A first-of-its-kind government scheme, set in motion over two years ago, has finally taken shape, bringing courses offered by a group of edtech platforms within the reach of college and university students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The scheme, guided by the public-private partnership model, was launched by the Ministry of Education in September 2019. While its success will be reviewed in the days to come, its intent places it among policy interventions that aims to address the question of digital inequality.
What is the scheme about?
The National Education Alliance for Technology (NEAT), which is being implemented by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), aims to act as a bridge between edtech companies, academic institutions and students. The initiative was taken after a Ministry of Education review noted that learning tools developed by edtech platforms that can supplement classroom teaching need to be made more accessible. Accordingly, it was proposed that a portal be created where edtech platforms can be roped in to display their products after a shortlisting process.
What are the products on display in the portal?
The portal — neat.aicte-india.org– has separate sections listing products for students and educational institutes respectively. According to NEAT chief coordinating officer Budhha Chandrashekhar, so far the government has roped in 58 edtech companies. The companies were shortlisted by independent expert committees leaving no room for favouritism, he said.
Under the B2B (business to business) segment of the portal, courses are on offer for higher education institutes to purchase in bulk for their students. And the B2C (business to customer) section lists courses that eligible students can browse through and choose from. The courses range from accounting and finance to coding, including advanced programming languages like python.
How were students picked under the scheme?
There are two different ways through which students can enroll under the scheme. The basic objective of the scheme is to make students from disadvantaged backgrounds aware of the availability of such opportunities that can help them learn new skills or polish existing ones. In that regard, the AICTE reached out to higher education institutes across the country, directing them to inform students about the portal and enroll them based on their needs and consent. The edtech platforms have been allowed to charge fees as per their policies.
But then how will it benefit students from backward communities?
In order to do that, the government has mandated that every shortlisted company will have to offer free coupons to the extent of 25 per cent of the total registrations for their solution through NEAT portal. Through this route, the government created a bank of 12.15 lakh free coupons over the last two years. And it has now started distributing those coupons among students belonging to SC/ST/OBC and EWS categories with the annual family income cap fixed at Rs 8 lakh.
How were SC/ST/SC/EWS students chosen?
After the government opened the registrations for students of these categories for free courses, nearly 37 lakh applications were received, Chandrashekhar said. As the number of free coupons were limited, the authorities used an AI tool to pick students with caste, income, gender, age as filters. Older students and women have been given preference over men. A state-wise break up shows that of the total, 4.12 lakh free coupons are being distributed among students of Uttar Pradesh, followed by 2.23 lakh in Tamil Nadu, 1.38 lakh in Maharashtra and 1.21 lakh in Andhra Pradesh.
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What are the courses in demand?
The top five courses in terms of demand are python programming, C, C++, Java programming, data science, life science and healthcare analysis, and interview preparation. Chandrashekhar said in the next phase of NEAT, school students will also be brought under its ambit.