Empowering the teachers of India

October 03, 2019 05:07 PM
the teacher app Vinod Karate Image

 

TheTeacherApp uses the mobile app to create content for teachers. By 2023, the not-for profit organization plans to reach out to 1 million teachers by partnering with 8-10 state governments. Vinod Karate, its CEO and Founder, shares his thoughts on education with Kavitha Srinivasa

By Kavitha Srinivasa

What prompted you to give up investment banking to venture into education? 

As an investment banker, I had some idea about college education as I had interacted with professionals from college campuses. In 2012, I read about a startup called STIR Education in the Economist. Though it was accidental, it caught my attention and I got interested. The thought lingered on and I became curious.

I took a conscious decision to leave the corporate world for the development sector. I joined STIR in 2012. Over the next four years, I was exposed to school education. In investment banking I had interacted with 25 teachers from the higher education sector. In STIR, I dealt with 35,000 school teachers. This is a leap of change.

What did the groundwork reveal when you chose to work in the education sector?

India is home to 9 million teachers, to which we add another 900,000 teachers annually. Year after year, we have seen that only 1 out of 7 teachers in India clear the Teacher Eligibility Test conducted by the Government of India. Clearly, our teachers still need conceptual clarity. More so, as the 250 million children currently enrolled in schools, completely depend on their teachers for learning. Understandably, student outcomes are poor because the quality of teacher training in government schools needs improvement. This hooked me on and I realized that a lot needs to be done.

STIR has created teacher help groups through local Panchayats. A monthly meeting gives an overview of what’s happening on the ground. This helps in scaling up teacher performance.

At that time, the STIR model made its impact in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, and in Uganda. We have partnered with 22 institutions including The American India Foundation and Pratham. STIR has been a great learning experience and has given me confidence to work independently in the education space. I chose the digital medium for an effective outreach. This conviction led to the initiation of TheTeacherApp in 2016. The not for profit organization (NPO) is based out of Delhi. With a tagline, ‘Every teacher will learn and grow anytime, anywhere, at zero cost,’ TheTeacherApp takes training to the teacher and not vice versa.

How did you arrive at an online form of content delivery?

TheTeacherApp disseminates information through the digital medium. This is based on two revelations. Firstly, access to Smartphones has quadrupled as much as data costs have reduced. Secondly, 95% of teachers in government schools have Smartphones and use WhatsApp to store and communicate content.

Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) an initiative under the National Mission on Education through the Information Communication Technology (NME-ICT) Programme, has gained popularity as a learning tool. With MOOC in mind, I decided to use the mobile app to create a teacher content platform.

What are the things that you took into consideration while delivering content on the mobile?

TheTeacherApp offers high quality well researched teaching content. The learning material is accessible on the Smartphone. Hence, it’s presented in an engaging audio visual manner and is interactive in nature. A 150 page presentation in PDF format won’t work here.

After the format, the next thing was to figure out the content size. We realized that one hour of Hindi content shouldn’t exceed 100 MB size and must have open source software.

Next came access, Google Playstore became the ideal choice for teachers to download content on to their Android app. The content, meant to reach the last mile, is free of cost. And so it’s called as sweet spot format. We chose the open edX online learning platform founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in 2012.

How is content developed? Would you be able to provide a glimpse of behind-the-scenes developments?

Content is a hybrid mix of physical and online material. An internal team comprising 15 academic professionals create content for primary school teachers of Grade 1-5. The digital learning experience in Math, Language, Pedagogy and Science is available as short, interactive, offline videos. The content output is around 50 hours per annum. We decided to enhance capacity to create an ecosystem and make content scalable. Dream Team, our programme collaborates with various organizations to develop digital learning courses for teachers. Around 10 such organizations have joined hands with us including Eklavya, Bodh Shiksha Samiti and India School Leadership Institute (ISLI). Over the last two years, we’ve signed up with the Himachal Pradesh government for developing such content. Out of 50,000 primary school teachers, 47,000 have registered for our app. Of these, 10,000 have got our course material.

How many state governments have you tied up with?

The Hindi speaking states comprise 30 million students and 3 million teachers. TheTeacherApp has signed a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and partnered with the state governments of Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. Contents from Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) have been integrated into the app. We have a B2B approach and we contact schools through NPOs. As a result, in three years, over 2.5 lakh teachers have used the platform with 5 lakh hours of training. 

With funding grant of $1 million from Google.org, how have you been using these funds? What are your plans for this year?

We tried to raise funds by showcasing the content to multiple donor organizations. Google.org came forward with a grant in 2018. This has led to a five year vision. By 2023, we want to reach out to 1 million teachers by partnering with 8-10 state governments. We would like to help state governments to improve teacher training compliance. As of now, we have created 100 hours of content. 

We plan to launch a Lab Programme, under which we will adopt a block and drive compliance. A teacher engagement cell is also on our radar to strengthen the content distribution.

Voices

Being a teacher I love to turn a boring lesson into an interactive session to motivate students. Thankfully TheTeacherApp makes it easy by simply following the posts, content material and announcements for the courses.

Priya Khurana, Delhi

Tremendous initiative and a wonderful project. TheTeacherApp’s inputs will be very valuable for building the National Teacher Platform.

Anil Swarup, Secretary, Department of School Education & Literacy, MHRD

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