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Pradhan Mantri e-Vidya: Policy Review and Recommendations based on Global Best Practices

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


1. Problem Statement

The objective of this paper is to evaluate the Government of India’s (GOI’s) digital education intervention, Pradhan Mantri e-Vidya (PM e-Vidya), and identify gaps with respect to accessibility, effectiveness and, quality of resources on digital platforms. And, finally, to propose recommendations based on global best practices.

2. Introduction

One key learning from the pandemic is the imperative need for us to incorporate the digital space into our daily lives. Students and teachers received a drastic shift from offline conventional classes to online learning. The mesh of education and technology together has always been helpful for students to maximize their learning output and develop strong conceptual clarity on topics.

India has the world’s largest population of about 500 million in the age bracket of 5-24 years, providing an extremely high potential in the ed-tech space. However, India’s immense cultural and socio-economic diversity necessitates a government-driven intervention to ensure equity and accessibility. GoI’s foray into digital education has been varying levels of extensive, most noticeably with minor inputs via the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Upon the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, a full-fledged policy indicating the dissipation of digital instruction was welcomed in the form of the PM e-Vidya scheme.

The policy aims to make education accessible to students across the country that do not have access to digital devices, and in turn, digital education since school closures. However, while the scheme soars in intent, it falters in implementation. There are glaring gaps in the policy’s quality of content, as well as delivery on the scale and reach – namely, those aimed towards learners with disability. The policy also lacks entirely in its preparedness for a post-pandemic, hybrid structure, which we are likely to be facing for the foreseeable future. We deep-dive into the structure, content, highs and lows of this policy to identify possible means and avenues of improvement.

With this paper, we also aim to look towards best practices in digital education from across the world and identify key learnings which might aid India’s existing policy.

3. PM e-Vidya: India’s primary digital education policy

3.1 Introduction

The Pradhan Mantri e-Vidya scheme was launched by the central government in May 2020 as a first response to the pandemic enforced school closures and shift to digital education. PM e-Vidya entered the spotlight once again in February 2022, two years after its launch, when the Finance Minister announced its expansion across many sub-divisions to better serve the needs of students across India.

The initiative unifies digital/on-air access to education and boasts that it will benefit over 25 crore school-going children.

3.2 Problem areas in the scheme

1. Content- The Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) claims to house a number of e-books, interactive content, and textbook content created by state and Union education bodies such as NCERT and state education boards. In order to fulfil the content needs of such a platform, VidyaDaan was initiated to encourage individuals and organizations across the country to contribute e-learning resources to DIKSHA. However, as of March 2022, the VidyaDaan contributions are nowhere to be found on the DIKSHA website. It is also worth noting that the textbooks that DIKSHA hosts were already available on each board’s website for free. Without such content, one begs the question – what value is DIKSHA adding beyond consolidating resources that are already available online?

The second initiative of note is the Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM). SWAYAM has two initiatives under it that appear excellent at face value, but are muddled with problems. The SWAYAM Portal contains higher education material that has been collected from government institutes across India. Under SWAYAM, SWAYAM Prabha TV Channels, house the ‘One Class One Channel’ initiative. These TV channels broadcast supplementary material for students in regional languages. ‘One Class One Channel’ is a commendable effort in making subject-wise lessons accessible to students across rural India who might have lost touch with formal schooling entirely. However, the lessons are often too surface-level in their instruction. Additionally, the entire learning process is one-sided and does not include any form of checks or assessments.

2. Accessibility for learners with disability- The least well-designed initiative is the ‘Special e-Content for Children with Special Needs.’ Although the page was built for students with visual and auditory disabilities, it is no different from the rest of the e-Vidya site. The inaccessible design of the page renders it difficult for students to use. The claim that content for visually challenged learners has been standardized by the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) on the DIKSHA app does not seem to be true.

DAISY is designed to be a complete audio substitute for print material and is specifically designed for use by people with “print disabilities”, and does not seem to have been utilized on the DIKSHA app in a uniform manner. Further, the audiobooks present on the app do not cover the same material as regular state/central board textbooks, and the content is missing for most grades and subjects. Even the little content that does exist requires separate, specific searches, which a visually-challenged learner may struggle to navigate without assistance. Even the website itself has no provisions for text to audio or any other accommodations for students with visual disabilities.

On the same lines, the ‘special content’ for hearing-impaired learners is limited to a single sub-section of the NIOS Youtube channel (pictured below). The channel exclusive deals with secondary education and has no primary education content.

3. Unpreparedness for hybrid learning- In 2022, schools across India have opened up; first in a hybrid online-offline mode, and then in full capacity with COVID precautions in place. However, India’s central digital education policy contains no instruction or clear guidelines for the same. This had led to an extremely muddled situation across the nation as schools struggled to reopen.

4. Global Best Practices

4.1 Key aspects of US Ed-Tech policies

4.1.1 Introduction

The US introduced EdTech as a key educational component as early as 1983. Since then, policymakers have launched several EdTech initiatives, including the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) in 1992 and Race to The Top (RTT) in 2008, both of which increased students’ access to technological learning tools. These reformed initiatives, supported by a steady stream of government, philanthropic, and private funding, have enabled 99 per cent of US schools to utilize technology in the educational dimension.

4.1.2 Capacity generation

NGO partners, coalitions, empowered by visionary leaders and policy initiatives spread awareness, training and support for transforming education through technology. For eg: Teach For America is a growing movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education. Similarly, the NMC (New Media Consortium) is an international community of experts in educational technology. The practitioners work with new technologies on campuses every day along with the visionaries who are shaping the future of learning at think tanks, labs, and research centres.

4.1.3 Effective education policy and strategy

Successive federal policies and initiatives articulated a vision for EdTech backed by funding. The state-led effort to develop the Common Core State Standards was launched in 2009 by state leaders. This reveals that the State school chiefs and governors duly recognize the value of consistent, real-world learning goals and launched this effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life. Common core academic standards also put pressure on the districts to improve. Along with that, policymakers helped create and nurture the EdTech industry with ConnectED, an initiative that negotiated for affordable technology in lower-income districts and funding to train teachers to use new tools. It was designed to enrich K-12 education for every student in America. ConnectED also empowers teachers with the best technology and the training to make the most of it, and empowers students through individualized learning and rich, digital content.

4.1.4 Impact

The various Edtech initiatives coupled with sound implementation strategies have freed teachers and allowed them to focus on the craft of teaching and learning — be it introducing more innovative project-based approaches, tending to behavioural and social dynamics or spending extra time with struggling students. For instance, EdTech in the US has helped teachers juggle demands on their time. On any given weekday, an educator must guide 20–30 students with different learning needs and personalities through a state-mandated curriculum, frequently administering individual assessments, followed by hours of lesson planning and paperwork.

4.2 How Bangladesh Assists Learners with Disabilities

In Bangladesh, several initiatives – started by people with disabilities and initially intended for blind or visually impaired students – have been able to benefit a wider audience of children through distance learning.

This is notably the case of the "multimedia talking books" developed by the non-governmental organization YPSA (Young Power in Social Action), in collaboration with the Bangladesh government's a2i programme. These are textbooks converted to Digital accessible information system (DAISY-standard) digital audiobooks, but also digital Braille books and other accessible e-books.

"The system covers learning from class 1 to class 10 (all levels of primary school and half of the secondary school). Students can read in full text and/or hear with a human narrative. During COVID- 19, students could use these multimedia books in online courses, and they can be adapted to different types of disability," explains Vashkar Bhattacharjee, National Accessibility Consultant to the a2i, Government of Bangladesh, and Programme Manager at YPSA.

The resources are accessible on smartphones via the internet, or through an accessible book reader that can be used offline. Since the pandemic, these books have been provided to more than 10,000 students with disabilities in Bangladesh. Adding to its success, several thousand items of equipment had also been distributed to students with disabilities before the pandemic.

4.3 Current situation of the Education Sector in China

China has the most extensive education system in the world, with 282 million students and 17.32 million full-time teachers in over 530,000 schools across the country. The pandemic had an immense impact on all aspects of life in China, including the education sector. Globally, China was the first country to deal with COVID-19. However, due to the outbreak of SARS in 2003, a responsive and transparent emergency system was gradually built, which laid a good foundation to contain the more challenging COVID-19. Interventions from all stakeholders were aligned for a safe, resilient and inclusive recovery.

4.3.1 Key initiatives by the Chinese education sector to combat the COVID-19 crisis

China used a hybrid approach, Disrupted Classes Undisrupted Learning (DCUL), combining a mix of in-person and remote learning upon school reopening to guarantee and improve access to, and participation in, learning. A number of complementary high and low-tech learning platforms were mobilized in a flexible manner to provide access to as many children as possible with specific attention paid to reaching more vulnerable groups and meeting their needs.

More than 4,000 online courses and resources were developed by master teachers and curriculum development teams from high-achieving schools in developed areas, which covered all subjects and grades in the primary and secondary schools.

Psychological education training was added to the NTTP so as to strengthen mental health support for students.

MoE instructed China Education TV Station to deploy live satellite reception equipment for nearly 12,000 classrooms in all teaching sites in 52 impoverished counties. These places may find it difficult to access the internet, but TV channels were fine. The cloud interactive TV live classroom model will be applied to enable Beijing’s master teachers to interact with teachers and students in the 52 counties. TV-virtual classrooms would help these countries effectively improve the quality of education.

4.3.2 Impact

● As a national initiative, DCUL swiftly responded to COVID-19 and cushioned the negative impact on the education sector. It aimed at reaching all students, including those in rural and remote areas, children of migrant workers, and children with disabilities.

● Some surveys on the effect of DCUL showed that the overall satisfaction rate of students is high. Just over 77 per cent of students think that it is good to study online during school closures, and 72.9 per cent were satisfied, or very satisfied, with online learning at home. Regarding the effect of home study, 69.4 per cent of students feel ‘very satisfied’ and ‘satisfied’, while only 2.9 per cent of students felt ‘very dissatisfied’ with it.

●The cross-department cooperation within the government and the public-private partnership also contributed to the success of DCUL.

● Within about two months after the outbreak of COVID-19, 280 million Chinese students were learning through online classes. Many planned to return to school or went back to school and complete the semester on time. By the end of June, 202 million (75 per cent) students successfully returned as schools reopened.

4.3.3 Takeaways

With the DCUL initiative, China built the largest online teaching and learning community globally that called for student-centered pedagogy, curriculum and evaluation reform, which advocated a change from traditional teaching approaches to more interactive and blended instruction, to mitigate the learning loss of those children who return to school in the post- COVID-19 phase.

5. Learnings from the Global Best Practices

6. Recommendations

1. Content- Taking from how the United States of America has managed to create harmony between government initiatives and private players, India can adopt a similar approach to maximize the benefits of both sectors.

India’s ed-tech sector has seen a boom in 2020. GoI can leverage the same to outsource the content and instructional aspects of the Pradhan Mantri e-Vidya policy while focusing its resources on the expansion of reach and accessibility.

2. Special Content for Learners with Disability- As in the case of Bangladesh, GoI must follow through in the implementation of the content for students with visual and auditory disabilities. The DAISY model has worked well in other places to assist students with severe visual impairment.

The implementation must be even across all channels learners with a disability might be in contact with. This includes revamping parts of the PM e-Vidya website itself and expanding to the entirety of the DIKSHA application.

3. Forward-looking Focus- For a policy which assists digital education, PM e-Vidya sorely missed any instructions on how to operate in a hybrid, online-offline mode. However, this is a reality for many schools across India which open as COVID infections are low, but not entirely gone.

In this scenario, China’s approach and previous learnings from a similar viral outbreak have allowed it to bounce back from school closures with comparative ease. Its hybrid approach from the start, careful consideration of all stakeholders, and ability to leverage available technology has worked in its favour to provide excellent support to its education system.

India can pick many critical learnings from the same to create a hybrid, adaptive learning environment.

7. Conclusion

In order to focus on technology-driven education, the government of India launched its comprehensive initiative, PM e-vidya. However, in the absence of any significant measures spelt out to assess the learning outcomes and impact, the government is required to revisit the policy that it has set in motion in the first place in order to benefit the education of millions of students, across age groups, across the country.

Meet The Thought Leaders

Shatakshi Sharma has been a management consultant with BCG and is Co- Founder of Global Governance Initiative with national facilitation of award- Economic Times The Most Promising Women Leader Award, 2021 and Linkedin Top Voice, 2021.

Prior to graduate school at ISB, she was Strategic Advisor with the Government of India where she drove good governance initiatives. She was also felicitated with a National Young Achiever Award for Nation Building. She is a part time blogger on her famous series-MBA in 2 minutes.

Naman Shrivastava is the Co-Founder of Global Governance Initiative. He has previously worked as a Strategy Consultant in the Government of India and is working at the United Nations - Office of Internal Oversight Services. Naman is also a recipient of the prestigious Harry Ratliffe Memorial Prize - awarded by the Fletcher Alumni of Color Executive Board. He has been part of speaking engagements at International forums such as the World Economic Forum, UN South-South Cooperation etc. His experience has been at the intersection of Management Consulting, Political Consulting, and Social entrepreneurship.

Akshay Cyril is a consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), with a background in Mathematics from St. Stephen's College.

Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)

Chaitanya Arora is an undergraduate student pursuing CSE at Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He is passionate about creating tech products to enable ease of living within society. He is part of the core team of the startup, Artive which is on the road to its first big win in Silicon Valley. With GGI he aims to upskill himself to be a better Product Manager.

Disha Marjara is an Economics graduate from Gargi College, Delhi University and is currently pursuing her Post Graduation Certificate in Business Management (PGCBM) from XLRI Jamshedpur. Over the last 3.5 years, she has worked with organizations such as Pepsico, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young in diverse profiles ranging from Strategy & Finance to Expat Taxation. Disha's vision is to pivot her career into a growth and strategy role so that she can work on challenging problems from planning to execution, hone her business acumen, and develop decision-making skills.

On the personal front, she absolutely loves dancing and is a fitness enthusiast.

Ritul Madhukar is a Teach For India Fellow in New Delhi, with a keen interest in policy and development. After graduating from Miranda House, the University of Delhi in 2021, she had the opportunity to work with a number of non-profit organizations to explore her interests – including, SEWA Bharat and The/Nudge Institute. As a GGI Impact Fellow, she aims to upskill herself to work in consulting and strategy roles within the social impact sector.

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.



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