along with technical support and the system of monitoring and evaluation
As noted earlier, the Gyanodaya project has a provision to provide technical support and carry out monitoring of the use of digital learning materials. However, along with this, it would be great if some academic or pedagogic support can be provided to teachers. Or there can be a small set of academic associates along with those who provide technical support. Such support can be beneficial in different ways. It can provide some on-site capacity-building of school teachers on how to use the materials. Moreover, the academic issues/​challenges while using these materials can be noted by these academic associates and these can be communicated to those who prepare/​revise these digital learning materials.

5. Promotion of use of materials outside the classroom
Though there is a provision for students to access and use these materials outside the classroom and raise and clear doubts, these may be constrained by technological and contextual factors. Many students may not have smartphones or access to the internet. Though they should be able to use downloaded materials, how easy it is and what the actual usage by students is, need to be assessed. Are there solutions to see that more and more students can use these materials outside the classroom (especially when many among them may not have smartphones or internet connections)? Can there be organisational solutions (such as village clubs or informal forums for senior/​junior or proficient and not-so-proficient students) which can facilitate this? Though there are WhatsApp groups which can be used to clear doubts, the use of these groups and the effectiveness of the ways of answering questions may need to be assessed. Can there be a voluntary teachers’ forum for this purpose? Is it possible to use the academic support that is mentioned in the previous point to facilitate/​support a voluntary teachers’ forum for this purpose? These ideas can be explored.

Shortage of teachers and role of Gyanodaya

As noted earlier, the severe shortage of teachers is the main constraint on education in the Godda district. Though smart-classrooms may help in a small way to address this problem, its impact on education as a whole cannot be ignored. Digital learning materials cannot substitute school teachers. These materials should be an additional tool in the hands of teachers. The absence of a sufficient number of teachers would work against the realisation of the full potential of the Gyanodaya project. The Adani Foundation cannot do much in this regard nor can school teachers, block-level education functionaries, parents or SMC leaders. The state government needs to be persuaded to take constructive steps in this direction. If the appointment of permanent teachers is currently not possible, the idea of hiring contract teachers using the District Mining Funds can be explored.

The need to continue the Gyanodaya programme

Our field visits and interactions with stakeholders convince us that there is a need to continue this project for some more years. The schools may have access to smart-classrooms and digital learning materials and teachers may use these even after the programme period. However, the kind of interaction and handholding that is currently provided by the Adani Foundation may have to continue for some more years till this educational intervention attains its full maturity and students in the district are in a position to derive the full benefits of the project.

The recurring cost of the intervention per school or child is reasonable and there is a possibility that the government may fund this. It seems that the officials and politicians at the district (and state) level are aware of the potential and benefits of Gynaodaya. However, the government may have other pressing needs. In our discussion with a top official of the district, we explored the possibility of using the District Mining Fund for this purpose. He was not sure of this considering the need to reach a consensus among all political representatives. This is not surprising since improving the quality of education is yet to become a major agenda of political parties.

There may be another advantage if the Adani Foundation continues supporting this project for a few more years. The kind of attention and monitoring that the project requires (and which is currently provided by the foundation) may not be replicated by government officials (especially when we consider their traditional roles and the scarcity of personnel). Moreover, as noted earlier, the project may require some more inputs (like the review of digital learning materials and academic support) to make it highly effective and replicable. It would be advantageous if the Adani Foundation continues with the project until that stage is reached. Gradually, this programme can be extended by the state government to other schools in the same district or in other districts.

Way forward

It is clear that the Gyanodaya project has been making notable improvements in school education in the Godda district. However, there is scope for improvement. We list down a set of action points which can enhance the effectiveness of the project.

  1. There can be a review of digital learning materials by a set of creative educators to see how these can be made more attractive and useful for those students who are not academically proficient.
  2. The need and possibilities to contextualise these materials to Godda district (especially the features of its population and social groups) may be considered as part of the review.
  3. Attempts to make these digital learning materials accessible for those students whose first language is not Hindi (like those who use languages like Santalese or Pahadia) have to be made.
  4. Along with the team which provides technical support and facilitates the monitoring of the project, there can be small sets of people to provide academic support to teachers. They can identify best practices in using these digital materials; create voluntary forums which facilitate interaction among teachers, informal capacity building on the pedagogy of digital learning; and create/​support groups which facilitate learning by students outside the classroom.
  5. A decision to continue with the project for a few more years (with the additional steps which are mentioned here) by the Adani Foundation may help in the realisation of its full potential for the children of Godda district.

Acknowledgements: This case study was facilitated by Adani Foundation’s Gyanodaya Team of Dr Priti Adani, Chairperson; Shri Vasant Gadhavi, Executive Director; Mr George Thomas, Head, Education; Mr Naresh Goel, Site Head, Adani Power, Godda; Mr Subodh Singh, CSR Head Jharkhand; and Mr Santosh Singh, Project Officer

Authors

V Santhakumar, Professor, Azim Premji University
Subrat Kumar Mishra, Placements, Azim Premji University

  1. Some of these issues are discussed in detail in this article: https://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/insights-from-social-context/technology-in-education-and-social-equilibrium-in-developing-societies↩︎

  2. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/new-global-data-reveal-education-technologys-impact-on-learning↩︎

  3. For example, this is a major concern mentioned in the New Education Policy, 2020↩︎