Nai Disha students go through a pilot VR experience

Virtual Reality – A Disruptive Equalizer for India’s Education Emerging economies need inclusive education for the large percentage of their populations that can neither afford conventional education nor can they fit it into the contexts of their lives and livelihoods. Can Virtual Reality be a leveler? Can this ‘elitist’ technology be a game changer in bringing education to their doorsteps?

This is a long read.

1. The new world of Immersive Experiences (IE)

13 year old Priyanka* looked around in wonder as she entered Delhi’s International Airport Terminal 3, with her three schoolmates in tow. Teach for India Fellow Manyata,  accompanied them through customs and security to board a flight to Poland for the month-long Brave Festival, an international cultural exchange program.

“Their excitement was palpable,” exclaims Manyata every single time she reminisces the awe and wonder with which the teenagers soaked in their very first flying experience. “From the time we entered the Terminal building, all the way through to Poland and their stay with local families, interacting with their ilk from across the world, performing pieces of India’s rich dances, collaborative choreography, et al, it was an experience few of their lot can even begin to imagine. These kids live in urban slums adjoining the most affluent neighbourhoods and yet may never have visited the local shopping mall. Could all the other 400 kids at Nai Disha—the foundation that runs their school—have an experience “nearly” the same as Priyanka and her friends had.”

Why nearly? Because Virtual Reality.

From the album of Priyanka and her friends at the Brave Festival in Poland 2016 //

Posing for a photo bomb
Posing with Manyata for a photo bomb
Priyanka and friends at Moscow Duty Free
Priyanka and friends at Moscow Duty Free
The world is one ...
The Circle of life
Excited about their first flight
Excited about their first flight

There’s something to be said about immersive experiences. Until you’ve gotten out of your head into a headset, there’s nothing that comes even close to experiencing the richness of ‘being in the scene without ever leaving your present location’.

Manyata felt Virtual Reality could become a game-changer in taking education to the masses while, at the same time, keeping it close to the cultural context of these communities. Rich, entertaining content would engage them in ways traditional classroom content couldn’t. At least that was her thesis and she wanted to test it in “the real world with real people.”

Nai Disha became her partner, leading to a pilot study involving all its stakeholders—trustees, management, teachers and kids— in August 2017. Children were taken through approximately 5 minutes of immersive journeys in groups of 5 guided by their teachers using the Google Expeditions Android App. (You should try it to experience the power of immersion, first-hand.) The successful conduct of the Pilot Study (see excerpt below) has given Manyata unparalleled insights into applicability, adoption, user expectations, etc. This could truly be the next big thing using technoolgy and design for social impact in India and similarly situated countries. Affordable, on-demand, high resolution, immersive learning in the context of daily life. 

Nai Disha students go through a pilot VR experience
Nai Disha students go through a pilot VR experience
From the Pilot study
From the Pilot study

2. #VR will be a disruptive force

Virtual Reality isn’t new but has gained momentum in the last couple of years with falling prices of headsets tending marginal costs of technology down to zero. Google, Facebook, Microsoft are leading the pack with technology and platforms on which people are creating content, apps and other value propositions.

  1. Currently popular and viable in Marketing, Entertainment, Games, Training, …  
  2. Growing in real-time Operations and Maintenance type of work, augmenting curricular education,…
  3. Early days in extra curricular and co-curricular education in K12 and Higher education, …

This technology is likely to go the way of smartphones in equalising educational disparity between haves and have-nots, especially via Hyperlocal + Cultural + Contextual content play. We never saw the smartphone revolution hurtling towards India. A so-called third world economy suddenly found itself riding its exponential rise.

The following video says it like it will be – The Biggest Tech Disruption in the Next 5 Years.

“I think in five years or so VR is going to be a really prominent platform for experiences, for business, for commerce, entertainment, and social.”

~Kevin Kelly

Author—The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.


3. #DesignInTech and #VirtualReality

Now for the hard part. All the technology and all the content will fall short of the potential if users do not get to consume #VR in aesthetic, enjoyable and useful ways. Which opens out a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for Design. Leading the charge with Design Thinking we will need to design immersive environments in innovative ways—we will have to summon the building blocks of #DesignInTech—to keep in step with shifts in technology that are happening as we read this and will continue at an exponential pace. We will also have to orchestrate a concert of creative, technological, social, economic and business capabilities.

Welcome to the future of education.


 

*Name changed

Published by

Sunil Malhotra

Sunil doubles as Chief of Creative and Culture at Ideafarms. An Entrepreneur, a Consultant-at-large, an avid reader and a passionate speaker has a key objective to bring design-led user sensitivity to the Information Technology business. His belief in individual talent and an interdisciplinary mix provided the impetus to his founding Ideafarms. You can also follow him @SunilMalhotra