This is the third of a three-part series documenting Ei’s attempts to help students use its Personalised Adaptive Learning software, Mindspark, during the Covid-19 pandemic. This article highlights learnings from Ei’s experience in implementing EdTech at home in this period. The first article documented the process of reaching students on the ground, while the second article highlighted insights from Mindspark usage data in this period. For a complete understanding of Ei’s implementation of Mindspark during Covid-19, read this report.

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With schools closed in the 2020-21 academic year due to COVID-19, students needed to be reached in their homes and communities to help them learn. To enable this, Ei made Mindspark, its Personalised Adaptive Learning Software, remotely accessible. Reaching them to facilitate usage, though, was challenging. Lockdowns, social distancing norms, a lack of access to digital devices, and low digital literacy complicated the outreach process and hampered progress.

However, this experience also helped develop a model of EdTech implementation that holds significant potential moving forward. Growing digital penetration in India and increased familiarity with remote learning can catalyse EdTech usage among a large portion of students in the coming decade. As such, Ei’s learnings from the process of implementing Mindspark at home possess great relevance for organisations attempting similar interventions, especially in capacity-constrained circumstances.

The key learnings and recommendations from this process are:

Create solutions that can be implemented at scale to engage governments:

Governments are increasingly looking for EdTech solutions to improve learning outcomes among students. However, especially when implementing solutions remotely, they prioritise those interventions that reach a significant percentage of the total student population. An effective solution is therefore one that can improve learning outcomes within the constraints faced by children in rural areas. Without catering to this demographic, achieving scale is unlikely.

Ensuring this is all the more important since the support of government officials helps legitimise the intervention among stakeholders on the ground, such as schools, teachers, community leaders, and families.

Seek the support of high-leverage authority figures like local leaders to legitimise interventions

Since EdTech solutions remain a radical departure from schooling-as-usual in many parts of the country, successful implementation on the ground requires the support of influential local leaders like panchayat members, school principals, etc. Without this, both initial entry into communities to which students belong and sustained uptake of the intervention will be challenging.

Devise long-term implementation strategies to gain the trust of stakeholders at the last-mile

Schools and teachers are naturally key stakeholders in students’ education. Securing their active cooperation, therefore, is crucial to reach children and facilitate sustained usage. However, schools and teachers are often hesitant to commit time and effort to support external interventions, especially given their considerable teaching and administrative workload. Many reported that this hesitation stemmed from a commitment to past interventions that were short-lived. Subsequently, these interventions did not yield the desired outcomes and were therefore not worth the time and resources devoted to them by teachers.

Designing realistic long-term implementation strategies that regularly track inputs, outputs, and outcomes will help develop their confidence in such interventions.

Engage in extensive & regular outreach to familiarise students & parents with EdTech solutions

Given that EdTech solutions are yet to become mainstream in many parts of the country, and since they are often intended for use over-and-above schoolwork, both students and their parents may consider them unnecessary for learning. In-depth orientation to help them understand the benefits of such programmes is crucial. Additionally, regular follow-ups, support, and nudging are needed to encourage sustained usage. However, excessive outreach may have perverse consequences; parents may consider this intrusive and stop responding. Achieving a balance in these efforts, therefore, is necessary.

Partner with well-networked organisations and individuals to maximise reach

Stakeholders on the ground are more likely to adopt EdTech solutions if they are associated with familiar organisations or individuals. Therefore, when expanding into new geographies, it is vital to partner with local NGOs or volunteers. Their familiarity with local languages, customs, and authorities can build trust in products and catalyze enrolment.

Develop alternate implementation channels to enable access for students without devices

Despite increased digital penetration in recent years, access to digital devices in India is not currently universal. Students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, who are also the most in need of high-quality learning tools, will therefore have the least access to them. Here, it is useful to develop alternate channels to reach children outside their homes as well. Permanent or mobile community labs can be set up where devices owned by the implementing organization can be made accessible to students periodically in their localities. If these are mobile labs set up in different locations on a rotational basis, they will be able to ensure that single devices can serve multiple students across areas. This not only increases the impact of a single device but can also reduce the per-student cost of programmes.

Make interfaces engaging and reward good performers to increase use in unmonitored settings

Even when all other conditions are met, EdTech interventions that hope to be used consistently in unmonitored settings (such as at home) must be highly engaging, through the use of gamification, animated content, videos, etc. Otherwise, students may get distracted by other content online when using digital devices. Additionally, awards and material incentives for high performing students can generate positive awareness regarding interventions and increase usage/enrolment

Sensitize parents and communities to increase child safety online

Though smartphones and other digital devices possess great potential in helping students learn, they also provide them access to the internet at an age where they may not be fully cognizant of the precautions needed when doing so. Especially when catering to demographics where digital literacy levels are low, implementing organisations should conduct digital safety awareness programmes for parents and students. This will help ensure that when using devices in unmonitored settings children are not exposed to illicit content or fall prey to fraudulent messages.