Why India Should Focus on Educational TV rather than EdTech

A couple of weeks ago, Rob Sampson and I published an op-ed in Quartz India arguing that the central and state governments in India should use Educational TV rather than smartphone-based EdTech to reach students out of school due to the covid crisis. We use survey data to show that smartphone penetration in India is much lower than sales figures would lead you to believe. By contrast, TV ownership is relatively high even among the poor.

The full article is here.

As always with an op-ed, we ended up cutting several points due to space constraints. The great thing about a blog is that space constraints are not really an issue, so in this post I’ll flesh out some of those points that got cut.

First, even if parents own a smartphone they often are reluctant to let their children use it for extended periods of time.

Second, we believe TV is a better channel for instruction than radio due to relatively low radio ownership. During the Charcha2020 conference, Ashish Dhawan, founder of CSF, pointed out that the evidence for interactive radio is stronger than the evidence for educational TV. This is true, but, according to the most recent NFHS survey, only about 8% of Indian households own a radio. In addition, I think that the stronger evidence for interactive radio is most likely due to its longer history. Interactive radio has been around (and studied) since the mid-1970s. By contrast, if you exclude “edutainment” programs like Sesame Street, there are relatively few studies of ETV in developing countries. In terms of format, ETV can mimic interactive radio by including pauses for students to digest and react to content.