The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a revolution in studies and education in revolutionary but completely unintended ways in India. In many ways, 2020 is a lost year for Class 1 to 12 students, even in developed countries – data from the US shows that daily school attendance dropped 1.5% every month as 2020 wore on!
In India, though, the government has made every effort to encourage online education in all forms of institutions – right from kindergarten to public schools to the biggest and most prestigious universities. In fact, early last year before the lockdown, the Indian government took early steps in reforming education delivery by allowing universities to offer fully online degrees.
One of the biggest factors in this revolution is the emergence, acceptance and proliferation of multiple forms of online education in India, led from the front by edtech startups.
The Rise and Rise of Edtech Startups
The Indian middle class has traditionally pushed – and even forced – their children to focus on school and college education as a single-minded path towards progress in life. The effects of this mentality are showing up today in the companies that are looked upon as potentially successful (and therefore, attract funding) in the near future: edtech startups. Why? Because the target market of these edtech startups is the young people of India – a staggering 700 million of us Indians are younger than 25!
With such a wide market, it is no surprise that one segment that emerged unscathed from the economic effects of the lockdown was edtech. A report titled ‘The Great Un-Lockdown: Indian Edtech’ by the Indian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (IVCA) claimed that online education platforms across India have raised $4 billion in the last five years, with 92 players raising $2.2 billion in 2020 alone.
These startups and edtech firms are looking for every little chance to capitalize on the opportunity to deliver education through online classes, not unlike the coaching classes of yore. As an increasing number of schools, universities and classes (both government and private) take their curriculum online, students and parents will be compelled to adopt B2B products that enable online classes and extracurricular learning.
In fact, Class plus, a subscription-based mobile app for tuition teachers and coaching classes (over 70 million Indian students take out-of-school tuitions every year) that lets them share videos, assignments and tests with their students has more than 200,000 registrations already. “We see ourselves as the de-facto tech platform used by every teacher across Southeast Asia. We will enable millions of teachers to kickstart their online teaching business and create a global experience for them on technology,” said Mukul Rustagi, the Co-Founder of Class plus.
Based on the promise of widespread adoption, a report from Zendesk estimates that the edtech market will grow nearly four times, from $2.8 billion in 2020 to $10.4 billion in 2025 and the user base of the services and products in this market will swell to over 37 million.
One striking factor that the above report revealed is, over two-fifths of the 10-billion-plus edtech market will be captured by K-12 (school-focused as opposed to university-level higher education) learning solutions.
This brings to light the “digital divide” – the stark reality facing the majority of households throughout the vast expanse of the country: Access to uninterrupted power supply, internet connectivity, smartphones or computing devices is woefully absent across the board.
“In a class of 40 students, around 20 students regularly attend class with whatever device and connection they have. Around 5-8 students are completely absent till date and rest are fluctuating,” says a school teacher in Ratnagiri.
Many schools haven’t even converted their offline curricula to online yet. That’s not all: parents and teachers lack digital skills, and are not equipped or trained, or even educated enough to learn the ins and outs of digital education platforms. In such a scenario, first-world concerns like privacy in edtech software remains a distant second priority.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Urban kids – including in Tier 2 and 3 cities – are catching on (and latching on) quickly to the new reality of virtual classroom-in-the-bedroom. “90% of our students today are outside of the top six cities, where we cover across 15+ boards with 60% users coming from state boards, including UP Board, Bihar Board, etc.” said Tanushree Nagori, Co-Founder of Doubtnut, a multi-lingual, AI-based learning platform that responds to students’ queries in vernacular languages.
Mindset Over Toolset
The education-first approach prevalent in India acts as a great leveler despite the depth of the digital divide. In our country, every child has a Right to Education (RTE) up to the age of 14. That leaves us enough room to start early, inculcating key concepts like critical thinking, logical reasoning and problem solving into young children.
The concept of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education is gaining traction as a path to encourage children to be the innovators of the future. This is driven by the NITI Aayog itself, which established the “Atal Tinkering Labs” program under the Atal Innovation Mission with the explicit aim of fostering STEM education in India, by nurturing creativity, curiosity and unlimited imagination in young minds.
Every parent has a responsibility to understand and mold – or rather, unfold – their child into a unique and resourceful person who actively contributes to the future of the country. Today, we have the tech resources as well as the aptitude to achieve this goal, no matter how far away it might seem.