iDream Education is a social edtech organisation facilitating enjoyable and personalised digital learning to schools, NGOs and learners. Rohit Prakash, Co-Founder at iDream Education shared their vision and the way forward.
Let’s begin with understanding what really is iDream Education?
iDream Education is focussed on social edtech and digital education for govt schools and local language learners. We work with government schools, NGOs, CSR and the students at home to deliver them enjoyable and skill based digital content through easy to use platforms.
We set up tablet & mobile based digital learning solutions and PC Free smart classes with English medium and local language content. This last bit is really the core of our vision where we believe that access of digital content to all learners in their own language can truly transform the way our rural students learn and grow.
What inspired you and Puneet to start iDream Education?
If I try to connect the dots, I feel both Puneet and myself had a natural love for school education. Post our MBA, while we briefly worked in corporate, very soon we started our individual journeys in education. I started an organisation wherein we created experiential teaching pedagogies to support students in school to build deeper conceptual understanding on environmental science and Science. While Puneet began his journey with an ed-tech product distribution venture setting up Math Lab, English Lab, STEM Science Lab in schools along with personalised learning solutions for students.
Though we began our work with private schools, coincidentally both of us got an opportunity to implement our respective solutions in government schools. For me personally, that was a big turning point in life. When I first saw a government school, I came back with so many questions. I kept trying but I genuinely could not find all the answers. At one point, it became so frustrating where I really wanted to do something so that even government school children can access the best of education but I could not think of a right direction. These were also the times when Puneet and I got talking and exchanging notes. He also felt similar emotions but the good thing was that he had very deep insights on what technology can do and how it can be reshaped to truly impact learning for the last mile learners.
We were very clear about two things:
- Challenges for government schools are unique and hence no existing solution can perhaps solve these. We will have to develop research driven customised solutions for them
- The solution must be easy to use and easily scalable, else they will never have the transformational impact we envisioned
One trend we observed was that the children even in the most rural parts of India were increasingly becoming comfortable with touch based devices. And after television, smartphones were really the next thing that was penetrating the rural areas and that too so rapidly. The best part was that this audience was naturally and happily training themselves to use these devices.
We realised that this is an opportunity that must be explored. We should look at student centric solutions which can build a proactive interest in students to learn in their local language and create no operational burden for the teachers. We were convinced that if we can build solutions that align with the psychology of stakeholders and therefore can lead to a natural adoption, we will have something that can scale and improve the educational outcomes of government school students.
Because both Puneet and myself shared a strong alignment to the above thought, we decided to come together and seed iDream Education.
We see that you lay a lot of emphasis on local language content. Why is that?
Close to 60% of our student population goes to government schools. A majority of these are also first generation learners. So, when they join school, the only language they are comfortable in is their mother tongue. Now, imagine if we make this child a part of a learning ecosystem, which is in an unfamiliar language. There is a very high probability that this will instil such a fear of learning that this child may never recover from and therefore may not be inclined to try a digital way of learning.
And anyways, if we keep digital aside, the learning which is happening in government schools via the teachers is happening in local language only. So we can’t assume that in such an environment, if you set up a digital solution in an alien language, it will work. It never will.
Hence, our focus on local languages. Even the learning platform on tablet and app which we have custom developed has local language buttons and navigation. So, even though a child may not have seen a digital device, once he/she opens it, there is a natural comfort that gets built which drives engagement and regular usage.
Can you talk about the solutions you offer on Tablets?
Our flagship solution is called TABLAB. This is a tablet based digital learning and smart ICT lab, we have custom designed for schools and NGO run learning centres. It is an integrated solution with tablets, storage & charging rack, multiple categories of digital content aligned to curriculum and student wise usage reports saved offline on every device with periodic sync to an online reporting dashboard.
So. TABLAB is like an end to end solution where we also provide training and ongoing support to our schools. If you look at the hardware framework, we are greatly reducing any operational hassle that may come while setting up, using or managing TABLAB. With the rack, we require no extra space, wiring or furniture for the set up. As all tablets get charged simultaneously within 2-3 hours, there is also no dependency on electricity during the school hours. And since all content is pre-loaded on the tablets, you don’t even require the internet for usage.
The local language content with display and navigation also in the same language makes it very easy for students to use the tablets. And with multiple categories of content, we are able to build a proactive interest in students to learn. There is none or very little operational burden on the teachers.
As a result, TABLAB succeeds in breaking open all barriers to regular usage and student engagement. We also do learning tablets to individual learners for personalised learning. Almost everything is the same as in TABLAB except that the content is customised for every student as per their grade.
And for stakeholders, we track usage & learning data of all students, save it offline on every device and periodically sync this data to an online reporting dashboard. So, if you are a project funder or a state government official, you will have your own reporting dashboard. You can log in anytime and from any location and with no manual dependence, see all usage reports, apply various analytical tools and continuously review the project impact.
When MHRD was revamping and merging all its schemes into Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, we were involved in sharing suggestions on the ICT Scheme and we had presented our research on the challenges and wastage in computer labs and the traditional ICT Labs, and the advantages of a tablet based ICT Lab. The officials also resonated with the facts based outcomes and the MHRD has revised the ICT Scheme suggesting tablets, laptops with portable charging racks as an easy to use and affordable ICT Lab for government schools to states now.
Thats great! You also have been very vocal about the idea of a PC Free Smart Class. Why is that so when a large portion of govt and CSR funds is still being used for setting up those conventional Windows Smart Classrooms?
A. Well, the purpose of any intervention where the money is being spent and not just digital interventions is eventually over some time frame to improve the educational outcomes of our students.
And the foundation of improving these educational outcomes is regular usage. What you have set up in the school or inside the classrooms, whether it’s being used regularly or not, that’s the fundamental question. And that’s where unfortunately, we have observed various limitations in the conventional smart class model.
I remember, it was the year 2015, while we were still in our research phase, and I was visiting a government school where we were doing some work. I walked into one of the classrooms, which had a proper smart class setup. When I asked the teacher about the same, she informed me that she has not used it since over 2 months. She told me that the mouse isn’t working. And I was shocked. I mean imagine such a big set up, where a mouse would be a tiny percentage of the overall hardware setup. But just because the mouse isn’t working, the teacher cannot use the smart class.
In another school, the teacher told me that with no backup to electricity, they don’t find enough motivation to switch ON so many equipment only for them to shut off after a few minutes because the electricity is gone. These are just a few reasons, there are many more because of which, we don’t see regular usage of smart class inside the classrooms.
So, we were thinking, can we solve this?
The idea of PC Free Smart Class again comes from our core philosophy of ease of usage and of connecting with the natural psychology of all stakeholders. Almost everyone in India is comfortable operating a television. They know how to operate a TV remote. We asked ourselves, can we replicate the same thing inside the classrooms. Perhaps yes.
So a PC Free Smart Class is like a single equipment smart class with just a Smart TV or an interactive flat panel display. The digital learning solution comes in a pen drive which is plugged into these devices permanently. And these pen drives are preloaded with all the offline content in local languages aligned to the state board curriculum. So now the teacher has to turn on just one switch and just like in their homes, they can very comfortably operate the set up with a remote or even touch.
The moment we simplify things and align them with the natural psychology of the stakeholders, we can drive regular usage. Student engagement and improvement in educational outcomes is a very natural by-product of the same.
We believe that if the model of teacher centric digital learning has to continue for some more time in the future, PC Free Smart Class is really the way to go. It greatly simplifies the hardware usage & management in schools and hence drives regular usage.
And our android learning platform which also powers our tablet based solution is perfectly aligned to deliver digital learning on these devices. Very easy for teachers to operate, everything is in local language and like TABLAB, we offer multiple categories of content which teachers can use interchangeably to keep their students engaged. Project funders and state government officials can track all usage reports on their reporting dashboards bringing both transparency and accountability.
While talking about your solutions you have mentioned multiple categories of content. Can you share more details on that. How does that help the students?
That’s one unique thing about our Android based Learning Platform. It is a multi-category platform in a sense that we can put together multiple types of content coming from different sources. Like currently on our platform, we offer 5 different types of content.
The first one being animated video lessons. These are multimedia videos designed to teach concepts. Second is an activity section which has project making videos in Math and Science. These are DIY videos which students and teachers can use to create experiments or build models and toys with materials easily available at home or in school.
Then the third section is a digital book library. It has subject books, stories, poems, much like your library in school with books segregated as per different categories.
We also have an assessment section where we have given both practice and tests. So students can come and do practice on the topic they are learning and once they believe they have mastered a topic, can take a test to check how much they have understood it. We provide them with a question wise corrective feedback that helps them to continue to build their understanding.
Finally, we believe that growth of a child is not just driven by academics or how much you know. But also by how you can apply what you have learned in the real world and what kind of skills you have to become a complete human being. That’s why we have a section on Life Skills where we have video lessons on health, hygiene, safety, sanitation, environment conservation and much more.
And the best part is that content in all the above categories is offered in local languages except assessments which we currently have only in English medium. And these too, we eventually will offer in all languages.
We have observed that with so many categories to choose from, it enables students to personalise their learning as per their interests. And this builds a proactive interest in them to learn which is exactly what we are hoping to achieve.
As an extension of the above thought, this also empowers students to create their unique learning paths. So, if both you and I have to understand Newton’s third law of motion, while I may first watch a video and then do a practice, you on the other hand may straight away start from a test, may be then move on to do an activity followed by watching a video lesson. Objective is that both you and me should have built a complete understanding of Newton’s third law of motion but our paths may be completely different.
Lot of interventions are being planned and implemented by several organisations to support students to learn from their homes during corona lockdown. Are you also planning to do something?
Yes. Absolutely. We have launched a mobile app called the iDream Learning App. It is a completely free app and available on Google Play Store for all learners to download and use. It has also been built on the same principles as all of our above solutions.
Students can choose to learn in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. And the app provides access to digital content for all subjects and all classes 1st to 12th including animated video lessons, practice & tests, project making videos, digital book library and a section with videos on various life skills.
But do you also have a very affordable solution which is offline?
Yes, for those who have access to a laptop, we also provide offline digital content on pen drive. These are plug n play. Just insert the pen drive, enter the license key once and that’s it. You will have access to all the digital content offline. Schools use it for Smart Class purposes and a lot of parents also buy these for home learning.
What has been your biggest achievement till date?
There is nothing like seeing a student use our solution and happily enjoying doing so. How that transforms their lives will perhaps always be the biggest motivating factor in our lives and in the journey of iDream Education. However, remember how in the beginning I spoke about solving the problem at scale. While we may build solutions, a CSR or a foundation may fund it but it is only the government which can give us the scale to truly solve the last mile learning challenges.
In 2017, we were invited to be a part of a think tank on Digital Learning for Government schools. This was set up by the MHRD under the then Education Minister Hon Shri Prakash Javadekar ji. As you know by now that we are strong believers in two very specific things – first one being to build a hardware framework that is very easy to set up, use and manage regularly. And second being a need for an integrated learning platform that can bring together multiple types of content in local languages.
We presented both the points above very strongly in front of our honourable minister and the entire MHRD team.Over the next 1 year, we participated in several regional workshops organised by MHRD where we continued to bring the two points in focus. And in early 2019, MHRD released a revised ICT document under Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan, which has now made a provision for government schools to consider Tablets/notebooks/laptops along with a charging rack for the purpose of setting up ICT Labs.
We consider this as a very big achievement because we believe that this will open up the state governments to consider tablets for digital learning. It will also make them think beyond the obvious and we therefore finally envision days where digital learning will be regularly used inside the classrooms and we will genuinely see an improvement in student learning outcomes.
What are your plans ahead?
Currently our priority is to take the iDream Learning App to as many students as possible. For the same, we have reached out to our existing network of schools and teachers and through them are creating very easy sharing mechanisms to ensure that their students have access to the app.
Since the launch, a lot of NGOs have partnered with us. In fact the India Army became one of the first institutions to adopt iDream Learning App for their students in all Army Goodwill Schools in Kashmir. Recently, the education department of the UT of Ladakh also officially adopted the app for all their government schools and students.
In the days to come, we plan to collaborate with NGOs, CSRs,coaching institutes and schools and enable more and more students to continue learning from the safety of their homes. We are targeting 10 lakh students in the next 2 years.
Secondly, we are also working to enrich our content library. Again, we are reaching out to any organisation who would like to join hands with us to make their content reach a larger number of students.
As the lockdown eases, we are looking to stabilise and massively scale our work in TABLAB and PC Free Smart Classes.
Indian government school ecosystem is huge. A lot of organisations have made efforts, many more are ongoing to improve this. What do you think is missing?
Collaboration. In the little experience I have had, I see many organisations who are doing amazing work but when it comes to collaborating, very few show genuine and a humble interest. Even during the corona lockdown, I saw many organisations who got busy in making their own digital content or building their own technology platforms. While their strength lies somewhere else.
But education is such a wide spectrum. There are such unique aspects about how every child learns that I believe there is a room for a lot of ideas to come together and be a part of the learning ecosystem.
I think if organisations can open up and if we can collaborate more with a shared vision in mind, we can transform this ecosystem. At iDream Education, we are committed to partnering with every organization that is aligned to our collective vision of taking growth oriented digital education to every student in every corner of our country irrespective of their location, language, culture and socio-economic status.
Let us join hands to make this happen. On this link you will find our learning app which we have made available without any charge for students who are learning from home while in the lockdown.