EdTech is the latest, favorite buzzword among education leaders and investors in India today. The education portfolios of many venture capital firms and impact investors are full of companies with tech-focused business models. Within the global development sector, technology is often perceived as the innovation that will most quickly transform outcomes for millions of children who come from low-income backgrounds and cannot afford high-quality education. But is technology the panacea that it’s claimed to be?
At least in the domain of early childhood education, many experts believe that technology cannot replace a high-quality, holistic learning environment during the crucial time period between the years of 3-6 when a significant portion of the child’s brain development happens and most children are beginning formal schooling. Research shows that children in this age group learn best through social interactions, through play, and by engaging with materials. To build essential socio-emotional skills, teachers have to interact with children in a fundamentally different way and create a learning environment where the child feels safe to take risks. None of these human elements of education can be quite replicated by technology in the classroom.
Where technology can play a powerful role is by providing the teacher with additional resources to facilitate their teaching. For example, Karadi Path (an English-learning education company) uses video and audio recordings to create an immersive classroom environment where children pick up the language through listening. However, these materials are best utilized when accompanied by a teacher-training program designed to empower teachers and create an interactive, playful, and safe classroom environment. Similarly, many education companies have developed products to automate many of the teacher’s administrative tasks such as attendance collection and data entry. These products have the potential to free up the teacher’s time to focus on their most important responsibility—the children.
Finally, a potentially high-impact avenue for technology within early childhood education may be through parent outreach. FSG’s research highlighted that many parents from low-income families in India feel disempowered to contribute to their child’s education since some are illiterate. However, there are many simple activities they can do at home to aid their child’s development. This could be as simple as asking the child to count the number of bananas at home, which helps build the core conceptual understanding of numbers. Technologies can be leveraged to communicate with parents, raise awareness, and provide them with specific things they can do at home to help their child.
What does this mean for practitioners who care about improving the quality of early childhood education provision to low-income families? First, technology cannot substitute a good teacher. Like with most things, technology is useful when it is amplifying and not replacing human intervention. Practitioners should spend equal (if not more) resources on upskilling and empowering teachers as they do on investing in technology. Finally, technology may provide significant value through effective parent outreach. Practitioners can accelerate the learning of the child by using technology to empower parents and create a productive home learning environment that complements classroom learning.