When All of This Is Over, Will EdTech Still Thrive?

After Jio’s affordable data plans, India’s internet usage shot up, boosting internet-based businesses including Education Technology companies. With top-notch entrepreneurs like Ronnie Screwvala (co-founder, upGrad and investor, Lido) putting their resources in EdTech, India’s online education market is estimated to be 9.6 million users by 2021. India has, in fact, the second highest number of EdTech companies after the USA. The world is estimated to spend $324 billion on EdTech in 2025 as opposed to only $152 billion in 2018.

Learning in the time of pandemic

Even without these numbers, one can safely say that EdTech is making the most of the Coronavirus pandemic with the sheer number of students taking online classes around us. With 250 million school students and millions of college students being affected by the lockdown, Byju’s, Toppr, Vedantu, and others are providing free material.

Having said that, whether EdTech can really revolutionize education the way FinTech transformed money after demonetization is a multi-layered inquiry. The very first question is about internet penetration, which is only 36% of the total population of India. A large chunk of this is the rural population, which doesn’t always have enough data speed, doesn’t probably use the internet much beyond social media, and is not as digital payment friendly as the urban population. Then again, networks and data speeds are areas which are constantly improving.

Another impetus to upskilling is the acknowledgement and promotion of EdTech by our tech-savvy government. As per Budget 2020, the top 100 educational institutions in the National Institution Ranking Framework can now offer full-fledged degree courses online. The government already has an e-learning platform named Swayam, which is recognized by the UGC. By the looks of it, the government is only going to foster the EdTech industry in India. With its recognition, the value of an online course on your resume is set to increase.

The socio-economics of EdTech

A student from a small town in India can today attend a Harvard class. This level of access to quality education was never possible before. EdTech is exposing our rote-learning-reared students and teachers to ways of making learning interesting. Whether it is John and Hank Green using animated soldiers to describe wars, or Duolingo giving digital brownie points for learning grammar, EdTech is putting the fun in learning. Think about a teacher rewarding students with badges and vouchers upon finishing assignments; drawing up leaderboards to nurture a competitive spirit; conducting live quizzes that require teamwork. Gamification promises to usher in a new definition of classroom memories.

Today, T.I.M.E and IMS, India’s premier CAT coaching institutes, charge around Rs.60,000-70,000 for their regular classes. Meanwhile, the e-versions of their courses cost only Rs.15,000-20,000. It is the costs of infrastructure, maintenance of space, books, and other physical resources that are eliminated.

The flipside of everything tech

In September 2019, EdTech startup Vedantu faced a serious data breach affecting personal details of 6,87,000 customers. EdTEch is no stranger to cyber attacks, and Indians need to realize the gravity of their most personal data like email addresses, contact details, and other personal details falling into unknown hands. For some reason, we don’t seem well-equipped or quick enough in dealing with such situations. Indian companies’ average response time to cyber breaches is 9 days (222 hours) while the global average is 7 days (162 hours). Is this a grave concern? Certainly. Is it something that can be fixed? Most certainly.

The Road Ahead

There are limited data points to fully support this, but dropout rates are very high in online courses. As of 2018, about 50% of Indian IT professionals, one of the prime audiences for online courses, dropped out before finishing them. Even so, with the current availability of time and positive inclination towards EdTech, students of all kinds can be expected to warm up to online courses this year.

Purists would maintain that nothing can replace the feeling associated with an actual campus and a teacher in flesh and blood. To be fair, there has to be a reason why the Ivy League, IITs, IIMs, and even Santiniketan, for that matter, work in peaceful and serene environments. But that’s not the real value proposition of these world class institutes. The distinction between ‘education’ and ‘skill development’ becomes clear if you compare a premier institute with an online course. The former is where students go to find high-quality management jobs. The latter is where they turn more when they want to learn a niche skill for their job. That is exactly why digital learning cannot completely replace traditional learning yet. But will it do so in the years to come? I reckon it could.

The physical presence-based shortcoming of online learning is set to change with the advent of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-powered ways of adaptive learning. Retina analysis and facial recognition will be able to tell a teacher when and which student is bored for them to take measures accordingly. There could be multiple AI teacher assistants who will solve doubts in real-time, while the actual teacher goes on with the class. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will actually take physical learning one notch higher by taking you inside a virtual biological system or a far away land in another dimension. Whether it is bright or not remains to be seen, but the future of learning definitely looks digitized.

The Author

Snehal is Columnist at GGI.

She is a writer, poet, music aficionado, Oxford comma proponent, and a lot of other things. She also writes on personal finance for 'Qrius Creative Labs'. She has worked as a copywriter, content writer, scriptwriter, creative strategist, and direction assistant at multiple organisations in the past. 

Snehal is a graduate from the  Bachelor in Mass Media, Advertising from St.Xavier's College, Bombay.

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