This article is based on learnings and insights from implementing an Ed-tech programme, Mindspark, in government schools across India

Background: A total of 196.7 million students were enrolled in elementary schools (Grades I-VIII) across government schools of India in 2015-16. These schools have a shortage of ~1 million teachers against a sanctioned strength of 51.8 lakh posts (as of 31.03.2016). To fulfil the norms of the RTE Act, estimates suggest that during 2015-16, at least 4 lakh teachers were needed at elementary level*.

Per-student expenditure for their elementary education: Average private expenditure per student pursuing education during the academic session in 2014 shows that Rs. 4,610 per student is spent for the students enrolled in Grade I-IV, whereas Rs. 5,386 per student is spent on the students enrolled in grades VI-VIII. So, if we see the elementary students (Grades I-VIII), the average expenditure per students was Rs. 5,000 in the year 2014.

The table below shows that 1.82% of GDP has been provisioned as Budgeted Expenditure (Revenue) on education by Education Department and Other Departments by Sector –Budget Estimate – 2014-15. It shows that Rs. 2,26,702.5 crore has been allotted to Elementary Education i.e. about Rs. 11,525/child/year. Summing the private and government expenditure, ~Rs.16,525 is the expense against each child/year on all India level. However, a personalized and adaptive ed-tech programme like Mindspark can be made available to the students at a cost of ~Rs.130 per child/per year/per subject in a scaled model with government infrastructure and manpower resource.

Despite the amount spent on each child in elementary education, students seem to be struggling to acquire grade-level skills, hence India faces a big challenge of bringing quality education for all. Some of the statistics from a report of the independent agency say that only a quarter (25%) of all children in grade 3 are at ‘grade level’. This means that the majority of children (75%) in grade 3 need immediate help in acquiring foundational skills in literacy and numeracy. 1 out of 4 children leaves grade 8 without acquiring basic reading skills and many children completing grade 8 are not prepared for higher studies or for the labour market.**

Problem Statement: Due to the Heterogenous classroom situation, it is highly impossible for a teacher to cater to all students individually in a class of 25-60 within a period of 30-45 minutes. The learning gap which exists from early grades increases widely in higher classes. A baseline data on 5,000+ students in government schools shows that the average learning level of grade 8 students is in grade 4.

The problems teachers generally face and how can Mindspark ( Ed-tech solution) solve them

Mindspark can solve multiple problems that a teacher face, and can help them achieve their goal of student learning outcome.

  • It is difficult for a teacher to segregate her students in different groups based on their actual learning level and the need. However, using Mindspark a teacher can very easily do this.
  • All students are not on the same level in the class, and a teacher has to teach the same content to all students regardless of their level. All teachers are aware of this, but they can’t do anything to solve this issue. With Mindspark programme, students can learn at their pace and learning level.
  • Teachers are not able to diagnose each student in the class and are not aware of the students’ actual progress and level of understanding, but with Mindspark programme, teachers can diagnose each student’s issue individually and can help students reaching their grade level competencies.
  • Teachers can’t map student’s learning in their classroom session, but in the Mindspark programme, students get their session report after completing each session. With the help of real-time data accessibility, a teacher is able to get a sense of every student’s progress and the challenges they may be facing.
  • Sometimes, teachers are engaged in other activities so they just assign students reading and other work in a traditional classroom. However, in Mindspark, teachers can activate any topic available in the worksheet. By doing this, a teacher can get student performance data with a click using Teacher Dashboard in the Mindspark programme. This is not possible in a traditional setting. Students can also continue their study through Mindspark session when a teacher is not present in the classroom.

The Proposed Solution for teachers: Mindspark Learning Lab (based on the ground experience):

In 2017, Government of Rajasthan entered into an MoU with EI to provide Mindspark*** in state-owned schools on a pilot basis for the next 3 years. The aim was to introduce Mindspark (ed-tech solution) to the government school eco-system and integrate it into the day-to-day teaching-learning process and see the results. For robust monitoring & evaluation of the project, J-PAL South Asia was appointed as a third-party evaluator of the programme lead by Economist Karthik Muralidharan. The project was introduced to the 40 Adarsh schools randomly selected by J-PAL for the students of grade 1-8 where 40 additional schools were selected as a control population.

Across 40 Adarsh schools, the Mindspark lab was set-up by Educational Initiatives (EI) which provided not only the Mindspark programme to the school but also provided the complete solution: an ed-tech programme which includes hardware, furniture, manpower support, processes and manuals, pedagogy support, and a dashboard to see the real-time data. In order to build the capacity of Math and Hindi teachers towards the programme and run Mindspark in an effective manner, one lab-in-charge was assigned to each school. Teachers were trained on using Mindspark as their assistant in the teaching-learning process with the help of EI resource person (tagged as Mindspark Lab-in-charge).

EI tried out multiple innovative ideas and activities in order to integrate the Programme into the school eco-system and give them a solution for elementary education. The following were found effective:

  1. Developing a good professional relationship with the school-Enabling a condition where the teacher is able to internalize that Mindspark (Ed-Tech) is an assistant teacher and is helping him catering all students at the actual learning level in a heterogeneous classroom.
  2. Deploying dedicated resources to work on the ground with teachers in the schools in the beginning of the programme with a phased exit plan.
  3. Integrating Mindspark sessions to the school timetable.
  4. Sharing student usage reports to the school staff on a daily & weekly basis.
  5. District Level Teacher Training workshops – these training sessions helped principals and teachers in demonstrating their best practices with the group, sharing challenges and discussing the possible solutions.
  6. School wise teacher training workshops – helped teachers hone their skills in operating hardware, running Mindspark lab, analyzing student usage report, and iterating their classroom teaching plan.
  7. Government engagement – the engagement of government officials on the district level helped a lot to create buy-in and ownership among the teachers and principals.
  8. Award and recognition – the schools were ranked on a monthly basis based on student usage and attendance in Mindspark.
  9. Adding new features to the product- based on the teacher’s feedback, the product was improved e.g. enabling dual login to the Mindspark, creating grade-level worksheets, reducing sync time etc.
  10. Student involvement- appointing “Mindspark Monitors” grade-wise, training them, creating student leader board, awarding and rewarding students in prayer time and in community meetings etc.

Mindspark has been recognized for its effectiveness on national and international platforms like UNESCO, Economist, Stanford University, Central Square Foundation, etc. MHRD, Government of India has mention Mindspark in its New Draft Education Policy; new ICT Policy.

The monitoring system that was deployed by EI and the government of Rajasthan

Generally, we find a lack of a proper monitoring system on the government front. We at EI, have multiple layers of the programme monitoring deployed by the team on the ground:

  • A daily progress report captured by the technology where there is zero involvement of a human.
  • Database reports, daily and weekly mailers to the project team and schools.
  • Mobile dashboards for state-level officials, district-level officials, block level officials, cluster level officials, principals, and EI management team.
  • A dedicated team of implementation on the ground and tracking the progress in a standardized way.
  • Daily Calls with the field team, looking at the data at the end of the day and creating action items for the next day, calling to the teachers and principals based on the usage report, a weekly review meeting of the field team and having detailed discussion on the challenges and the hurdles coming on the way and proposing the best solution to remove the hurdles.
  • Field visit on a daily basis by the district level officials of EI in addition to the random visits made by the government officials/DIET principals.

How Mindspark as an effective ed-tech product can help to solve the crisis of quality education in elementary education.

Since it is impossible for a human teacher to cater 40 students in a heterogeneous classroom where s/he gets a session of 40 minutes for a subject. The described ed-tech solution aims to adopt Mindspark by the state government and integrate it into the school eco-system in order to improve day to day teaching learning process and a teacher’s efficacy in the classroom. Policy for the teachers has to be shifted from completing syllabus to achieving the learning outcome of their students. A robust monitoring system needs to be established by the state government in order to conduct a weekly and monthly progress review on the state, district, block, and cluster level. The focus should be on adequate quality usage of Mindspark (75 minutes/week/subject/per student). Training on Mindspark to be added in the teacher’s yearly training calendar and to be done through Master Trainers of DIETs. Mindspark will provide real-time in-depth access of student usage data with ample analysis and action items to iterate classroom lesson planning. Mindspark will work as an assistant teacher to each of the subject teacher who is struggling and finding it hard to work in a heterogeneous classroom. During a Mindspark session, each of the students will learn with its own pace and learning level. Brighter students can achieve a higher level of skills what they deserve, whereas slow pace students or the students lacking with the foundational skills will get remediated as per their actual need. A teacher has to focus on usage data and the inferences. At the same time, a teacher has to focus on students who are stuck and need human intervention at any stage. This will enable the teacher to cater all their students as per their need, bridge the learning gap their students have, and help them achieve their grade-appropriate skills with understanding.

In independent research led by Economist Karthik Muralidharan from J-PAL South Asia has proved that Mindspark is a top-notch ed-tech solution to improve elementary education. A randomized control trial (RCT) of Mindspark by J-PAL shows 2-2.5x gains in students’ learning outcomes relative to control schools and a 7-8x gain in DIB Lucknow. However, the final report of the Rajasthan’s 3-year pilot is awaited.

“It’s better than anything I’ve ever seen in 15 years of educational research.” – Economist Karthik Muralidharan (IGC Conference, 2016)

Note: The figure shows ?of the score of the? students assigned to control (no Mindspark) and treatment (Mindspark) in a pilot randomized evaluation in Delhi. Treatment students performed, on average, 0.37 standard deviations better than control students after only 4.5 months. Source: Muralidharan et al. (2016).

References:

*Educational Statistics At A Glance-2018, Ministry of MHRD, Government of India.

**ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) 2018

*** Mindspark is a personalized adaptive learning (PAL) solution developed by EI in 2008 after a decade of pedagogy-based research and studies on students’ learning processes and misconceptions. The software uses this data on student learning gaps and difficulties to provide tailored remediation and an adaptive learning experience to each student through scientifically designed educational content in the form of questions, interactive animated activities, games, stories, and challenges. The project aims at improving the learning outcomes of students in Grade 1 to 9 of Government school students across 10 states of India. The project also involves capacity building of teachers in digital pedagogy, and data literacy as well as replacing rote learning with understanding for students.

#Educational Initiatives (EI) is an education technology organization founded in 2001 and is expert in educational research, assessment and producing different learning solutions to bridge student learning gaps across the world.

Kashi Nath Jha

Kashi Nath Jha

"Kashi works as an associate manager in the Large Scale Education Programmes (LSEP) division at EI. As a passionate development professional, he has been associated with the organization for more than seven years now. During his tenure, he has been a part of and led various key projects of student assessment, research, and implementation of Mindspark (EdTech) in various states. The clients include state governments, SCERT, DIETs, government schools, GIF, J-PAL, P&G, HZL, NSEF, KPMG, World Bank, UNICEF, MSDF, et al. Given his hands-on grass-root experience, his expertise lies in managing large-scale projects including planning, budgeting, stakeholder management, implementation, and government liaison. Apart from work, Kashi enjoys traveling, exploring geographies, and playing chess and badminton".
Kashi Nath Jha