The Indian Edtech Policy: A Need of the Hour

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The Indian edtech industry has witnessed dynamic growth over the past year, with a massive surge in user-base and venture capital funding. However, as we discussed in our previous story, Indian Edtech Focusing More on Surmise over Ramification, today, our edtech offerings, apart from a few exceptions, are more focused on revenue and valuation over education (1). 

The truth is daunting because the Indian education landscape is already reeling under an acute learning crisis, way before the coronavirus pandemic, with one in two students lacking elementary reading ability at the age of ten. And with the closure of more than 15 lakh physical schools affecting more than 248 million students for over a year, the pandemic is threatening to worsen the crisis (2). 

Even though edtech ventures offer students an engaging and personalized learning experience via digital platforms, the movement is slower in rural areas and underprivileged sections of society because of the lack of essential infrastructure. 

And considering that the Indian edtech industry would reach over 30 billion USD in size over the next decade, the sector is worth being under our scrutiny (3). 

We know that edtech is vital to unlocking our education system’s prospects, consequently improving the overall economy, yet we have done too little so far. It is time for the government, entrepreneurs, investors, and consumers to start implementing it (4). 

In this story, we will focus on how the Indian government and educational institutes can leverage technology and innovative edtech platforms to pave the way for the new-age education revolution. 

Key Points About The Indian Edtech Space

  • Indian Edtech Startups are Cash Loaded: In 2020, Indian edtech startups secured over two billion USD across 55 funding rounds. That is a steep rise compared to 2019, where they had secured 473 million USD across 36 funding rounds (5). 
  • All Foundational: Out of those two billion USD funds, most of them went to K12 and test prep category alone, followed by higher education and continued learning. 
  • Other areas of investors’ interest in the sector include online STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics courses and startups that offer full-stack programming learnings to adults and children.

edtech

 

Key Points About the Indian Education Landscape

  • India has one of the most significant groups of school-age children, with about 270 million children between the age of five to seventeen (6).
  • The nation has four basic education levels: pre-primary for children aged 3 to 6, primary for 6 to 10-year-olds, secondary for 11 to 17, and tertiary for 18 to 22.
  • Students from ages 6 to 13 must attend school.
  • Indian schools have witnessed a major rise in student enrollment, with a 15.37% increase in total registration in secondary education during 2009 and 2016 (7). 

Read Also: edX Acquisition Indicates Transformation of Online Higher Education

 

The Evolution of the Indian Edtech Space

The Indian edtech story began in 2005 when the country’s digital penetration was less than five percent. A gentleman from Bangalore came up with an idea to offer affordable local tuition to students residing in the USA. And that’s when TutorVista was born, later with Educomp following suit. With a few fundraising and acquisitions, they laid the foundation of the Indian edtech space. 

While these names are no longer prominent, India now has a pioneer in the space; yes, you already guessed it, BYJU’S. Since its inception in 2011, it has now become the world’s top valued edtech startup. And taking its cue, several new edtech startups emerged, with traditional coaching players also starting to move online. 

However, one big issue at that time was the lack of a nationwide data pipeline to make these platforms accessible, especially the large target audience residing in tier three, four cities, and rural India. Luckily, by 2016, Reliance Jio came as an angel in disguise and answered the prayer. 

With Jio’s low-cost data and massive smartphone penetration, edtech became more conspicuous.

Between 2016 to 2019, more startups came in, Vedantu, Unacademy, Simplilearn, WhiteHat Jr, Toppr, Testbook, UpGrad, and more. To sum up, a record 4,500 edtech startups were born in India by 2018!

Colleges and schools also started moving online; the wave of smart classes came with MegaExams, Veative Labs, Edunext, to name a few. The Indian government also started developing e-learning platforms such as Sankalp, Swayam, and DIKSHA, Digital Infrastructure for School Education and open-source learning platform, and UDISE, one of the world’s largest education management information portals. 

Fast forwards to 2020, edtech was on fire with the pandemic and staying-at-home guidelines. The online learning time surged by a whopping 250% (89).

The Driving Factors:

  • Low cost of online education
  • Government’s digital initiative to promote online learning
  • Growing internet user-base 
  • Loopholes in the present education system
  • An increasing number of edtech startups

Read Also: Duolingo’s Journey: From a Bot-fighting Test to Most Iconic Edtech Unicorn

 

There are Multiple Benefits of Using Edtech in the Indian Education Ecosystem

  • It can bridge the gap between rural and urban education. Thus, eliminating the variation of teaching materials all across the country.
  • Edtech programs make student data more accessible to teachers, allowing them to track their progress and mark areas that require improvement.
  • It can emphasize individual, personalized, and specialized learning plans. 
  • It can create a collaborative education space. For instance, it can allow teachers to share teaching strategies using newer technologies.
  • It can also make students’ real-time progress more accessible to parents, increasing students’ engagement overall. 

 

But, They Have Lot of Issues

Whether offered by the state or private institutes, education in India often received complaints about its traditional system, which has not adapted itself to evolving industry needs and population size. 

There is a scarcity of educators with the necessary skills and hindrances like gender inequality and other factors obstructing children’s access to quality education, something that is their right. 

Additionally, there is another challenge when one educator has the burden of teaching multiple subjects, administration works and attending 100+ children. As per a recent report by Niti Aayog, in states like Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, and MP, there are more than 40% teacher insufficiencies. 

While the NEP National Education Policy has considerably improved the education quality and the government’s budget allocation for education also witnessed a massive jump from 8,100 crore INR in the previous year to 93,224.31 crore INR; such reformations would need years to take place. 

And because of the enormous gap between market expectations and the current education model, there is optimism that edtech can solve all the education challenges at scale and with a low cost per customer. 

The edtech market boomed in India during the pandemic, and it does have tremendous potential to solve these common problems in various segments ranging from early childhood education to higher education and professional up-skilling like:

  • Personalization
  • Higher Engagement
  • Competitive Content

However, some of these businesses, disguised as edtech companies, are nothing but marketing companies selling education services and products. Many of them even adapt to aggressive clickbait ads masquerading students’ success stories and blurring the line between marketing and outright deception. 

Their products are widely successful because of the deep-pocketed spending on celebrity endorsements, glamorous packaging, and lack of patience from parents. An artificially made need drives parents to pay huge fees for low-quality products, which fuels more demand and eventually starts a spiral of issues. 

Moreover, most of these edtech companies are heavily funded by foreign VCs. 

Read Also: Emerging Indian Startup Ecosystem, Red Flag, Government Role

It is time that the government steps in and builds extensive collaborations with edtech companies to offer innovative and tech-enabled learning for all students nationwide (10). 

Read Also: WhiteHat Jr: India’s Most Controversial Ed-tech Startup

 

So, What Needs To Be Done?

First and foremost, education needs to be accountable for results. Unfortunately, the performance indicators of most of these edtech companies are all about sales and revenues instead of measurable objectives relevant to education. Amid all the glamor, it is easy to disregard non-profit or impact space companies that offer almost similar or better content quality at a much lower cost. 

In a way, some of these edtech companies are competing with Netflix and other OTT platforms to get a bigger share of students’ screen time, creating content that may be engaging but not proven rich in any sense. 

It is time we realize that engagement is not equal to learning. 

Moreover, as we mention, there is an impression that edtech can solve all of education’s challenges. Even though it may sound pessimistic, technology is only an enabler that catalyzes the solution’s impact. It is not a complete solution itself. Edtech companies can’t replace educational institutes and self-learning. 

That’s when the need for a comprehensive ed-tech policy architecture arises. There is a need for crucial insights on what works and what doesn’t because tech solutions can’t offer desirable and impactful results unless there is a thorough plan to deploy the digital infrastructure and various teaching and learning approaches.  

 

It is Time for Policy Makers to Come Forward and Pave the Way for Better Education

The edtech companies and regulators need to be mindful of the long-term implications of current trends. It is time we understand that education is not a one-size-fits-all model. What we need right now is a system that supports equitable education. 

Yes, edtech has successfully revolutionized the rural education scene and made opportunities for rural people. However, it has tremendous potential to do far better. 

With the maturing edtech industry, India is well-poised to increase access to tech-based education infrastructure fueled by affordable internet, electricity, and flagship initiatives like Digital India and DIKSHA. 

Edtech has incredible potential to enable greater educational personalization and enhanced productivity with improved learning rates, reduced costs of instructional material, better utilization of teachers and instructors, and service delivery at scale. It is time for India to start leveraging it and create a comprehensive edtech policy to improve our current education system. 

A comprehensive edtech policy must focus on four essential elements: 

  • Offering access for learning to all
  • Allowing processes of teaching, learning, and evaluation
  • Facilitating teacher training and continuous professional development
  • Improving governance systems, including planning, monitoring, and management processes

In addition, out of all the considerations edtech design needs, one that is often neglected is legal and policy interferences for cyber-behaviors like bullying, content monitoring, ensuring the protection of students from scams and cyberattacks, screening of instructors, etc. Another is educating parents about edtech and their children’s need to ensure that they can make rational decisions. 

To effectively leverage technology and its benefits, the regulators also need to pay special attention to address the digital divide at two levels; skills and access. It can include infrastructure and connectivity, high-quality relevant and proven content, rigorous standards for outcome-based evaluation, system monitoring, and real-time assessments. 

Read Also: NEP 2020: How will it impact students?

What Can Edtech Startups and Investors Do?

As we mention, in the post COVID era, the edtech sector can achieve bigger numbers than anticipated with more edtech adopting and different education outlooks. 

However, to witness consistent growth stakeholders in the edtech industry:

  • Need to improve the overall customer experience
  • Cater to the requirement for affordable edtech offerings
  • Create better-optimized solutions that cater to current challenges in the Indian education ecosystem 
  • Focus more on learning outcomes and student engagement

To read more on entrepreneurial opportunities in the edtech ecosystem, read our previous story, Lessons from Estonia: A Look into Future’s E-Societies

In the longer term, as the policy translates to practice at national levels and technology-based solutions, regulators can curate learnings from successful implementation and amplify such learning. 

As we mention, even though NEP 2020 has set the ball rolling, the journey from a holistic edtech strategy to its successful application will be a long one. Nonetheless, a transformative edtech policy is a need of the hour to maximize student learning effectively (11). 

 

The Future is in a Blended Learning Format

There are anticipations that India is heading towards a blended future, mixing the best of offline and online learning (12). 

It will allow students to select concepts they wish to learn and the formats they will learn these concepts. And as we noted, edtech will not replace schools and teachers. Instead, it will complement them by providing students a holistic learning experience. 

It is an approach, undoubtedly will create a more efficient and synchronous education system, and we hope we will see its realization soon. 

 

Wrapping Up

Indian students spend millions of dollars on foreign education. If we bring such infrastructure home, the country can benefit while saving a huge chunk of money.

Over time, by adopting a comprehensive policy, edtech can fundamentally transform the way we deliver and consume education and yield spectacular long-term results, both for students and the nation. 

Today, thanks to the internet, our country has the possibility to revolutionize its education sector and participate in educating the world.

By leveraging edtech, Indian can gradually build a skilled repository and position itself as a talent hub.  

Ancient India was known as a leader in higher education with universities like Takshila and Nalanda, attracting students worldwide. Today, India has a golden opportunity to transform itself into a global talent and education hub (13). 

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Rucha Joshi, currently managing a team of over 20 content writers at TimesNext is fueled by her passion for creative writing. She is eager to turn information into action. With her hunger for knowledge, she considers herself a forever student and a passionate leader.

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