By Zishaan Hayath, CEO & Co-founder, Toppr.com
One of the biggest problems faced by students from small towns and Tier III cities, is access to quality resources in order to fulfil their dreams. They face an uphill battle – from unavailability of latest text books to lack of funds to buy them. (Enclosing data highlighting disparity in income for rural vs. urban-https://ihds.umd.edu/sites/ihds.umd.edu/files/publications/pdf-files/02HDinIndia.pdf)
Even if they do manage to cross this hurdle, they do not have access to skilled teachers who would explain difficult concepts to them. They often end up studying all by themselves, with no one to answer their doubts and questions. (Enclosing links to ASER and UNESCO reports for detailed facts on the state of rural education and quality of resources)
A very common solution to their problem is traveling to another town and getting enrolled in a coaching class there. Every year, close to 80,000 students travel to Kota in their 8th standard itself. Parents end up spending anything between 15-20 lakhs for their education, taking loans and mortgaging their houses. People talk about the number of students qualifying JEE Mains from Kota but rarely do they talk about why some Kota based students had committed suicide. They face unimaginable pressure, often from their peers and families, and often due to the awareness of the financial risks taken by their parents.
Both of these sets of students end up struggling with their studies in various ways.
Why do students from small towns struggle?
Shankar* is a student from a small town in Tamil Nadu who is preparing for his NEET exam. He grew up in an area where the quality of education in his local government school was extremely low. As he witnessed the sorry state of medical facilities in his town, he dreamed of becoming a doctor.
Initially, he faced a lot of roadblocks in simply acquiring the latest NEET guide books. As he finally started studying, he realized that the gap between what is taught up until their 12th grade under the TN state board and the skills required to crack NEET is large. He had no access to skilled professors who had experience in coaching students for competitive exams. He had to make do with studying completely on his own, with no one to teach him, guide him, test him, or answer his questions.
Why do students who move to another town for studies, struggle?
Arvind* is a student from UP who has traveled to Kota to prepare for JEE. Initially, he could keep up with his studies while managing his daily activities. However, he was just one student in a batch size of 100-130 students. In a batches this large, it was impossible for teachers to give any student personal attention. They taught at a speed which would be comfortable for an above average learner, while the rest played keep up. He started facing increasingly high amounts of pressure as he tried to stay on track with what was being taught. The rigorous tests and exams did not help.
Arvind relied on understanding the concepts. He knew that his teachers did not have enough time to solve his queries. Moreover, he was afraid of being laughed at for asking silly questions.
How does edtech help both Shankar and Arvind?
Apps are increasingly helping students with personal learning solutions. Shankar and Arvind were completely at sea until they experienced learning through digital modes. They started using video lectures. Shankar used them to understand concepts that were completely new to him. Arvind played and replayed them until he understood concepts which he could not grasp in class.
They also started using the test modules. New – age ed-tech platforms use AI, Machine Learning, and Big Data to map students’ learning patterns. Shankar and Arvind received different, personalized test questions based on their individual strengths and weaknesses.
They solved their doubts on chat, uploading images of their questions anytime to receive answers for similar or same questions.
Edtech companies can help disseminate information to the remotest of areas, and any student with a smartphone and an internet connection can access it. With the growing literacy rate in rural India, we can finally hope for more optimism in the sector as well. And, hopefully, faster development in the years to follow!