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Learning with understanding: An imperative measure for digital transformation in education

The article appeared in India Today on 19th August 2020

The Indian Education system has been adversely impacted since the outbreak of Covid-19 in March 2020. To understand the gaps in the education system and to address the issues through innovative measures across all states and union territories in India, MHRD brought out The India Report on Digital Education.

Main focus of the report

The report has focused on the delivery of education, on how content is being delivered to the children through various mediums including TV, radio, live classes, pre-recorded videos, worksheets, etc.

The speed at which this was done is laudable. It would be good to measure how much a child has absorbed and developed a conceptual understanding of the topic for which the content has been consumed.

Having a relentless focus on measuring learning with understanding will help to determine which content is actually helping children learn versus those that are exciting, entertaining or causing a child to mentally checkout.

If one has the power to influence what content will be used in the State, or if a school educator is considering the purchase of learning content for their school, consider analyzing the wide variety of available content through the following framework:

1. Adaptive:

Many studies have shown that learning levels are lower than the grade in which the children learn (Educational Initiatives, PISA, ASER, etc). Other studies show heterogeneity of learning levels even when there are homogenous socio-economic variables of children in the same class as documented in a J-PAL RCT paper (Muralidharan, et al 2017).

Each child has a unique learning trajectory and hence providing a standardized one size fits all content (whether it’s a 3 mins video, 30 mins live lecture to a class or a battery of worksheet questions) does not help much in that regard. So, it is imperative that any content provided is adaptive to a child’s current knowledge state.

2: Based on pedagogy research:

Most of the content currently is a digitized or animated version of what the textbook or the curriculum has. However, that may not help children learn the underlying concepts. It is important to first understand the fundamental pedagogy research that was used to create the content and whether it is proven to help a child learn.

The pedagogy research is usually a combination of asking high-quality questions that check for conceptual understanding, administering them at large scale, interpreting the data through the choices that children make and interacting with students to realise the rationale the student has to make the answer choice and supplementing this with reading internationally published research papers on the same topic.

3: Contextualized:

Global research has proven that learning in mother tongue language in the early years can significantly help a child learn concepts as well as achieve mastery in other languages including English.

So instead of translating “Red Riding Hood” it is useful to pick up local folk tales and poems that children and their parents can discuss at home. It is also important that the content is contextualized for the child’s environment with objects that the student can associate with.

4. Data-Driven improvements:

High quality content should generate data on the child’s interaction with the learning content. This includes the response choice, time taken, learning trajectory, expression of emotion, scores on games, etc. This data needs to be used iteratively to improve the content.

If this is not done, then the content is static, and unclear if it is continuously improving. While machine learning and artificial intelligence can help, the low hanging fruit is in pedagogy research which is explained in point B above.

5: Evaluation done by 3rd party:

There needs to be an independent 3rd party evaluation of the impact of content on student learning outcomes (the ability of a child to read, do real-life mathematics, have a scientific inquiry mindset, etc). Else currently the consumption/purchase decision is made far more on optics (graphics, gamification, look and feel) than on whether it has proven to impact learning outcomes or not.


As a nation, we need to be discerning and evaluate newer products and technologies with the question of “Has it proven to improve children’s learning outcome?” in addition to asking other questions.