As part of a study to understand the gaps and challenges in the education system, Sattva conducted a series of interviews with experts and practitioners working to innovate and improve education systems across the country. This is an excerpt from an interview we did with Srini Swaminathan, an ed-tech and education consultant based in Chennai.
About Srini Swaminathan: A runner, cyclist and teacher, Srini Swaminathan joined Teach For India in 2010 as a Teacher in Dharavi, Mumbai, inspired by the children of tsunami affected villages of Chennai where he volunteered earlier as a UNDP volunteer. in 2012, Srini started Teach For India in Chennai as its founding City Director.
For more on the gaps and challenges in the Indian education system, download our booklet: ‘Every child in school and learning well: Innovation and Partnerships in Education CSR‘.
Gaps in the Indian education system
“In my experience, there are 2 major gaps in the education system today which if closed, can have dramatic improvements on the whole system and take the idea of inclusive education forward.
1. Teacher support: We are investing a lot of money in education inputs. Yet the most important thing is strong teacher training. We need to find and fund solid teacher training models that enable continuous professional development, strengthen existing teacher training programmes as well as encourage new ideas and innovation in this space. We also need to establish platforms that can bring teachers together regularly to discuss new ideas and challenges at the neighbourhood, village and district levels.
There are amazing pedagogical resources already developed by organisations like Jodo Gyan, Nav Nirmathi, UNICEF etc, which can be reused. Teacher training must go beyond classroom sessions and look at how that training can be used in the real world. If we wish for our teachers to tackle the difficult challenge of education for all, we can’t equip them just with textbooks – we need a lot more weaponry in our arsenal.
2. EdTech: I firmly believe that the primary use of technology in the classroom is to bring joy and magic in lessons. Tech should be hassle free for the teachers.
Opportunities for intervention by Education CSRs
• Technology for e-learning is not just a big screen – it is every device that children are learning from – TV, mobile phones, Internet. Technology is great in the hands of a teacher who understands learning outcomes, behaviour management, managing physical space etc. Otherwise, tech just becomes an unnecessary distraction in the classroom. Technology needs to be enabled in a phased manner in schools.
• Technology innovation can play a strong role in data analytics for decision-making. Schools churn out reams and reams of data just for the purpose of it – teachers are overburdened with data entry and none of it is put to any use afterwards. We need contemporary data tools like say SocialCops that can drill down insights to districts, wards and classrooms so that we can re-imagine some of these age-old systems – report cards for example.
• It would be essential to start from a place of not intimidating and then move forward while enabling e-learning. The ‘Substitution Augmentation Modification Re-imagine’ (SAMR) model in tech is something I believe in strongly. Once substitution works well in the form of a lesson loaded onto an iPad/tablet etc, teachers can then move better to augmentation, modification and so on over time.
• When one is enabling tech, one forgets that the challenges might be the most sundry ones – like TV being in one room of a school and a teacher having to drag the entire class there, every time they needed some tech. ‘I got a trolley and moved the TV instead from classroom to classroom in my school and it transformed the idea. The trolley to me, is as much tech as the TV is.’
The biggest constraint in the foundational years is the funds available for education CSR in India. Here is where leveraging the company’s strengths – like mentoring, engaging employees, matching employees to classrooms, one factory or branch adopting a classroom and doing more, matching grants for education, leadership weeks etc are ideas that can augment education CSR.