Have The Horses Bolted From The Stables Under Lockdown

The argument is to understand if the boom in the ed-tech industry is temporary and only a pandemic phenomenon or if the Indian ed-tech companies have successfully interpreted the Ed Scene in the country.

Four stories that come to mind for those that did not self invent themselves in favour of change and disruption. Kodak rejected digital cameras, Yahoo rejected Google, Nokia rejected Android and Blockbuster rejected Netflix. If history is an indication, the future is here and stares brick and mortar educational institutes in the eye. 

Data Labs by Inc42 Plus analysis reports, India is home to over 4,450 edtech startups. Many of these are attracting foreign as well as domestic investors to fund in the last few months. Are these companies redefining the Indian education space? Could they play a significant role post-pandemic?   

A GER of about 25 in higher education was disrupted by the pandemic. This number constitutes those who go to colleges. It also meant that almost 75 out of every 100 were fending for themselves with alternatives like online or its poorer cousin, the open and distance learning to keep the learning pursuits on. While the colleges have shut shop, the pandemic has added the 25 to the remaining 75 to make a perfect 100.  

A GER of 64 in secondary education and 96 in primary education also is disrupted with no schools open. 65% of the population demographics is below 30 years of age. Many of these are new learners. With all brick and mortar effectively closed, internet is the only natural source of education. It will remain so even Post pandemic having effectively shortened both the development and adoption cycles of online education. No wonder the EdTech Start-ups are growing at a rate of 55%.   

KPMG reports that the market is poised to reach around 2 Billion USD by the next year, though there are huge challenges in the segment besides some undeniable benefits like reduced costs, great flexibility and the ability to train thousands of people all over the globe at the same time. One can even monitor what students are doing breaking the inertia and passivity of classroom courses. The challenge that appeared daunting in Online education as being too boring and prone to technical glitches is now jazzed up and stays fresh in archives, unlike the lecture that finished in a classroom. Students have come away unhinged from the classrooms meeting the vision of the PM that says, “learning-driven education” which will certainly inspire the students to search and research their subjects and options.   

Online education will bring demand for merit-based programs that run contemporary with the industrial demand and a constantly pioneering spirit to the fore rather than the archaic models taught in institutions that prepare only 30% graduates as being job-ready. Businesses require specialised skills and do not expect from the fresh hires a knowledge of the mandaleev’s periodic table. For that, there are technical aids available. Businesses require resources that will be driven by AI and Machine learning in the times to come. The day is not far for the analogy of the tail wagging the dog to come true. 

The Indian EdTech will be a very hot sector for Venture Capital investments. Online learning startup Byju’s (Think & Learn Pvt. Ltd), raised more than $500 million and Unacademy raised $100 million by June this year, proving that investors will fund early start-ups. In fact, Byju raised notable funding from Bond, a global technology investment firm for a valuation of $10.5 billion, even as it received funding from Tiger Global to an extent of $200 million earlier in January.  

The argument is to understand if the boom in the ed-tech industry is temporary and only a pandemic phenomenon or if the Indian ed-tech companies have successfully interpreted the Ed Scene in the country. Would they now look at more serious issues like the need for advanced and personalized learning? The pandemic by shrinking the development and adoption cycles of online education has expanded the market shares manifold. Coursera a world-wide online learning platform founded in 2012 by Stanford University's computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller offers massive open online courses, specializations, degrees, professional and master track courses. It saw an 80% growth in registered users and a staggering 1400% growth usage across new and existing users compared to last year during the lockdown.  

This has led to creativity and innovation in learning pedagogies for asynchronous learning. However, there is a growing need felt both by the teaching and student community that collaborative and personalised learning must be the way to go. In order to stay in business, they must customize learning and have a learning plan for each student's strengths, needs, skills and interests. This must be supported by effective student and faculty Data analytics.  

Technology and online will remain an imperative now even if the offline schooling resumes. Ed-tech has and will continue to grow its mindshare. The government will also need to support them and grant them the validation that these require.  

In future, education will use more technology and the EdTech companies will innovate on gaming concepts to develop both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, spatial and temporal development based on improved data analytics and collaboration on social media. They will strive to allow the creation of personal learning networks. Engaging an asynchronous learner can be a vexed problem. The EdTech companies will have to actively work on creating an emotional connect. Further, they will need to allow communication in multiple formats, provide active learning opportunities, make learning social, gamify with badges and certificates, provide timely and useful feedback and add self-assessment opportunities.  

The EdTech space is now on a steep growth path. Next couple of years will see consolidation and probably will plateau in three years’ time. The Tech adoption especially in primary and secondary education has been slow in the country. Although more than 4000 EdTech start-ups were launched in the past 5 years in the country, and one may expect 70% of them to eventually windup for lack of innovation, creativity and funds. The new normal will have to be blended learning. Probably a 30:70 online: face to face model will come to stay in technology-based education and hover around 50:50 for the rest of the disciplines.  

The EdTech companies will also start investing on Virtual labs and build seamless models. One can also see a great amount of investment to build AI and Machine learning algorithms into intuitive delivery of education and learning models.  

The digital divide however cannot derail this growth story. The government must actively engage the content providers, the LMS developers and the society with smart interventions, enabling a national portal where best of the content can be hosted, create data access points in remote locations, provide DTH education content channels, even use cable network for Ed content and drive mobile vans with smart devices into the rural households. That then will achieve one objective of the NEP, achieving a GER of 50 in higher education.  

As the slogan at the end of a eulogy, the brick and mortar institutions will need to peel their paint and gloss and rewrite their emblems, to proclaim that, “Brick and Mortar of education is no more, long live education”. For those that will adapt and adopt to this change will survive in the new sunrise, for those that don’t will remain *No-Kia (a term in Hindi that translates as Done nothing). This pandemic is indeed a Kodak Moment. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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