08/12/2013 05:00 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Do We Really Need Fancy Products and Cool Ideas in Education?

If we look at the past few years, there has been a tremendous boom in education in India. Read through corporates' CSR policies, philanthropy related articles or social entrepreneurship blogs and websites, everywhere one will notice that the focus is education. According to India Ratings, a Fitch group company, the Indian education market is estimated to be at roughly 110 Billion USD. Since I have been specifically involved in the low-income education space, which has witnessed a huge boom with many corporates and distinguished individuals leaving their careers and dedicating themselves to education, the focus of this article would be on the low-income education space.

The question arises: What does it hold for the millions of low-income children who have been denied many opportunities?

After my Teach For India Fellowship, I have started an after-school learning center in Sangam Vihar, a low-income community in South Delhi. During my TFI Fellowship, my placement school was located in Sangam Vihar itself. There I saw the need for an after-school learning center and hence I started off with a friend of mine in a cramped 2 room setting. I have always felt that improvements in education should always be focused on grassroot level work rather than policy level situations. As a start-up entrepreneur, I am always scouting and looking for funding opportunities and pitching events. But go anywhere and search anywhere, somehow, the competitions and investors have a maniac focus on technological innovation and creativity related to apps and games. That's where the problem lies. At least 99% of these social business plan competitions and events, if not all, focus a lot on innovative/creative ideas that use some super cool innovative product. I took the pains of going through the winner lists of several competitions and events, and I was appalled to see that almost 100 % of the competitions had the top 3 winners with focus on either developing a so called "cool" educational product or an adaptive learning platform for all subjects.

With the experience of teaching in a low-income municipal school for two years, I can confidently say that to change life paths and give them opportunities to better their lives, we don't really need to invest in developing softwares and products because ed-tech is not a pressing need. Rather, the focus should be on improving education by working on supporting to remove the bottlenecks of RTE, developing good teachers and resources, etc

Yes, technology is definitely helpful in terms of teaching -- for example: I use Hindi science videos that brilliantly explain photosynthesis, parts of a plant, etc. but it's the teachers who will be leading the classroom and not the computer.The focus of these competitions has been too much on innovative coding products, creative ideas and adaptive platforms which in fact do sound fancy, but that is not something we need to change 1500 girls' lives in a municipal school in Sangam Vihar. The question arises: In my view, all these so-called cool technology products and platforms, can just make the kids extremely excited happy and they might also even learn a lot of new things, but that won't serve the end vision of helping them to complete their education and better their lives. I would like to tell all these competition organizers that we don't really need cool products to change their lives. Rather, we need good schools, good teachers who are dedicated to teach and support their kids. Therefore, we need to support ideas and initiatives which solve pressing needs such as compliance of RTE, professional development of teachers, incentivizing teachers, building excellent schools and developing good teachers.

I think instead of granting money for developing a product and selling it to 10,000 schools, that money should be spent on the professional development of teachers in low-income schools and motivate them to teach better. If we take the example of ourselves, when we were in Grade 3 and Grade 4, I doubt that any such products existed. The advent of computer still hadn't intruded our lives as it has today, but we still managed to get a good education, good degrees and good jobs by just using copies and pencils and obviously, getting taught by good teachers.
There are many young and passionate individuals who really want to work on the pressing needs and the bottlenecks of Right To Education Act in India but in this boom of cool products and technology, have not got the chances to support their initiatives.