“For the first time ever, there is free, high quality digital learning content — TicTacLearn — mapped to the national curriculum of India”
In May 2020, two thirds of Indian children under the age of 18 were affected by school closures — 250 million students. With more than 20 languages used across the education system, equitable access to quality distance learning resources is more vital than ever. Saurabh Chopra, Central Square Foundation’s Director of Special Projects shares insights on how to prevent children getting left behind and his organization’s vision for making open source educational resources available to all.
As more and more people turn to digital learning during the COVID-19 crisis, how has that changed the way your team works?
In 2019, we embarked on an ambitious mission to create nearly 10,000 curriculum-aligned videos in different Indian languages. Initially we had planned to do a formal launch in June but given the need COVID-19 created for high quality digital content, we decided to just put our videos out there much more quickly. Our team wasn’t sure how to think about usership goals — maybe we’d get to 250k views in 2020? However, we were overwhelmed by the immediate response and today, we have over 25 million views on TicTacLearn’s video channel. And, these numbers are growing everyday.
COVID-19 has also encouraged us to think about the best ways to scale our work to reach those that need it most. In India, we have a national teacher platform, Diksha, which does many things including distributing textbooks. This year, 500M textbooks were distributed with QR codes on each chapter so that students can scan the code and get a video explaining the concept. For example, if you are studying photosynthesis, you can scan the code and get a video in your language diving into the related concepts. In the past, they were not available in the languages students spoke but with TicTacLearn videos, they are aligned with the national curriculum standards, meant to engage students, and available in a diversity of languages.
“COVID-19 has encouraged us to think about the best ways for us to scale our work to reach those that need it most”
We also started offering our content on state-run TV, Doordarshan, as a way to reach students who might not have access to a smartphone. While it was hard to know what content to show given the diversity of students who might be tuning in, we were able to quickly create a progression of videos that would help students build their skills. We have 7 states broadcasting these videos and in just one of the states, Uttar Pradesh, there are 45 million students showing the enormity of scale TV offers!
In 2017 we set out to address the gap in available digital learning content in Indic languages. Can you tell us more about that project?
The internet has really exploded in India since 2016 with cellular data being very cheap. Today, 450M+ people are using smartphones with 50% of students having access to a smartphone. This new proliferation of internet and smartphones could unlock powerful tools for learning but there was no digital learning content mapped to the national curriculum of India. The material that was available was either behind a paywall or only available in English or Hindi which doesn’t address the fact that more than 20 languages are used as medium of instruction in schools across India (and even many more languages and dialects are spoken across the country!).
“More than 20 languages are used as medium of instruction in schools across India.”
- Saurabh Chopra
We set out to address this gap starting with math and science videos in Hindi and Telugu and have since scaled to 5 languages with more than 7,500 videos. That makes us the largest education video library in India by a huge margin.
7,500 videos — that’s huge! What did you learn along the way while making them?
Our focus was not only on the number of videos but ensuring that they are high quality. While doing the production, we did a ton of research on what content students would find useful in math and science and we worked with 40 all-star creators who are already excellent at making videos. Through pre-tests conducted among target audiences, we learned quickly how critical it is to differentiate your content by your audience — young kids love to see cartoons and animations whereas for older students, they are more engaged when they see concepts presented as stories. We also realized that there were common areas where students got confused on the content and that we could build support into the videos to get them back on track and address common misconceptions up front. This process of learning took us about six months but once you figure out what works, scale moves quickly!
With so many challenges today, what has you hopeful?
I am an optimistic person. In education, I am seeing a big push right now to solve things like devices for students or access, something that we have not been able to make progress on in the past. I am seeing an appetite to think about the right ways to incorporate technology into education and an interest in analyzing newly available data around what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, this moment will help improve the system overall.
The near term is going to be very, very, very hard but I am hopeful about the medium to long term. I think that when we get through this, it will be a better world overall. I think people will be more compassionate and that we will continue to see people giving back to their communities.
This series on distance learning is brought to you by Google.org, a proud supporter of Central Square Foundation since 2018. In May 2020, we made a US$1M grant to Kaivalya Education Foundation who will work with Central Square Foundation and TeacherApp to train over 700,000 teachers to deliver virtual education for students from low-income communities. This grant builds on our 2016 Global Education Portfolio which focused on nonprofits using technology to address education gaps.