Aadhaar moment in Indian education - II


This is an excerpt of an article written by Anirudha Dutta and published on LinkedIn on August 13, 2021. 

There is a large body of student population probably of around 200mn that has no access and/ or affordability for the top-end EdTech products. Students in this segment attend low cost public schools, budget private schools or even unrecognized schools and any solution has to come from the state, primarily in conjunction with the philanthropic risk capital and/ or impact investing sector. Otherwise rapid digital transformation of scale is not possible.

The availability of philanthropic risk capital is helping to attract top notch talent into the social sector and also in scaling up philanthropy. A good start has been made by EkStep Foundation. EkStep developed Sunbird, a modular, free and open-source digital infrastructure comprising of a suite of building blocks, as a digital public good. Sunbird’s building blocks can be downloaded for free by anybody to create their own solutions.

The building block approach helps to unbundle the process of education and allows technology solutions or applications to be inserted at any part or stage of the process in a manner that is sustainable. The first platform to be developed by using Sunbird is DIKSHA, India’s national school education platform. DIKSHA is a free-to-use school platform with multiple solutions for students, teachers and administrators. It is already being used by various state education councils, different boards, apart from the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). In the year of the pandemic, over two million teachers and students have accessed digital content on DIKSHA linked to school curriculum and undergone training programs for which the teachers have received verifiable digital certificates.

New Education Policy (NEP 2020), unveiled in 2020, made a break from the past as it highlighted the need for learning outcomes, rather than just throwing more funding with the hope that learning will improve; it highlighted the need for technology led solutions and the imperative to invest in public digital infrastructure in education. With the successful implementation of Aadhaar, India has been able to evolve a model of public digital infrastructure, which is different from other parts of the world:

  • NPCI has set up RuPay and UPI, the payment rails, which compete with MasterCard and Visa. While payment costs have been brought down and reduced, a number of start-ups have built their business models around the public payments infrastructure that has been built.
  • Aadhaar and its linkages to bank accounts has meant that the government now has the ability to directly transfer cash benefits, from various social schemes and subsidies, directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. This digital payments architecture has enabled one of the smoothest and fastest payments of cash benefits during the lockdown last year to poor families.
  • The digital infrastructure has enabled the opening of bank accounts, onboarding of customers for insurance, mutual funds, broking, or mobile phone subscription in minutes vs days earlier and totally eliminated any paperwork. This is popularly known as the India Stack in financial services and using it many parts of banking services are being unbundled by start-ups. Various parts of the entire value chain have been unbundled, allowing innovation to thrive and multiple players to enter at different parts of the value chain depending on their respective business models. It has also enabled sachetisation of financial products and services.

I mention what has happened in the world of finance in India because the same model is being adopted in other sectors like healthcare and education – open architecture solutions, the platform being a public utility, around which various service providers will build their applications and offerings and consumer data will remain under the ownership of the consumer and not the service providers. Taking a step forward to meet the objectives of the NEP, the government has started putting together the objectives and framework for NDEAR, the India Stack for education. For the full version, please see here