Best Of Edtech Is Still Ahead Of Us

The real measure of an edtech solution’s success lies in its ability to become an important part of the end-user’s daily routine and provide a satisfying learning experience with measurable outcomes

During the Covid-19 pandemic in India, more than 250 million children sat at home for nearly two years. In this time, edtech emerged as a saviour enabling children to 'attend' school remotely, without which the pandemic-driven learning losses, dire as they are, would have been even more severe. 

On the other hand, the edtech space has also witnessed several companies with sub-par offerings and unsustainable business practices redrawing their plans. The unfortunate side-effect of this market shakedown is that we may have missed the real potential of edtech: as an enabler of scalable, sustainable change in India. The exciting possibility lies in what focussed and uniquely differentiated tech-based solutions can do for millions of Indian students – loosely defined as 75-80 per cent of the demographic who belong to families with monthly incomes of Rs 20-25,000 a month. Hailing from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities as well as smaller Indian towns, they are a key demographic that have been overlooked by the traditional educational system and edtech giants.

India 3 (i.e. bottom 3 quartiles by income) students, in contrast to the top quartile are a much more heterogeneous demographic spread across multiple language mediums and state educational boards. Despite having access to government and affordable private schools, education outcomes for this segment have been far from promising. Even before the pandemic, ASER showed that 50 per cent of students in Grade 5 were unable to read Grade 2 text in their own language. One in five college graduates is unable to secure a job, due to a lack of employable skills. 

While educational outcomes may have improved very slowly in the last 5 years, it is promising to see that mobile penetration in rural areas has nearly doubled from 37 per cent to more than 68 per cent. More importantly, India’s tech stack and its demonstrated successes in enabling solutions for more than a billion people – starting with Aadhaar, e-KYC to UPI – are lighthouses of what technology can do to improve life outcomes at scale. 

Our learning from supporting 10 edtech organisations that have cumulatively impacted over 11 million students from low-income families over the last 2 years can be summarised in 3 principles. 

Edtech for India must cater to a diverse audience and learning levels

Expanding edtech solutions to the majority of India’s students will require an understanding of the heterogeneity of this population. Varying income levels can have many implications on what edtech solutions or even smart devices these demographics can afford. It is quite likely that parents with limited educational experience themselves may face challenges in supporting their children. edtech solutions that cater to them will therefore need to be designed in line with their preferred delivery mechanism (YouTube videos versus smartphone apps) or  UI design.  Bi-lingual solutions in languages that students are familiar with may have improved efficacy owing to there being multiple boards and mediums of instruction. 

However, the biggest challenge in improving learning outcomes at scale is the varying levels of proficiency in subjects at grade level. Edtech solutions are ideally poised to customise solutions that can bridge gaps in the individual learning journeys and provide personalised training or testing in weaker areas. 

Successful solutions must demonstrate customer centricity rooted in socio-economic context 

Solutions for Indian students must be tailored to the infrastructural and socio-economic factors shaping their contexts. The pandemic, for instance, saw the emergence of WhatsApp as a preferred medium of communication among underserved communities. Building edtech in familiar formats with functionalities for multi-user operations and offline learning like those developed by Vowels of the People Association (VOPA) are the need of the hour. 

Customisations to technology should also be guided by local contexts and languages. Merely translating English-language pedagogical materials into Indian languages will not suffice. Startups like Vidyakul that work extensively with local teachers to design a curriculum and teaching methodology that draw upon local dialects and culture have more impact.

The real measure of an edtech solution’s success lies in its ability to become an important part of the end-user’s daily routine and provide a satisfying learning experience with measurable outcomes. Solutions should periodically audit levels of user satisfaction and progress made in learning outcomes. 

The future of edtech will lie at the intersection of two approaches

There are two distinct strategies being utilised today to deliver quality edtech - a push or supply-side led approach, and a pull or demand-side led approach. The push approach utilises systemic infrastructure like government schools or schemes to achieve impact at scale. On the other hand, a pull approach looks to achieve scale by providing solutions that cater to specific market requirements. 

It is a combination of both approaches that may ultimately be the pathway to scale. For example, Rocket Learning uses governmental support to fill a key market need - lack of pre-K education for disadvantaged communities. Simultaneously, through rigorous monitoring of user-level NPS, engagement at various parts of the funnel and ongoing focus groups, they’re building a solution that sparks joy for students and parents alike.

Another critical way to bring together the push and pull approaches, would be creation of a platform ecosystem of quality Digital Public Goods (DPGs). By providing a common platform to host edtech solutions and collect data, innovators can focus more on the quality of their solutions and not worry about user acquisition and back-end troubleshooting. edtech has much to learn from the widely-embraced UPI providing a common and interoperable platform for fintech companies to thrive.

Through creation of DPGs in collaboration with the government or early-stage support by philanthropists, 2023 could be the year that edtech solutions can be expanded to include all students in India. 

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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