Using simple user-friendly technology, Himachal Pradesh revamps its education processes, teacher training, and more
In the government primary schools of Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, teachers are now spending their idle time using their smartphones to stay updated on the latest trends in education, and learning how to incorporate audio-visual elements in their daily curriculum. They also discuss study plans and activities with other teachers across the state using an app.
Innovations in technology have increasingly disrupted every sector, and the Indian education sector is no different, with technology becoming instrumental in improving student-teacher dynamics.
In Himachal Pradesh, collaboration between teachers is effective and efficient through TheTeacherApp, used to create content for subjects like English, Hindi, Math, and Environmental Studies for primary classes.
“Even in between classes, we refer to ‘TheTeacherApp’ to get acquainted with the topic for the next class. Technology has renewed motivation among teachers, and we are finding new ways to engage with students,” says Yudhveer Tandon, a government school teacher at Anoga in Salooni district.
Along with Samagra, and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the government developed technology platforms to improve teacher training, strengthen review and monitoring, and streamline procurement processes. This has resulted in an efficient allocation of resources, and empowerment of teachers and administrative officials.
These changes have also had a positive impact on the learning outcomes of the state. For instance, 50 percent of the state’s Class V students can do long division compared to the national average of 22 percent. Further, student attendance in government primary schools has increased to a whopping 87 percent on an average day, against the national average of 71 percent.
“Technology is a powerful tool that can help an administration deliver high-quality education. When deployed properly, technology can streamline a lot of things as seen in Himachal Pradesh. Resorting to technology helped the government be more efficient in allocating resources at all levels,” says Rohit Jamwal, Director of Elementary Education, Government of Himachal Pradesh.
Teacher training goes digital
Approximately 40,000 elementary school teachers are trained every year by the state’s Department of Elementary Education (DEE).
Yudhveer explains that primary government schools teachers across the state undergo an annual 11-day long teacher training course conducted by resource groups at the district level. These resource groups are trained by ‘master trainers’, who, in turn, are trained at the state level by experts. The training curriculum used to be finalised at the state level and, occasionally, in collaboration with external organisations.
“The existing training architecture of the state had several challenges and design flaws,” he says.
Due to the different levels of cascades, content quality deteriorated and the teachers were not satisfied with the training. Moreover, the curriculum was designed with little or no input from the teachers. “Largely, the same content was used every year, making most of the training repetitive,” he adds.
To make the programme more streamlined and data-informed, the government conducted a state-wide survey to understand teachers’ preferences using a Google Form. The survey comprised questions related to pedagogy, skill requirements, and infrastructural challenges. Based on responses from over 17,000 teachers, a content plan was created for in-person training as well as video-based training.
To create a model for continuous training, the department partnered with TheTeacherApp for video-based content, available on a mobile application, and a web portal. The app creates content for all subjects for primary classes, customised to the needs of each district. The content is focussed on the topics that are difficult for students to comprehend.
Thanks to the app, the annual training time has now decreased from 11 days to five days, with the state delivering 25 percent of its training through it, and saving on many hours that would have been spent travelling.
TheTeacherApp provides a teacher with a ‘monthly training package’, comprising 10-minute-long concept-based training videos. One ‘course’ consists of 5-6 videos, and each has one hour of training content. Teachers are provided with short training videos of two to three minutes to facilitate activity-based learning. It also gives a teacher access to podcasts focussed on explaining learning outcomes, making classrooms interactive, etc. Further, an online feedback mechanism helps them to understand the teachers’ perspective and improve the quality of training.
“We get more involved with learning, reading, and staying up to date on multiple subject matters. We are generally so overburdened that we are often unable to give students our 100 percent. This is where short courses become important,” says Komila Harnot, a senior government primary school teacher at Manjhol village in Kasauli Tehsil, Solan district.
Smart assessment system
Until 2016, Himachal Pradesh captured assessment data through a laborious and time-consuming exercise in which data entry operators manually entered examination results onto a spreadsheet. Given that there are about four lakh elementary school students in the state, this process took months to complete. It was also prone to errors because the same data was being entered twice, once manually on paper, and then manually on a computer by data-entry operators. Moreover, up to 50 percent of data was lost due to incorrect entry and/or non-compliance with formats.
“Assessment is one of the biggest tool used by teachers to understand learning levels achieved by a student. It would help us to assess the ability of the child and also build our curriculum according to the needs of the class. With proper assessment, we can bring changes in our teaching techniques, build activities around a complex topic and more,” Yudhveer says.
To overcomes these ‘manual’ barriers, the government built an in-house smart assessment dashboard, called ‘Samarth Assessment Dashboard’, to collect, digitise, and analyse assessment data. This enabled relevant and timely analysis, and data-based decision making could be undertaken for corrective actions. This was done by standardising statewide assessments and collecting learning outcome data, which collated information at the student, class and subject levels. Additionally, actionable insights at the school, cluster, block, and district levels build a competitive environment around learning, and motivate the schools to achieve a higher learning level outcomes.
Data collection and digitisation processes were revamped to reduce the time taken and improve the quality of data collected. The dashboard captures marks for English, Hindi, Mathematics, Environmental Studies, Science and Social Studies for Classes I to VIII. Thanks to the new dashboard, the end-to-end update process has been shortened from 10 months to one month.
“The dashboard currently captures data from across 15,000 schools and 5 lakh students across the state immediately after their assessment examination, in a standardised and easy format. This allows teachers, school and block officials, and the education department to see and access the same data at the same time. It also allows teachers to pinpoint exact learning gaps for each student, and plan their lessons accordingly,” says Ankur Bansal, Co-founder of Samagra, and the head of the Samarth project in Himachal Pradesh.
He adds, “To make this dashboard even more useful, complimentary training content is deployed to teachers through the mobile app. This has been the biggest change that Samarth has ushered in our state.”
The dashboard received the ‘Skoch Award’ at the national-level for digitisation of assessments, and providing data for decision making. The state’s education department was also approached by Chandigarh’s education department to study the dashboard and understand its features.
Small interventions make a big mark
Other tech-based interventions included a mobile-based ‘Shiksha Saathi’ app that captures information from school inspections in an objective way for easy analysis. The app aids block officials in on-ground data collection through features like evidence collection with pictures, real-time data capture, and geo-location marking. This data is used by officers at district-and state-level review meetings to come up with solutions to identified problems.
Such an intervention has ensured accountability mechanisms be put in place at various levels of the bureaucracy with regular follow-up and action-taken reviews. These interventions, within the last two years, have resulted in over 240 review meetings, where more than three-fourths of the identified issues through the ‘Shiksha Saathi’ app have been resolved.
“We wanted to make sure every stakeholder in education is equal in this change. So we used people-friendly tech tools such as WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. We made sure tech systems and apps such as TheTeacherApp, Shiksha Sathi, Samarth dashboard, etc, were easy to use and understand. That way, we were able to encourage everyone onto the platforms. And since the State government was very focused on having an end-to-end cycle to drive decisions based on data, an equal focus was laid on data collection, gathering real-time insights, training stakeholders in the use of data, and building culture of evidence-backed decision making,” adds Ankur.
These interventions have positively impacted the students, and have been successful in creating a learning environment. Similar tech-enabled initiatives are presently being undertaken by the governments of Haryana and NCR where the focus is to increase the learning outcome of students.
Komila believes the government should now focus on increasing the quality of education in the state.
“We need to update our school books and teach students about the latest technology and trends. We can no longer teach our students that gumboots are the only way to save oneself during the rainy season. We need to move beyond the old teachings,” she says.
Further, the state needs to work to increase enrolment, and provide individual subject teachers in government schools.
“The quality of education needs to be improved and each class needs at least one individual subject teacher. Today, I teach all the four subjects to my students and I don't have domain expertise in all of them. If we can get subject-specific teachers in government schools, we will have the ability to create a drastic change in learning outcomes within one year only,” Yudhveer adds.
Technology and innovations are the first step to make education more accessible and easier for teachers and students. Now, governments need to start working on phase two to attain sustainable education reforms by focussing on the quality of education.