• Blesson K. B.

Improving Digital Learning In Rural India Using Voice Technology

India currently is changing into one of the hottest hubs for Ed tech startups and the learners are now fed with many interactive and flexible courses. But the actual problem is that rural students aren’t able to afford these premium courses due to their pricey nature. Drop-out rates after primary education is dramatically increasing and then come the challenges of digitalizing education in rural India, which are reasonably many. So, in the overview of these challenges, the task of providing quality and affordable digital learning seems to be mammoth. But can Atlas Primer be the game changer and influence the improvement of digital learning for students in the rural part of India?

If you ask me to name a country where the Ed tech is booming like crazy, I would say it’s India without any second thoughts. Currently, the global investors are keeping an eagle eye on the Indian Ed tech start-ups and are ready to fuel them. According to the RedSeer and Omidyar Network India report, India’s Ed tech market will touch $3.5B by 2022. But due to the heavy competition in the market, the rates of these courses provided by the e-learning companies is considerably pricey. As a matter of fact, though being expensive, these courses do impress in terms of quality and interactive learning. But all of these highly interactive and premium courses can be accessed only by urban students; that is, students whose parents can afford to pay for the e-course, internet and resources.

So, my question is, what happens to the learners in rural areas?

When we talk about improving quality education in India, it should imply for every learner, irrespective of their background, location and financial capability. Let me remind you that the literacy rate in rural India has massively increased over the years and is currently around 74%, which is indeed a decent number. But at the same time, the percentage of students dropping out of school after their primary education has been considerably high and is still moving up the scale, which does sound disturbing. Although, for the last few decades, the governments have been keen on building more schools and making education free of cost, for the rural students, the challenge of encouraging students to continue their secondary education has remained formidable.

Well, reasons like poverty, household chores, lack of parental education and so on are the major contributors to the increasing dropout rates. A major and disappointing issue is the absence of educational technology in underprivileged areas. Also, the percentage of students, who feel interested to spend time learning or complete schooling, is significantly dropping due to the lack of good teachers, resources and opportunities. Ed tech firms hesitate from investing or reaching out to the rural parts because they aren’t going to benefit from them as the learners can’t afford their courses and would ultimately give them nothing but zero profit. Not just that, even if they wish to provide their services to the rural areas, the challenge of setting up both software and hardware technology, resources for learning, good network or access points etc., is a mammoth task.

I certainly feel that one of the reasons for the halted entry of digital learning is the lack of high-speed internet. You definitely will need good internet connectivity and speed to access the digital content. And I am also guessing that you might be aware of the restrictions we have in setting up internet access points in remote areas. Apart from the difficulties in setting up, it is too expensive for students from financially weak families, as the rates for high-speed broadband or data are pretty high.

But let us assume that we somehow manage to take care of the internet part and materials; because it is to be noted that, over the years, the governments have been bringing in a lot of initiatives for making digital learning possible in rural India. For example, National Digital Library (NDL), SWAYAM Spoken Tutorial, SWAYAM Prabha, E-Yantra, Virtual Lab, Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE), and many more. But the real deal would be providing the learners with the essential devices like tablets, laptops, smartphone etc., to experience or access digital learning courses. Well, you know these devices never come cheap, right? So how can we expect the families of rural learners to buy such expensive devices when they can't even afford good food.

Yet another problem that the students in rural areas often have to deal with is the English language. Most of them feel uncomfortable while reading or writing in English due to their lack of a good foundation in the language. It is quite common in the village schools that the lecturers teach the students in their native language to make them understand the concepts better. Now, as you know that most of the current quality digital content often comes in English, which is again a barrier for these students.

As I don't intend to talk only about the challenges of bringing technology to the rural education system throughout the article, I will share my thoughts on why I think that Atlas Primer can definitely provide an effective solution or transform digital education in rural India.

The concept of Atlas Primer did amaze me and had kept me thinking about the possibilities of revolutionizing digital learning in rural India, using voice technology and digital assistants. People in India are less aware of these kinds of software because we often force ourselves into using expensive or affordable e-learning tools available in the market. Maybe, this is the exact kind of software that could help learners in rural areas to access quality education. What I mean is, the introduction of voice technology in education can be one big step towards transforming and enabling the learners in the rural areas, have access to advanced and affordable technology capable of assisting them in their learning. And there would be no such need for high-speed internet, simply because of the logic that audio travels further than video; thereby, making Atlas Primer capable of working even when connected to low-speed internet.

Also, the simplicity of Atlas Primer makes it easy for the students in remote areas, especially those who aren’t that used to the technologies and advanced devices, to operate and access the course materials by simple voice commands (with the help of voice assistants like Google Assistant, Alexa etc.). And the best thing about Atlas Primer is that the entire course (or) lectures can be accessed, in almost any language, making it easier for the learner to understand. After all, Ed tech is about blending technology with education and help the learner experience fun and quality learning, stay engaged and get used to the technology tools that can help them with their future.

This truly can change the mindset or attitude of the students towards learning. The learners will feel privileged to be able to afford such an advanced solution like Atlas Primer, just like any other urban learner. It can motivate them to study harder and dream of achieving greater heights in life. But before we even initiate the program in India, it’s important to make sure that the government, parents and learners become familiar and aware of this very concept of using a digital teaching assistant for learning. I firmly believe that Atlas Primer can revolutionize the education system in India and make learning much easier and better for every student out there, no matter what their background, race or location is. But as I said, every theory or concept needs to be tested, as the outcomes can vary based on the location. All we can do right now is think and share the possibilities and opportunities of introducing a newcomer like Atlas Primer into the Indian education system. Together, we can explore the endless possibilities for educational growth in India and promote a healthy learning environment for every learner.

Happy learning!

Blesson K. B. is an associate of Atlas Primer and researches the impact new technologies and inclusive learning can have on rural India.