Haryana’s e-Adhigam: A comprehensive tablet based learning program

Dr. J. Ganesan, IAS

Though the importance of technology in education was realized early in India, successive governments have had limited success in implementing Ed-Tech programs that could positively impact learning. The pandemic has disrupted the traditional teaching- learning space and has further emphasized the relevance and urgency for Ed-Tech. It is in this context that I intend to share Haryana’s experience of rolling out “e-Adhigam”, the comprehensive tablet-based learning program.

The Covid-19 pandemic apart from causing a world-wide public health havoc, has unsettled every aspect of human existence. Teaching and learning were not immune to it and underwent major disruptions. As an UNESCO report points out, 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries were rendered out of school and over 100 million teachers and school personnel were impacted by the closure of learning institutions. The school closure put 24 million children and youth at risk of dropping out and over 100 million children falling below the minimum proficiency level in reading. It also points out that apart from learning, the shutting down of schools also impended the progress made towards gender equality and exposed girls to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, adolescent pregnancy and forced marriage. The access to quality teaching and learning resources by learners was threatened by the pandemic, which brought back focus on adoption of digital technology in education.

The Government of India responded by launching the PM e-vidya initiative on May17, 2020 which unified all efforts relating to digital, online and on-air education. The DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform which can be accessed through a web portal and mobile application was developed as a national repository for e-content. The Swayam Prabha TV channels reached homes which did not have access to the internet. Radio broadcasting was used for children in remote areas who were not online. Even community radio stations and podcasts (Shiksha Vani) were used to transmit learning content.

The Government of Haryana also responded with its own set of unique initiatives that catered to local needs. The focus was on creating e-learning content and ensuring its access through mobile phones (mainly WhatsApp) and TV channels.

The mobile application AVSAR proved to be an effective tool that teamed the teachers and students in a virtual mode and facilitated in assessing student behaviour and performance. While in the rest of the country, student assessment was given a pass in view of school closures, Haryana gained the distinction of not only regularly conducting assessment tests through the AVSAR application but even issuing e- report cards to the children. The application was regularly accessed by close to 95 percent of the students and 98 percent of the teachers indicating very good user acceptability giving us the confidence of introducing further ambitious technology solutions. However, sincere efforts notwithstanding, there were learning losses which was clearly attributable to lack of computing devices with the children. Since, most of the government school children came from a poor socioeconomic background, the screen time available to them was very limited as they were dependent upon their parents and relatives for the device. It was at this stage that a decision was taken to provide computing tablets free of cost to the 500,000 children of classes 9th to 12th.

The school education department had for some time been pre-emptively researching and drudging upon an implementation strategy.Having a young and dedicated team surely did help in sifting through scores of research papers and arriving at a feasible disposition. Experience from other states in India in implementing similar projects revealed limited success, since the program was restricted to mere distribution of devices. The states that had distributed laptops to school children saw these devices end-up in the grey market in record time and being sold at throw away prices. Research revealed that the laptop was alien to the teacher-student learning interface and neither knew what to do with it. Also, the high cost of servicing and lack of internet connectivity worked to its detriment. A holistic approach with a clear understanding of current practices and barriers to adoption of technology with inputs incorporated from a range of stake holders including teachers, parents and students, was necessary for a successful roll-out. Our team devised a comprehensive strategy learning from such experiences. A three-pronged strategy of providing a durable secure device equipped with academic content delivered through an adaptive system and internet data to access content was subsequently worked out.

Apart from procuring a durable device, it was important to ensure after sale maintenance and service and provide on-ground support by deploying adequate field management staff. Hence, the service level agreements were designed accordingly.

Preventing the misuse of the device was an area of concern that was addressed with the induction of the mobile device management software that hardwired the device into accessing only whitelisted content. Providing good quality academic content aligned with the school curriculum and a software that allows both navigation and access in the vernacular language was a specific requirement. It was also necessary to ensure that the software includes interactive features such as quizzes, games, discussion prompts and a repository of practice questions. Our team worked around this problem by seeking out vendors who could curate content already available free of cost on various platforms and deliver it through a Personalised and Adaptive Learning (PAL) algorithm. The Personalised and Adaptive Learning (PAL) is the new frontier in education technology in India and across the world that allows every student to chart their own unique learning path. The dynamic software adapts content as per real time student performance and provides data on his/her progress. Though the Government of India had issued detailed guidelines on PAL in 2018, experience in implementing it at scale was very limited. It is here that the “Edtech Tulna” framework developed by IIT Bombay came to our rescue. An across-the-board scaffold to evaluate PAL vendors was established after multiple rounds of discussion with experts from IIT Bombay. The evaluation criterion was diverse and drew upon scores obtained in the pilot studies conducted in schools to PAL specific product and process features. A wide melange of subject and technical experts were deployed to evaluate the product. Resultantly, academic content through PAL for the subjects Hindi, English and Social Science has been developed at very competitive prices. The process of identifying vendors for other subjects is in progress. The third leg of the program was to ensure adequate data connectivity along with the hardware and software. A credible data plan of 2GB per day per student has been ensured as a part of this program.

Haryana’s e-Adhigam also makes sure that the role of the teacher is not forgotten in this milieu. Ed-Tech interventions that minimize the role of the teacher or have poor training modules built- in or that lack an incentive structure have shown low student engagement. Care is being taken to ensure that teachers are properly trained till they become comfortable in navigating and using the basic features of the product (including student features) and understand the connect with the curriculum. All the Post Graduate teachers numbering 33,000 have been given a computing tablet with a built-in specialised teacher module enabling them to connect with their students in a virtual mode. The service level agreements with the vendor provide for periodic and systematic teacher training.

A robust grievance redressal module which brings together the users, vendors and the education department is being developed that would enable time bound redressal of issues. An MIS based dashboard is also in the offing that would facilitate data collection and analytics.

The 5th of May 2022 which saw the state-wide launch of “e-Adhigam” would be permanently etched in the memory of the school education department, not only for the fact that it marked the fruition of a yearlong effort but also for the tectonic shift it signals in the teaching-learning sphere. The students demand that the learning experience must meet their interests, time constraints and academic needs and “e-Adhigam” is a definitive step towards this front.