Collaboration for Digital Education

The University of Chicago’s International Innovation Corps, in collaboration with the New Delhi-based Central Square Foundation, is helping implement the DIKSHA digital platform for teachers, in Gujarat.

The educational system in India is one of the largest in the world, with about 260 million students and 10 million teachers. Recognizing the central role of teachers in delivering curriculum to classrooms with students from diverse backgrounds and learning levels, the Government of India initiated a nationwide educational technology solution in 2017 to support teachers. The Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing, or DIKSHA, platform was developed to offer primary to secondary school teachers curriculum-linked resources to help them  connect with the teacher community and create in-class resources, training content, assessment aids and more.

The signature feature of DIKSHA’s platform is the energized textbook, which uses QR codes to link users to relevant digital content that extends the textbook curriculum. Using a smartphone, Android device or laptop, both teachers and students can scan QR codes embedded in the textbook to view videos, animation, storyboards, practice lessons and interactive games.  

DIKSHA was piloted in five states in 2018, and the scale-up plan for the rest of the country began in 2019. New Delhi-based nonprofit organization Central Square Foundation (CSF) is helping with its implementation. “CSF assists in setting up and managing DIKSHA, the largest ed-tech [education technology] initiative in the country, planning the implementation strategy and engagements to be implemented” in states and union territories across India, says Sarthak Satapathy, the organization’s team lead for DIKSHA.

Seemingly based a world away, the International Innovation Corps (IIC) social impact fellowship program of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy got involved in DIKSHA when it was invited by the Central Square Foundation to manage the ed-tech initiative’s implementation in Gujarat. International Innovation Corps Executive Director Kunal Pal sees this as a logical fit for the corps. “IIC was launched in 2014, growing out of discussions with senior bureaucrats and government officials in India, who wanted entities like the University of Chicago to offer critical capacity support to help better conceive and operationalize their programs,” he says.

Select graduates from the University of Chicago and Indian universities are trained and divided into teams of fellows, which the IIC embeds in government organizations in India. The teams spend a year developing innovative, scalable solutions to development challenges, and learn to tackle global problems with social impact.

Pal notes the International Innovation Corps has a history of partnering with several government and nonprofit organizations in India. “Mostly as part of teams, we have placed and mentored fellows on high impact projects across the country through the University of Chicago’s New Delhi center,” he says. “The idea of the International Innovation Corps is to connect the demand for strong talent within the public and nonprofit sectors in India with a supply of motivated young professionals eager to make a difference by serving as fellows or project associates to support the projects.”

The project associates are assigned by the Central Square Foundation to manage the DIKSHA project by working with Gujarat government officials, to follow the structured timeline and streamline the implementation process. The aim is to increase the reach and impact of DIKSHA by improving platform adoption, strengthening institutional capacity and processes, and streamlining knowledge management systems.

A major focus for the International Innovation Corps team is to support the platform’s digital curriculum, essential to DIKSHA’s energized textbook feature. “Our role is to ensure that all QR codes in the textbook, scanned to access the DIKSHA platform, are mapped to quality digital content,” says Harsh Doshi, IIC project associate and Gujarat team member. “The aim is to provide contextualized, engaging and relevant content in the local language, Gujarati. This digital content is either pooled from existing channels or is created freshly by teachers who are subject matter experts from the state.” 

Doshi notes that the International Innovation Corps project associates also work to “generate more awareness about DIKSHA through various communication channels and events, and increase consumption by conducting trainings, leveraging grassroot organizations and social media.” He highlights the state government’s role in ensuring teachers are trained and comfortable using the platform.

The impact of the team’s efforts is already evident. “To date, Gujarat has witnessed more than 1.6 million scans and more than 1.5 million content plays, having put QR codes in just six textbooks,” says Doshi. “We aim to increase the number of textbooks in Gujarati and keep the momentum going to reach all our teachers and students.”

Hillary Hoppock is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Orinda, California.