Challenges Faced By India’s Coaching Industry

The challenges of the past two years were hard but they shook the industry to adapt to new and emerging realities

Lockdowns and economic hardships marked the recent past both for individuals and organisations. The Covid-19 pandemic put a spoke in the wheel of the industry and at its peak brought business to a standstill. But, mercifully, there were a few sectors such as healthcare and education that continued meeting their obligations to their customers as best as they could, leveraging the potential of information and communication technology. India’s $40 billion coaching industry was undoubtedly one among them.

When the pandemic put physical classrooms out of bounds for students, coaching institutes moved classes online, racing against time. They also found indigenous solutions - door delivery of course materials, television channels for education and even group coaching calls on voice-only mobile phones, to reach the digital have-not students. In the process of tech adoption and innovation in course delivery mediums, they also repositioned themselves with an entirely revamped portfolio of products and services.

Online challenges

Covid-19 accelerated and intensified online adoption. The foremost challenge was to rapidly set up IT infrastructure comprising both hardware and software. This also meant scaling up the IT team; evaluating and forging partnerships with different IT vendors and importantly recognising IT as a core function. In a way, coaching institutes became software companies, falling in line with the universal trend best captured in the words of tech leaders who say, “Software is eating the world”.

Alongside, the content - books, presentations, lectures, quizzes, projects and so on, had to be moved online for virtual classrooms. But it was not about digitisation - simply converting something into bites. The transition must take into account the nuances of the digital medium. Some amount of interactivity and gamification were important. The presentation format and duration were important. The restructuring of courses was important. All, befitting the potential of technology and for improving the learning outcomes of students.

Then came the crucial component of training the teaching staff and parallelly, the students to help them become accustomed to the online environment. Also, onboarding these key stakeholders could not be done without addressing their requirements for necessary hardware and software. The learning curve in this regard is still steep.

Hybrid: Striking the right balance

The industry realised soon enough that a hybrid model was inevitable to make the best of both worlds - physical and digital, giving a boost to learning effectiveness. Again, what would go online and what offline could not be based on a standard 50:50 ratio. Certain programmes are best presented online 100 per cent. Arriving at the right balance is only possible with constant evaluation of the learning experience and job satisfaction of the teaching staff. The industry went by implicit and explicit feedback from students and teachers before blending classrooms of two different realms.

None to be left alone

As it is well known, a majority of Indian students do not have access to the internet. As per a post-Covid study by UNICEF, over three-fourths of households in India do not have a net connection and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide. But the reach of television is far better - two-thirds of all households have one. And accessing an essential phone was not a big hurdle. Also, the last-mile logistics via courier and postal services remained reliable. Hence, institutes could reach the digital have-nots through these channels and restore some resemblance of continuity in education.

Large coaching institutes with a pan India network of physical centres connected their centres via wireless networks and could afford the opportunity for students to benefit from live streaming of classes from the centres. The smart classrooms and connected centres brought ‘one expert to many students’ sessions possible even when they are geographically away.

It’s only a beginning

The challenges of the past two years were hard but they shook the industry to adapt to new and emerging realities. The industry expanded and diversified its portfolio of products and services - hybrid programs, Massive Open Online Courses and mobile apps-based course delivery have become a staple of a modern institute. With equal vigour, institutes are also focussing on expanding their network of physical classrooms. The changes are just the beginning, and the direction is new. The coaching industry is moving forward, making necessary course corrections, to continue to have a big impact on the lives of students in the future.

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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