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Summary: National Digital Education Architecture report details key objectives, structure, and governance policies

The report states that the NDEAR is built on 36 building blocks across 12 categories and 3 administrative levels i.e national, state, and school levels.

A few weeks back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated nine new initiatives related to education during an event marking the one-year anniversary of the National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP).

While most of them were programmes that involve learning outputs, literacy, and accessibility, the event also launched the National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) and the National Education Technology Forum (NETF) which deal with the use of technology in education.

Why it matters? According to the government, the NDEAR, which may be set up under the NETF, plans to establish the framework, principles, and overall structure for the development and creation of digital infrastructure, solutions, and platforms for the education sector. It also seeks to unify the existing infrastructure while providing a ‘federated’ system – this would let States/UTs, private sector, and NGOs, along with the central government, use it as they like for learning and teaching, as well as for management purposes. Thus, it would contain registries similar to the Healthcare Professionals and Health Facility registries under the NDHM, for teachers, students, schools, and education boards. Along with this, it would provide teaching content, collate educational certificates, and provide data for formulating educational policies in the future.

A report was released last month detailing the objectives, structure, and policies governing the NDEAR. Here is a summary of that report.

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What is the NDEAR?

The report says that the NDEAR is an architectural blueprint for the education ecosystem that defines a set of:

  • Principles
  • Standards and Specifications
  • Guidelines
  • Policies

Who are the ‘actors’ in the NDEAR?

  1. Student (any learner)
  2. Parent (any caregiver)
  3. Teacher (anyone providing formal/informal teaching)
  4. Administrator (anyone who can help manage)
  5. Community Member (anyone from society, including market players)

What objectives is the NDEAR fulfilling?

According to the report, the NDEAR was built to primarily fulfill the objectives of the NEP such as:

  • Creating and supporting “digital building blocks”.
  • Developing open standards, specifications, registries, etc.
  • Leveraging existing and planned ed-tech solutions of the government and making them interoperable with other building blocks.
  • Evaluating and promoting the use of new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Haptic feedback, Virtual Reality, etc.
  • Promoting, implementing, and sharing open data policies and the “best practices” in data protection, privacy, and security
  • Ensuring inclusion through educational content in regional languages, contextual content, etc.
  • It would also provide access to services like scholarships, e-certificates, etc.
  • Allow national portability for educational data and services

How will the NDEAR do this?

Parts of the NDEAR

The NDEAR is built on 36 building blocks across 12 categories and 3 administrative levels i.e national, state, and school levels.

Data the NDEAR will be based on:

Registries: The report says that all registries must be designed to be easily accessible by other building blocks and usable through “registry-as-a-service with open APIs” beyond the traditional portals for end-users to view and access. The data will be kept within various state and central department systems. The core registries are:

School registry

  • This registry with open APIs will be developed by augmenting the Unified District Information on School Education (UDISE+) which already gives codes to registered schools.

Student registry

  • This registry will use Aadhaar or any other identity proof for unique identification.
  • It will be used to map the entire journey of a student through childhood care, school education, distance learning, up-skilling, and vocational training.
  • The student or their parent can share education records and update contact information through this registry.

Teacher registry

  • This registry will also use Aadhaar or any other ID proof.
  • It will be stored at a central or state level.

Other registries-

  • Education Boards
  • Examination Boards
  • Education Research & Training Institution
  • Management Bodies
  • Philanthropy /NGOs
  • Counsellors

What are Master data/codes? These are codes that are pre-assigned to data elements so that the data entered into a system can be reliably read, sorted, indexed, retrieved, communicated, and shared between systems. Some of the ones listed are school categories, social categories, educational streams, subjects, etc.

Directories: The report says that directories are simpler versions of electronic registries and only list fully public data. Since the data listed in directories have no link to any person or entity, directories are considered to be a part of open data (master data) and do not require any consent mechanisms and access restrictions.

Federated Identities

According to the report, this building block will provide three types of IDs:

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  • Student
  • Teacher
  • Educational Institutions

The report says that these IDs will:

i) Provide unified control to the subject represented by the ID.

ii) Enable the subject to be able to obtain, manage, control attributes, receive attestations, manage profile and transaction data attached to that ID, consent to one’s own profile and/or data, if required revoke data, and manage the lifecycle.

The report also says that the IDs will be defined, managed, and captured in a ‘decentralised’ manner. Only school ID may be nationally unique, the rest are just locally unique within the ID registry, the report adds.

There will be three types of access to IDs:

  1. Fully protected: All records and attributes will be accessible only via consent (e.g. student/ teacher records).
  2. Partially public: Some attributes are public while others are protected via consent (e.g. school registry where several attributes of schools such as name, location, etc are public while contact details of the person in charge may only be available with consent).
  3. Fully public: All attributes and records of the registry with IDs are available as public data (e.g. geographic data)

Educational content for use through NDEAR

Content: This building block refers to a curriculum already formulated under the government’s DIKSHA programme which is used to train teachers and contains teaching material.

Contribution & Curation: Under this block, content can be sourced from a pre-selected set of individuals or organisations, crowdsourcing contributions from masses – both organisations and individuals, and re-using digital content already published. Teachers or users will also be able to author their own content. Content curation will be carried out by sourcing agencies for quality control. There will be different standards for the content that can be set by any of the organisations in the ecosystem.

Taxonomy & Tagging: This will let school boards or other organisations organise and categorise curriculum content by relevant grade, medium, topic, learning outcomes, or learning objectives.

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Language & Translation: This will include dictionary/wordnet services, input capture services, speech detection and analysis services for children learning a new language, translation services specialised for learning content, text digitisation services (such as optical character recognition) for capturing assessment data, etc.

Discovery & Personalisation: The discovery of services on the platform is said to take place through multiple ways such as by using QR codes, chatbots, metadata-based searches, sharing of content and collections by users, multi-lingual mappings, advanced tagging to do push targetting, etc. Users will also get personalised recommendations.

“To implement the above capabilities, it is critical that content repository and searches are seen not as simple database and text indexing issues, rather as a careful architecting of “semantic knowledge structure” mapping, layered with multi-dimensional discovery services and then building advanced telemetry-based cohort or individual personalisation capabilities, all as unbundled and reusable services within NDEAR.”- NDEAR report

Learning management services through NDEAR

Governance

School Affiliation: This will help state and school boards manage a school’s affiliations. It will contain school affiliation, audits, approvals, recognition, school scorecards, monitoring, and other feedback/grievances.

Awards Recognition: This will allow the Centre, states, school boards, NGOs, and schools to reward or give recognition to their teacher or student.

Examination, Results, and Certification: It will support multiple types of assessments as part of learning services as per the needs of learners and courses offered. Federated depositories shall be created for online storage and sharing of awards details online by external parties with consent. National Academic Depository / Digi locker shall be leveraged for award depository. All awards and certificates will be issued as machine-readable, verifiable documents, with a print option as per common schema standards. These certificates may also be standardised. 

Schemes, Programmes, Scholarships: Scheme management services shall address scheme planning, definition, rollout, funds disbursed, monitoring, auditing, and so on and shall be integrated with registries.

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  • This, the report says, “will help the government to ensure unification across schemes, easier enrollment for beneficiaries, and efficient fund management.”
  • Scholarships can be directly deposited using the ‘Aadhaar-based DBT’ (Direct Benefit Transfer system)
  • For scholarships, the national scholarships portal will be used as a reference application.

Administration

Personnel & Payroll: This will look at various aspects of personnel management, payroll, appointment, transfers, pension, service books/records management, manage payments, etc. It will attach ‘workflows’ and ‘transactions’ to the unified personnel profile ID.

School Management, Attendance, Admissions, and Tests: This will look at admissions, attendance, feedback, event management, community engagement, virtual PTA meetings, etc. It will be integrated with registry services, shared infra services, and other building blocks.

Mentoring and Counselling: Virtual counselling sessions will be made available to both anonymous students as well as those who wish to identify themselves. This will be available inside school management systems but also as a stand alone feature in ‘various contexts’.

Open Data & Analytics

This building block is to have some business intelligence architecture that can be used by all applications/blocks that are added to the NDEAR to facilitate the government’s decision-making and roll-out of new schemes.

Anonymiser: This would anonymise data that is ’emitted’ from various applications which can then be used for analytical purposes. The report recommends basing it on international standards such as ISO and works already available from areas like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Education analytics and Visualisation: This will analyse the aggregated datasets accessed from various systems, through reusable analytics and visualisation services and provide decision support to the stakeholders.

Education GIS services: This will allow applications to embed map visualisations and location-aware services for visualising data in a map form, finding the nearest test centre, etc.

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Open Education Data: Non-personal, non-sensitive, anonymised datasets should be made available for the public to consume as per MeitY National Data Sharing Policy (NDSP) and the policies regarding Open Government Data (OGD).

Accessibility considerations for NDEAR

1) Reference Solutions UX

Under this, the government will provide some reference solutions to others in the ecosystem for a better user experience. Some ‘key access and service delivery points’ that the report identifies are:

i) For mobile/web-based applications the DIKSHA app can be used as a reference for learning interactions.

ii) For TV and Radio’s connection with NDEAR, entities can give QR codes on their TV shows from which the lesson can be continued on the phone or laptop.

iii) Through VOIP/IVRS/SMS lectures can be delivered after sending a missed call or a message.

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iv) Communities should set up local support centres to bridge the digital divide – this can include members and entrepreneurs joining and providing support to users. Interactive chatbots are also suggested to address frequently asked questions, doubts, etc.

2) Infrastructure

Education Network & Cloud: Entities running NDEAR compliant services will have to be built to work on public networks by default with open security standards. In the case of sensitive or aggregated data, layers like VPN can be considered. Cloud infrastructure, Security Operations Centre (SoC), and Network Operations Center (NoC) for 24×7 availability and security will also have to be built.

Messaging & Video/Audio Conferencing: There should be provisions for integrating messaging services, email, IVRS, as well as commercial messaging platforms. There should also be a provision for conducting ‘synchronous’ video/audio calls.

Education Data Exchange: This is a common exchange platform through which data can be exchanged in an ‘end-to-end secure manner’ between different NDEAR building blocks and systems.

Open School Hardware: A set of open hardware components can be plugged into NDEAR to consume content and enable learning interactions within school labs and classrooms.

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Technology standards and requirements for NDEAR

Locker & Consent Management: It will be made using the electronic consent framework specifications notified by MeitY and National Data Sharing Policy and will be in accordance with the Personal Data Protection Bill and other practices and procedures around data sharing.

Open Al Services: A set of reusable AI services, open-source libraries, open-source models, and data sets could be built for the education domain.

Language Assets & Services: Making dictionaries and wordnets of regional languages to help with learning, knowledge organisation, translation, speech, and other aspects.

Open standards for the NDEAR portal: The portal will have open standards since it is to be decentralised and federated. It will be the one public-facing website through which NDEAR will be managed. The ‘custodian’ or the governing body will likely be in charge of this portal.

What next?

The report lays out a timeline for NDEAR’s implementation for the next 3 years.

Phase 1 (6 months):

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  • Setting up of Project Management Unit, Project Steering Committee
  • Prioritise core set of foundational projects which have high usability and impact. Foundational projects will help develop core NDEAR building blocks which are leveraged by subsequent projects.

Phase 2 (6 to 18 months):

  •  Projects that provide impetus to NEP 2020 and FLN (Foundational Literacy and Numeracy) mission implementations leveraging projects from Phase-1

Phase 3 (18 to 36 months):

  • Projects that amplify efficiency and outcomes building off projects

How will data under NDEAR be protected?

The report lists the following as its principles to govern data:

Use of Personal Information Identifiers discouraged: Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and data collection must be minimal, limited, used for stated specific purposes and must be non-intrusive.

Tracking discouraged: Children must be protected against identity tracing, tracking, labelling, and discrimination.

Generalisations discouraged: Sweeping, generalised consent processes, practices, terms, and design must be discouraged. The report also asks for the development of a consent architecture but does not elaborate further on it.

Protection of Children: The report notes the need to protect children’s privacy and confidentiality of their performance. For this, it refers to UNICEF’s toolkit on Children’s Online Privacy.

Who will govern the NDEAR?

  • NDEAR is envisaged as a part of an existing entity or a proposed entity like NETF and not a new institution. However, it will be autonomous.
  • The Ministry of Education will be responsible for ensuring all data protection regulations are complied with.
  • It will be under a Product Management Unit which will set out the guidelines, timelines, and specifications for NDEAR’s implementation. The PMU will be supervised by a Project Steering Committee.

Composition of NDEAR governing body:

Governing board: It will have a governing board with representatives from the Centre, autonomous bodies, state governments, non-profit, and the private sector. This will include experts from the education sector and technology sector.
The report does not mention who these experts or representatives will be or how they will be selected.

Advisory board: This will have experts and ‘experienced’ persons from diverse fields not limited to education and technology. The report does not mention any more details on how much experience is required and how such persons will be selected.

Chairperson: The government will appoint a chairperson. This will most likely be a person at the Joint or Additional Secretary level from the Ministry of Education.

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CEO: The CEO will be someone with experience at the cross-section of education and technology. This person will develop the strategies and lead the organisation to achieve NDEAR goals.

CTO: This may be occupied by someone from the NIC. The CTO will advise the CEO and lead the strategic technology thinking on how to use technology building blocks to achieve NDEAR objectives.

Funding of the NDEAR

The report says that the Ministry of Education will fund the NDEAR for the first 4-5 years. In the long run, it might turn to donations and grants. It may even monetise some of the reference applications it provides, and turn into a self-funded entity.

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Written By

I cover health and education technology for MediaNama. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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