How EdTech firms are Helping Upskill New Breed of Educators



The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a paradigm shift in pedagogy, with learning and training imparted through online modules often outsourced to edtech firms, which have seen a new breed of educators from engineers to teachers to housewives signing up for artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotics and science and mathematics (STEM) to train the younger lot.

The edtech firms, spoke to, are actively engaged in schools imparting lessons to students from Class 3 to 12. They have prepared modules to teach students and even train teachers in new skills and methods away from rote learning.

With the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 emphasizing having new skills for employable youth and CBSE partnering with Microsoft for coding and data science lessons, there is a palpable shift from a conventional classroom comprising a trainer and students to a trainer or an engineer or even a housewife.

The ‘complementing forces’

With an aim to foster innovation and critical thinking, the government started Atal Innovation Mission, which established Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) at the school level. STEMBORO, an ed-tech firm, which was earlier using the ATL equipment, has now independently tied up with schools in new skills.

The firm is catering to students and teachers from Class 3 to 12, innovation labs in around 1,200 schools, 10 robotics labs across the country. They are also providing virtual STEM education classes and establishing ATL labs internationally.

There are two models followed under this partnership. “We teach both offline and online but due to the pandemic there is 90 per cent online teaching. Our team, which includes engineers, has started to take classes directly with students due to lack of trained personnel in new skills and are also training the educators or school teachers,” said Anurag Gupta, one of the founders of the firm STEMBORO.

Interestingly, a network of housewives, who graduated in technical education, is acting as a ‘complementing’ force in teaching block coding and python. STEMBORO has a part-time network of housewives who have a technical background (diploma in M. Tech and B. Tech) and are trained by experts. They then sit through a selection process later which they are eligible to take classes. They usually teach coding to students in a live session at the time preferred by them.

The firm is looking to expand this network which is currently 20 per cent. “The idea is to have more of housewives in the part-time network with the technical background because women engage well with children,” said Gupta. They are paid hourly basis.

The video content is developed and is used as learning management software with teachers. The lessons to teachers are not imparted at once, as the skills are new and could intimidate and “confuse them”. “Teachers might get confused so we have a one-month training and curriculum,” said Gupta.

Similarly, another ed-tech platform, Open Door, has a team of engineers that trains the teachers from grades 3 to 10. They offer two programs to schools — Mastery Assessments and Thinking Classroom — which are a regular part of Science and Math teaching in over 200 schools. They have designed this framework to make teaching STEM an innovative experience and improve learning outcomes.

Open Door has engaged with 1.5 lakh students and trained 3,000 teachers in conducting a series of assessments that look at established facts with new perspectives.

Why train teachers?

STEMBORO has trained 50,000 schoolteachers in lab systems while Open Door has taught 3,000 teachers.

Aneesh Bangia, co-founder of Open Door, said, “Teachers have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in these subjects, mathematics and science. But the problem is the method that awards marks for memorizing concepts and rote learning. We would like to train them in science and math concepts beyond definitions and formulas, and engage innovatively with the fact, ‘water is colourless.'”

While Gupta from STEMBORO said educating the teachers and getting experts in the classrooms is the need of the hour and demand of industry. “The education policies are aligned with industry demands, and today both education and industry are connected. They have to teach employable skills, which is not only regarding the textbooks.”

Hari Krishnan Nair, the founder of Great Learning for higher education, said he concurred with Gupta. Nair’s annual employment report showed that India contributed 9.8 per cent of the total analytics employment openings, with 93,500 employments in data science and analytics in August.

Quoting the data on the need for new skills, Akhil Shahani, director, SAGE Foundation, said, according to a survey executene by Statista, only 38 per cent of graduates have the skills needed across industries. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2018 said “generic employment skills imparted by educational institutes over the last century would not be useful.”

His foundation conducted a survey on up-skilling of graduates being the key to employability, hence, “lessons need to be imparted early”, according to Ed-tech partners spoke to and in this, the role of an educator is also essential.

Some teachers drop out

The changes in classroom teaching are bringing in newer forces but not all teachers are on board.

The ed-tech firms have observed that teachers from younger age groups are not likely to drop out from these high tech programs, and take this as an opportunity to transition in professions. According to Great Learning, an ed-tech in professional and higher education, “Two of the three learners’ experience profession transitions within the first 6 months of their program achievement.”

Gupta said, “The younger teachers are eager to learn and see an opportunity to pursue change in professions in AI and data science. But teachers who are highly educated and are above 45-50 are likely to drop out. We have seen a 5 per cent rate in two years,” said Gupta.

According to Gupta, 5 per cent of 50,000 teachers dropped out from their programs, while Open Door saw 10 per cent of 3,000 teachers opting out.

The number of dropouts is less as compared to those trained, though it is not necessary for them to learn these skills but “seeing today’s curriculum and education policies, many teachers would eventually execute,” said Gupta.

The network of educators in his firm involves housewives too with diploma in technical education. “The housewives are with our part-time network and we find women teachers more capable in this part-time network,” he added.

Echoing the views on up-skilling of educators, an Australia-based company, Victoria’s Global Education Solutions, said, “Companies in India must spend 2 per cent of net profit on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities (focus on Government schools in rural rural) areas/for girls/NGOs serving underprivileged/ marginalized communities) Current spend by top 100 companies is $1.09 billion a year, including education,” Racquel Shroff, global CEO, Indian Career Education & Development Council (ICEDC) quoted as saying.

Limitations of ed-tech in imparting skills

Two types of skill sets would be essential for the employments in the future; “The first are technical capabilities, which are hard skills so as Machine learning, Data Analytics, Robotics; and the second are soft skills so as sales, collaboration and leadership,” said Shahani from SAGE Foundation.

While ed-tech provides technical capabilities, it has nothing to offer on soft skills, he added.

Mujahidul Islam, an ed-tech specialist from Azim Premji University, said upskilling means learning regarding different types of communication technologies and appropriate pedagogies. “This needs to be included in all teaching education courses as well as in-service teacher’s training programs.”

He said, “You should also understand low and high-tech modes of communication in remote teaching.” Low-tech is a technology, which is available to everyone so as paper, pen, radio, telephone, and TV. High-tech involves internet-based digital devices.

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