Meghshala, an educational organisation and app, is shaping the future of students by creating a community of teachers equipped with the knowledge of how technology can enhance learning and change the face of the Indian education system.
India suffers from a huge shortage of teachers, with the number estimated to be as high as two million. More worryingly, of the seven lakh teachers who graduated in 2014, only six percent managed to pass the CBSE eligibility test, highlighting the bigger issue of a few million students receiving a compromised education every year. Moreover, with teacher salaries forming the highest-budgeted item across states, in some cases as high as 80 percent of the overall state budget, hardly anything is spent on monitoring and evaluation of the quality of education delivered.
Given the grave scenario in terms of availability of teachers as well as teaching quality, both Tata Trusts and Meghshala believe that technology can help deliver world-class content at scale, which can be used by millions of teachers to be productive and effective while in class.
Sixty-five-year-old Jyoti Thyagarajan, Co-founder and Managing Trustee of Meghshala Trust, jokes that she is too old to attempt to work in a tech-based company. A true middle-class Indian, she holds three master’s — two in physics and one in teaching. “I was understated everywhere, whether in school, or down the street. I was no rockstar material by a long shot but I believed problems could be solved through effective methods. For me, Meghshala was designed to solve a real problem,” she shares.
Jyoti feared that most of these under-trained teachers catered to those children who are at the bottom of the social pyramid. “I think humanity in general gets careless about services delivered to these people. I see this as a colossal waste of resources. These children are some of the brightest, and education is their only way out of this socio-economic status. Yet, they receive a really poor education. This is the reason Meghshala was started, to make education a level playing field.”
Jyoti, together with Sridhar Ranganathan, founded the Meghshala Trust in 2013 and began working out of Sridhar's office in Bengaluru. Right at the start, the duo gathered five teacher friends who came together and wrote lessons that they could host on Sridhar's Learning Management System called CloodOn. They went on to test this out in five classrooms, also conducting a pre and post test on student learning.
With astonishing results, this was the team's first success. The model grew into a full-scale pilot across 24 schools in Bengaluru. “Our team blossomed to a little over 15 teachers and we began writing with intent, to finish the Grade-7 curriculum for the Karnataka SSLC. We had all the minor problems of on-boarding new entrants, trained young people leaving to get married, change cities, or go back to college. These were not challenges, just minor hiccups. Through all this, however, we were seen as the NGO of choice to work with,” says Jyoti.
Over the last two years, Meghshala has been generously supported by Tata Trusts. With immense experience from a number of programmes — Integrated Approach to Technology in Technology (ITE), Connected Learning Initiatives (CLIx), and other initiatives — it has helped build content for the Karnataka syllabus in terms of funding and mentorship.
Manoj Kumar, Head – Entrepreneurship & Innovations, Tata Trusts, says, “The funds enabled Meghshala to hire a strong team of master teachers who could create world-class content in the form of lesson plans and teach kits that would make learning fun, interactive, and holistic.”
Using technology to scale education initiatives has been a focus area for Tata Trusts and together with Meghshala, they aim to create disruptive impact in improving efficacy of teachers especially in government schools. Tata Trusts also encouraged Meghshala to distribute the content in an open-source way through a publicly available app.
With this, Meghshala launched its very own application dedicated to the nation in August 2017 in the presence of trustees from both Meghshala and Tata Trusts. Their aim was to expand reach and make themselves available to all teachers on a mobile phone, the ubiquitous companion of the maximum number of human beings today.
The app equips teachers with virtual kits that contextualise world-class pedagogic practices into everyday classroom teaching. Using images, videos, activities, and teacher instructions, Meghshala aims at converting the classroom into an active learning space. In addition, it helps gather real-time data enabling quick analysis and decision making by the implementation team. Also, with easy access to phones, teachers can prepare for the following day's classes from the comfort of their homes.
“After the download, every teacher will have the app and our teach kits in the memory of their phones. Once the teacher runs the app in class, she will know exactly what happens in the classroom. It will give her film clips to show, questions to ask, comments to make, or math problems to attempt. Soon the students start to enjoy the lessons and it is the best incentive for the teachers to start a new way of delivering the curriculum,” Jyoti explains.
Since the Meghshala app was publicly launched, it has seen huge traction and acceptability by teachers. Within a week, the app was downloaded by over 5,000 teachers across Karnataka and within a month the number has reached over 10,000. The team expects to touch 50,000 by the end of this year.
In an attempt to extend more support to teachers they have also set up a 1-800 number for teachers to call whenever they have doubts. Apart from the app itself, Meghshala has also actively managed implementation in about 150 schools across Karnataka and has data to indicate interest and aspiration among teachers to adopt new technology to make classroom experiences better. “Data also indicates that teachers have spent time on the app while the class was not in progress, which means teachers are now also spending time on pre-class preparation, which is an encouraging development,” says Manoj.
Tata Trusts is keen to actively work with Meghshala and build further on the content and technology to increase its reach and application in other geographies too. Meghshala, now looking to create content for the CBSE syllabus, is eyeing reaching out to a larger geography of teachers and students with the aim of delivering valuable content at scale to all schools in the country. With this, their goal is to impact one lakh teachers by 2020.
Tata Trusts and Meghshala are also actively interacting with other stakeholders in the ecosystem, including the government and other NGOs, to aggregate and distribute content from various sources on a single platform that can be deployed seamlessly across all schools in the country.
With overwhelming impact in such a short time, Meghshala is not only adding life to classrooms, teachers, and the method of teaching but also aspiring to leverage the complete potential of both students and teachers with technology as its driving force.