Public-private partnership plays a crucial role in bridging the digital divide in education through capacity building and extensive research
According to research reports, only 24 per cent of Indians own a smartphone, and 11 per cent of families own any type of computer, which may include desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, or tablets; while 12.5 per cent of Indian families with students have access to the internet. However, the digital divide in India is not only about accessibility but also about teachers' readiness to work on digital devices. India currently does not have the necessary infrastructure to teach its students through online mode. The digital divide unfairly equips only a group of children with more information and opportunities than those with lower incomes. The huge digital gap in education has been a major obstacle to the development of students from marginalised backgrounds.
Addressing this concern, Muskaan Dreams, a non-profit organisation based out of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh is attempting to transform the learning experiences of children in public schools by providing them access to digital learning to make learning enjoyable, reachable, and accessible to them. Towards the goal to reach one million children by 2023, the organisation focuses on government and community partnership, leveraging existing resources and building the digital capacity for teachers in order to create engaging opportunities for government school children.
It all started with two young software engineers Abhishek Dubey and Rishi Raj coming together with a passion for increasing the scope of learning for children in government schools. These two young leaders wanted to address the gaps in rural education in India by bridging the digital divide and by connecting teachers with technology.
The journey of Muskaan Dreams began in 2017 with two teachers and 70 children from a government girls' school in rural Gwalior, and since then, investing towards the goal they have managed to establish more than 130 digital classrooms in 100 schools, covering 70 villages across three districts of Gwalior, Bhopal, and Indore. These interventions have impacted 500 teachers and 20,000 students in around 100 schools so far. During the year 2021, there is a plan to digitise 1,000 schools that would impact 5,000 teachers and 2,00,000 students.
Intending to transform learning and strengthen the in-house capabilities of government schools, the approach comprises three strong pillars:
Mobilising community youth
Leveraging government and community resources
Enabling the government ecosystem
The basic driving force for Muskan Dreams is the belief in the ability and willingness of the leaders to contribute to the education and development of children. Innovative learning methodology has been pioneered by fostering support to teachers through a team of young changemakers known as 'Digital Saathi'. Digital Saathi is the team of the most promising youth volunteers from the community that aims at transforming the lives of government school children. Through on-ground engagement, the team helps to create a blended learning environment through an orientation towards the use of technology in teaching by imparting training and providing support.
Digital Shiksha initiative boosts learning in government schools using dual-channel strategy. One, by providing them access to digital tools along with contextualising content aligned with the state curriculum. And, the other, by building the capacity of teachers to use digital resources and ensuring the integration of these resources in their day-to-day classroom.
To navigate the complex path with solutions, continuous research is done to enable the government and policymakers by giving them enough data, best practices, and perspectives from the ground.
COVID-19 has also had its footprint in the education sector. It presented an unprecedented challenge to keep students fully engaged in academic learning while continuing to develop capacity with teachers, without having to carry out normal school activities. Although many children have access to online classes, children from marginalised backgrounds have been denied the opportunity to learn as they do not have access to computers or smartphones. As an immediate response to this difficult situation, the work has been divided into two parts. On the one hand, it is through direct interaction with the school teachers and on the other, with the Education Department of the state government to increase the outreach of their programmes, 'Hamara Ghar Hamara Vidyalaya' and 'Digital Learning Enhancement Programme (DigiLEP)', through the Muskaan Dreams team of virtual volunteers. Nearly 1.2 lakh children have been impacted, and their parents made aware of the programmes virtually to continue students' learning during the crisis. To support the schools, the Digital Saathi works with teachers and supports them in using technology to reach out to children through multiple channels and ensures effective communication and implementation of government programmes. The NGO provided support to the CM Rise programme in collaboration with Peepul India to collect feedback from teachers through the virtual field support team to understand the actual impact and the pain of teachers.
As a consequence of the pandemic, there was a discernible shift of the spotlight to online learning, with several education stakeholders showing interest in interactive online platforms to deliver holistic learning to their students. To deliver e-learning at home and school, HOPE (Holistic Online Platform for Education) was launched. It was a collective initiative of SCERT, Madhya Pradesh Government, Yash Technologies, and Muskaan Dreams. This interactive learning platform supports both online and offline learning, enabling continuous delivery of education.
At its core, Muskaan Dreams firmly believes in learning with its stakeholders and supporting their strengths, their teachers, in developing effectively to create an education ecosystem. Through its tech-enabled learning solutions, the organisation is striving to enhance the quality of teaching and learning by helping students in better understanding the topics, accelerating learning, and assisting teachers to improve classroom experience, while also ensuring consistency in delivery.
Muskaan Dreams, under the inspired leadership of its founders Abhishek Dubey and Rishi Raj, has demonstrated that technology can be leveraged to improve the quality of education, and it can be scaled through a public-private partnership. They present a wonderful example of Nexus of Good which is truly inspiring and an example that can be replicated and scaled.
Views expressed are personal