YourStory.in, India’s leading comprehensive online platform for entrepreneurs, featured our report on their site. They highlighted some of the gaps and opportunities for ed-tech interventions in affordable private schools. Read the article here.
New Report — Education Technology in India:
Designing Ed-Tech for Affordable Private Schools
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Hyderabad, India – Education technology interventions have the power to completely reinvent education for children in the developing world. But time and again these interventions have failed to reach their potential due to a lack of understanding of the school environment and users.
As a team of researchers in Hyderabad, India, we sought to understand how education technology (ed-tech) solutions could be better designed to serve the needs of users in low-income private schools. We are proud to share our findings, released in this report – Education Technology in India: Designing Ed-tech for Affordable Private Schools.
Education Technology in India: Designing Ed-Tech for Affordable Private Schools reveals in-depth insights into the relationships that affordable private school (APS) stakeholders–school leaders, students, parents and teachers–have with technology. It outlines the factors that primarily influence consumption by school leaders and parents, and shares the main reasons for poor technology adoption among teachers. It also reveals significant differences in technology access between genders, as girls report 40% less Internet access and 26% less computer access than their male counterparts.
The report goes beyond consumer insights to explore the benefits and drawbacks of a fast growing ed-tech trend in the developing world: the tablet. We outline use cases, business models, and stakeholder perceptions of tablets in the classroom. Based on interviews with two APS in Hyderabad that have implemented tablets, we found that APS stakeholders were largely excited by the opportunity to acquire tablets, though some expressed concern about the price, functionality, and content.
The report concludes with a look into what the future of ed-tech in India’s APS sector could be by highlighting market opportunities for technology solutions that APS stakeholders would value and benefit from. In the 12 opportunities outlined in the report, we call for innovations in content development, hardware development, service elements of ed-tech providers, and socio-cultural integration in individuals’ lives.
Our hope is that the information provided in Education Technology in India: Designing Ed-Tech for Affordable Private Schools will act as a foundation for better-designed technology. It will hopefully help deliver good ed-tech in places that could reap the most benefit from well-designed technology interventions.
In late 2008, Tata–one of India’s largest and most successful companies–unveiled what they hoped would be a revolutionary product: the Tata Nano. What was revolutionary about this vehicle was not so much the product itself, but its price tag of a mere Rs100,000, or US$1842. The compact car was marketed to middle class families as a cheap second vehicle. While the hype about this incredibly cheap car allowed the Nano to initially enjoy healthy sales, since then, sales have almost completely fallen off, forcing Tata to reformulate its marketing scheme completely and rethink the future of the line.
What can be drawn from the failure of the Nano is that even in developing nations, where consumers are acutely sensitive to price, it isn’t everything. Though Indian consumers are always on the lookout for a good deal, they are not willing to sacrifice product quality. In addition to many accounts of the Nano catching on fire, its cramped interior and lack of trunk space did not woo consumers away from the more expensive, but better quality and larger sedans produced by Suzuki and Hyundai. As the drop in sales has shown, a cheap, cramped car of questionable durability is not what Indian families want.
What does this have to do with education technology for low-income schools in India? In interviews that we conducted with affordable private school parents from our pilot study, we found a similar trend regarding price and durability of educational tablets. Most of the parents that purchased a tablet, considered it a long-term investment in their child’s future. The tablet was considered a product that would last through their child’s entire studies, and perhaps even their younger childrens’ studies, and pay for itself by saving the family from purchasing expensive textbooks every year.
Just like in the Indian automobile market, low-income ed-tech consumers are looking for products that have low-prices and that will stand the test of time. On the whole, this balance between price and durability represents one of the most important design challenges for anyone seeking to create ed-tech products in India. To succeed in this endeavor, several key aspects of the product must be considered.
Every technology consumer is familiar with the degradation of battery life. With continued use, a battery that once held 6 hours of charge eventually requires being plugged in at all times. For most technology consumers in the developed world, this means that it is either time to buy an expensive replacement battery or upgrade one’s device.
For low-income Indian consumers, however, this is not a viable option. In a household where every rupee counts, they expect the battery to either be long-lasting or cheaply replaceable. In addition, regular power outages mean that products with low-battery life will not be able to charge at all times of the day.
As tablets for the APS market will be used primarily by children, it is almost inevitable that they will see some abuse. Unintentional dropping, water exposure, and all of the other possible methods of damage will likely occur. This is a common concern among school owners encouraging tablet purchases. The design of ed-tech products should withstand such elements while still keeping the product price low. Products should also be designed with the ability to be fixed by local repairmen or through at-home troubleshooting.
Virus protection is one of the biggest challenges for any piece of technology. In the APS market, consumers are either unaware of the necessity to purchase and update anti-virus software, or are unable to do so due to cost or lack of Internet access. For this reason, an anti-virus software that requires minimal consumer cost and effort will be required on any device with access to a USB drive or Internet.
The above challenges, where price must be balanced with quality, are no doubt daunting. However, the cost of failing to meet them could have long-term impact on the receptivity of the APS market to new ed-tech products.
On the one hand, durable but expensive products will deter the initial uptake of ed-tech in low-income schools. Ed-tech will continue to be a novelty except among the most expensive Indian private schools. On the other, cheaper, less durable products will probably affect consumers’ long-term confidence not only in a specific brand, but also in the idea of ed-tech and its effectiveness in terms of cost. Such products will run the risk of sharing the Nano’s fate.
After all the interviews, conversations, and observations that were made in the Hear Phase of the study, we were charged with the task of making sense of what all of it meant. This brings us to the Create phase of the work. The Create phase is all about taking everything that researchers and designers have “Heard” from their users, and using that information to build solutions that will help solve the design problem. In terms of our paper, it helped us form the building blocks of the finished product.
Making sense of data doesn’t just occur at the very end of the Hear phase. Synthesis and analysis is something that happens in several ways throughout the hear stage and afterwards. After every field visit, the research team would verbally review the most compelling or interesting elements of our interactions with the stakeholders by using “storytelling with a purpose”. It was important to be able to use storytelling as a tool to describe how we understood what we saw because it helped inform how we collected data, and helped identify themes to look for in subsequent field visits.
For instance, in our earliest school visits while conducting classroom surveys, we observed very gendered responses to questions about Internet and computer access. This was actually a bit surprising to us since APS in Tier 1 cities like Hyderabad generally exhibit very gender equal enrollment, attendance, and performance among students. However, after our storytelling regroup in those first few sessions, we decided to probe stakeholders in ways that captured more information along gendered experiences of technology. We also incorporated more explicit questions about gendered access to technology in subsequent in-depth interviews and surveys.
We took the independent ideas expressed in each stakeholder’s interviews and fit them on a post-it. Then we grouped the ideas by themes that were similar, related, and interesting. This helped us identify themes across stakeholders that were not so obvious looking at each interview individually. It also helped us prioritize which elements of information were most important to each stakeholder’s perspective. The process of organizing all these pieces of information was daunting, but it helped bring us closer to interesting and important insights to share with our readers.
Lastly, we made diagrams that represented some of the processes and relationships that were important to the APS and ed-tech community. We wanted to use simple diagrams that illustrated how different components work together and influence one another. These diagrams came in at a later stage once we knew what the paper’s main ideas would be. We wanted to choose images that reinforced some primary ideas well and helped communicate the point better.
Making sense of what happens in the field is what paves a pathway for the products and services that can bring new innovations to communities like APS. The act of building those solutions takes place in the Design phase. In our next blog we’ll share how we’d like to see insights from this paper inform other company and entrepreneurs’ design phase.
This research paper employs a number of Human Centered Design methods in order to understand the APS community and its relationship to technology. IDEO describes Human Centered Design (HCD) as a process that:
helps people hear the needs of the people and communities they’re designing for, create innovative approaches to meet these needs, and deliver solutions that work in specific cultural and economic contexts.
This concept is made actionable with a comprehensive HCD Toolkit that brings researchers through the three stage HCD process. We used a variety of tools in each of the stages and each one brought a different kind of value to the process.
The Hear phase of HCD is about listening to the community. It’s about deciding who we want to talk to and gathering the raw input of conversations, interviews, and observations we make with each stakeholder. This is where a bulk of our field work was done.
Some elements of this phase were similar to more conventional aspects of research, like interviewing experts. In the earliest stages of our research, we had in-depth interviews with Madhav Chavan, founder of the educational organization Pratham, and Country Director of Gray Matters Capital Pradeep Sharma. Both offered useful perspectives on education, weaknesses in low-income schools, and where technology could fit.
We didn’t stop there. We conducted observations of various classes in order to see first-hand the dynamics that play out between teachers and students, and to observe various pedagogical approaches in all subjects. We conducted group interviews with students in order to understand the boundaries that authority figures set on what they could explore in technology and to discuss amongst each other what they understood the motivations to be. We also conducted group interviews with parents to hear their initial reactions to tablets, their fears about the device, and what they expected from their children.
We conducted one-on-one interviews with school leaders to hear in depth accounts of what motivated them to buy technology, what was lacking in the existing technology solutions in their school, and the broader vision they hold for their students and their school. We also conducted individual interviews with students who represented extremes in the profile of tech users in APS.
Through in-depth conversations with students who were exceptionally adept at technology, and students with little to no exposure, we began to understand the different people and conditions in their environment that affected the level of access to technology they had. One of the most interesting exercises we conducted in the hear phase was the aspiration exercise.
We presented students with a series of 30 cards (created by IDEO for their HCD toolkit) with a variety of simple pictures on them. Some pictures represented careers, some were pictures of items, and others were more abstract representations of people. Students chose pictures that represented their greatest ambition and their greatest fears. They shared their interpretation of the image and why they chose it, then discussed how technology related to the feeling they articulated.
The responses through this exercise were interesting and dynamic, and lead the children to discuss abstract ideas and feelings more clearly than if they were just asked direct questions.
Check back to see how we used the Create and Design phase of the HCD process to learn more about the APS environment in Part 2 and Part 3.
The user research approach that guides the APS and Tech paper is one that comes out of the technology sector. User research is the discipline of developing a deep understanding of users and incorporating them into every element of a product’s design. It is the process of learning users’ values, their goals, and how they interact with technology, then using this to inform how products and services can be best designed for them. User research is the groundwork for user friendly products but it wasn’t always like that.
Early stages of technology were more User Hostile than User Friendly and reminiscent of what’s represented in this Dilbert comic.
Computers were cumbersome machines built by engineers whose main concern was making it work…not necessarily to make it something people would want to work with. If the users didn’t understand the system, nor the complex user manual…tough. They just weren’t smart enough or willing to try hard enough to make the most of the device.
As the internet evolved and the technology market became more competitive, a computer that worked wasn’t enough. A shift occurred, where techies began to consider that there may actually be advantages to building things that people enjoy using. Rather than trying to guide users through how to fix the problems with a new interface, companies started learning enough about users so they could build better interfaces that didn’t have problems. By developing the practice of cultivating deep understanding of the people, technology ushered in the wave of devices that so many of us cannot do without today. With technology being such a competitive market today, understanding the user is no longer an extra element to give your product or service an edge. It’s a pre-requisite that is core to a company’s capacity to stay relevant, and competitive in the market.
So what does this have to do with the hundreds of thousands of private school students in India and throughout the world?
Development has seen its own uncomfortable version of the “User Hostile” computers of the 80s. In development interventions across all sectors, from health and education, to infrastructure and agricultural sustainability, several well-intended projects have been funded, implemented, and sorely lacking in the positive outcomes it claimed to be trying to achieve.
In a review of more than 50 cases of unsustainable development projects in the world, the organization Globalhood notes that some of the major themes across these failures is
“a shallow understanding or complete disregard for the broad and often complex contexts in which projects exists; [and] a cultural paradigm that perpetuates unsustainable development based on narrow mindedness, uneven power dynamics, exclusion, rigidity and a lack of feedback and accountability”.
These are challenges that could have been minimized with a UX-like approach to understanding the users of the social services being provided by these organizations.
While I am grateful that good User Experience is the reason I can play angry birds, update facebook, and read three different books from the same device, the innovation and power of a well-designed product should not be limited to just recreational use. It is much more crucial for this approach to be applied to the products and services that help deliver on the promise to give children all around the world the chance to receive a quality education. Any endeavor to further develop the condition of human beings must maintain humans at its core.
This is a perspective that is growing in important ways as companies are finding their way to the intersection of social good, user research, and design. IDEO, a leading design and innovation firm has developed an arm solely dedicated to the pursuit of social issues through understanding the users or humans involved called Ideo.org. Furthermore, they’ve helped make these principals actionable by developing an entire guide of robust human-centered design research methods that can be applied in field settings. These were tools that we used to build the foundation of our findings in Hyderabad’s APS sector.
The immediate objective of our paper is to arm external stakeholders with information about the APS community in India that will lead to better designed educational technology products. However, we also have a much larger hope that asking these questions and understanding communities becomes as commonplace in development, social enterprise, and the nonprofit world as it has become in the technology.
The majority of affordable private schools in India are English medium schools. With the exception of Hindi and regional dialect language classes, APS teach all subjects in English. When parents hope to judge the value they are receiving from their child’s school, spoken English skills are one of the first things that they look for. Though parents often cannot speak English themselves, they ask their children to read English billboards and to repeat phrases they have learned in school to determine how much they are learning.
The best explanation for the desire for spoken English skills is the nature of the Indian job market. English is valuable for anyone who wants to work for a major corporation, become an engineer, enter into medicine, or even gain employment in the hospitality industry. The parents, students, and school owners of the APS community all know that English education is a vital part of reaching this goal.
However, APS teachers are largely untrained and often lack strong spoken English skills. Their primary vocabulary is from their own school years and textbooks, which they learned through rote. Even when only English is technically allowed during school hours, school staff and students often speak in their native language inside and outside the classroom. This translates into student English skills that are far below expectations.
Education technology could play an important role in the APS sector’s desire to meet the need for proper spoken English training. There is mounting academic literature supporting the idea that ICT is the best way to spearhead English education, not only in developed nations, but all over the world. A recent UNESCO report argued:
“Literacy instruction traditionally emphasizes the acquisition of specific skills and information, but downplays the importance of analytic use of language. Recent developments in educational psychology suggest that literacy is best taught within a context that stimulates problem solving and analysis along with reading, writing and ICT literacy competencies. ICT can offer such learning opportunities (Alfassi, 2000). While learning with ICT, students are likely to become thoughtful, literate users of language.”
The potential of ICT for English education is beginning to be recognized outside of academic circles and in the business world. Airtel, one of the largest mobile service providers in India, has partnered with Brittanica and LearnNext to provide encyclopedia and educational games on computers. Another company, Applied Mobile Labs, has launched English On Mobile, a product that uses mobile phones to provide spoken English classes.
With India being the second largest smart phone market in the world, it is likely that there will be many more companies tapping the vast potential of ICT for teaching English.
One of our interests in researching ed-tech users in low-income schools is female access to technology and the Internet in India.
Intel and Dalberg recently released a detailed and informative report, “Women and the Web,” on Internet access for women in developing countries, with a focus on India. Their global study found that nearly 35 percent fewer women than men have Internet access.
Dalberg’s study looked closely at Indian women, whom are less likely to have Internet access, at 8%, than the women in any of their other focus countries. For example, Internet penetration for women and girls in Egypt was 32%, and 9% in Uganda.
Internet use in India is not just low among women. India has a population of 1.1 billion but only 10.2% use the Internet, the majority in urban areas despite the fact that nearly 70% of Indians live in rural areas. Less than 4% of India’s rural population uses the Internet, according to the June 2012 report Internet in Rural India.
Dalberg found that among non-Internet users, Indian women are the most likely, at 38%, to find lack of comfort and familiarity with technology as a reason to not use the Internet.
A major barrier to Internet access for women, and especially young girls, is that they believe the Internet is inappropriate for them. One in five women in India and Egypt believe this to be true, according to Dalberg’s study. Affordability is also a challenge.
In our own research, we found boys much more likely than girls to have used the Internet. Only 14% of 9th grade girls in Hyderabad’s APS have access to the Internet. This is 40% less than the number of their 9th grade male counterparts who have access to the Internet. In addition, many school owners see the value the Internet can bring to education, but also fear improper use by children and want to limit access.
As Dalberg notes in their report, Internet access for women enhances economic freedom, political participation, and social inclusion, as well as increased income generation opportunities, mobility, and greater access to services. One way to introduce women to the benefits of the Internet at a younger age is through education technology. Many ed-tech solutions, such as tablets, now enable Internet access. It’s also interesting to note that Internet access for the developing world may become most prominent via mobiles, rather than computers. However, India’s infrastructure problems, such as power outages and slow 2G and 3G networks, and the high cost of Internet for low-income households, will continue to hinder Internet access for women.
Check out the full Dalberg report here. Stay tuned for our final report, which examines girls’ access to technology in low-income communities and school perceptions and use of the Internet.