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Future Of Learning: It Is All In

Edtech was the biggest gainer of last year, a trend that continued to prevail in 2021 but the challenge now is to maintain the competitive edge in the next normal

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Edtech companies have risen as the beacon for the democratisation of education by creating accessibility at relatively affordable costs. Over the lockdown, companies and educational institutes were confronted with the widening skill gap with the urgent need to digitise all content and adapt to a distance working and learning system. The pandemic brought to light the many initiatives, courses and opportunities in the education technology ecosystem to a larger audience, who was not only willing but in desperate need of tech-based solutions. This form of recognition from the public, encouragement from the government and investment in the edtech sector has significantly disrupted the education ecosystem. The impact and subsequent transformations are reigniting debates on the relevancy of the content of education, how it is delivered and its success in equipping students with the necessary skills required to become contributing members of society. 

Rise Of Edtech
Startups and small businesses were hit hard by the pandemic, however, edtech companies gained significant momentum during this time. The Indian online education market is expected to reach $1.96 billion by the end of 2021, currently standing at $247 million with an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 52 per cent. Alongside an estimated growth of user base from 1.2 million to 9.5 million by the end of 2021 at a CAGR of 44 per cent.

Primary and secondary supplementary education is set to be the category with the largest growth at $773 million, growing at the CAGR of 60 per cent according to a KPMG 2021 study. While online test preparation is expected to be the fastest-growing category in online education, estimated to grow at a CAGR of 64 per cent in the next five years. 

The pandemic has worked to legitimise the content offered by tech companies to the larger public and job market. With companies, such as Google, making public statements on willingness to hire candidates without college degrees, online certification has found a foothold in the education industry. The KPMG study reports an estimated growth at a CAGR of 42 per cent in the reskilling and online certification category, which is also the largest category in the online education landscape in India sitting at $93 million today.

Language casual learning is expected to grow at a CAGR of 42 per cent with more users focusing on personal development. The contributing factors are a large youth population, accessibility to devices and online platforms, availability of disposable income, focus on the quality of online education and government’s digital initiatives.

Byju’s, one of the highest valued startups in India, raised $1.5 billion during the first half of 2021, now worth $16.5 billion, with Unacademy following at $3.5 billion. The unicorns are growing bigger, with Unacademy and Byju’s making up 76 per cent of the funding that went into edtech in 2021. Byju’s is also becoming one of the highest valued edtech companies globally. 

2020 saw a burst of startups and surge in funding towards education technology, 2021 is revealing the competitiveness of this landscape. The quality of content, delivery and pricing and employability will set the big players apart. Moving forward, edtech companies must continuously work and improve upon user engagement, gamification, accessibility to content online and offline, alongside counselling and focus on soft skills to meet the demands of the market.

Edtech In Education Institutes
Schools and higher education institutions are looking to leverage technology to create blended and hybrid classrooms as schools are set to reopen. There was a concern that technology and edtech companies would displace schools and educators. However, despite the growing popularity of edtech companies and their growing acceptance in the job market, the yearning for the brick and mortar classroom has not gone away. 

A survey by LEAD (formerly LEAD School) found 74 per cent of parents wanting to send their children back to school, stating the loss of learning as the primary reason. Two separate Brainly surveys reported that while 82 per cent of students were looking forward to returning to the brick and mortar classroom, 63 per cent did admit that online learning platforms helped reduce stress significantly. 

Once online classroom and recorded lessons are introduced into a lesson plan, like all good technology, there is no going back. As schools reopen, the hybrid classroom is looking to make its début. It will be a set-up involving the blend of online and physical classes to ensure continuity in education for all students, the execution of which is yet to be fully realised as every institution decides how to implement this system. The common opinion, at least among cities where Covid-19 cases have gone down, is that schools should resume, however, the uncertainty of the pandemic looms as well as the task of setting up a new system of blended learning.

Education institutes are in a unique quandary, where innovations must be incorporated, but at the same time, their task is greater than edtech companies, as they must enable the holistic development of their students. Additionally, it must be noted that while edtechs have grown and risen with the pandemic, schools and higher education institutes have survived. 2020 saw 180 colleges shut down, the highest number of professional universities closed in the past nine years, according to data from the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE).

There is a matter of privacy that must be protected and respected for both students and teachers. Not everyone wants to be recorded and have their lessons available online, moreover, students may not want to speak or ask a question during such lessons. During the pandemic, in the urgency of the situation, institutions did not have many options. However, moving forward, while everyone is on board with a hybrid classroom, the details of how this is to be implemented is yet to be tried and tested. Providing the option for students to view lessons online make them reluctant to attend physical classes. Prof V. Ramgopal Rao, the Director of the IIT Delhi shared that even if students are on campus they prefer to watch the video at their leisure rather than attend the lecture, this is also discouraging for the staff who are working to design these courses, furthermore, peer learning is getting lost.

Challenges Ahead 
The biggest challenge for edtech companies would be to maintain their competitive edge. This means sticking to the four P’s of marketing: product, price, place and promotion, i.e. more innovation, remaining accessible and maintaining prices. 

Data privacy and cybersecurity is of the utmost importance for tech companies, especially when information on minors is involved. Akhil Shahani, Managing Director, Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management, Shahani Group and CEO, ask.Careers states, “Data privacy in this digital world is now a mandatory step, and being an EduTech company, it is our utmost priority. We store our user-sensitive data on a secured cloud, and all the applications are behind a web application firewall.” Any breach would not only cost users but would be detrimental to the reputation and credibility of a platform.

Online learning is still a privilege for most people. UNESCO reports an estimate of 38,241,927 learners, globally, whose education has been affected by the pandemic. A study by Azim Premji Foundation 2021, showed that 60 per cent of students in India do not have internet access. During the pandemic, only 20 per cent of school-age children in India had access to remote education, and there was a school drop rate of 38 per cent. Amidst the technological revolution, there needs to be a conscious and constant effort to bridge the digital divide.

Schools and educational institutes must continue to skill themselves and stay aware of the tools available to them that can ease the learning experience for students and the teaching experience for educators.

Way Forward
Many educators and entrepreneurs may claim that the pandemic only accelerated the progress that was already in the making. The technology may have been available, nevertheless, it does not indicate that the people were ready for such vast and urgent implementation. Edtech is witnessing exponential vertical growth, but horizontal growth is still necessary. This is the place where leaders of the nation need to step up and ensure that all students from all parts of the country are presented with the same opportunities. In education, technology’s primary role is to provide accessibility and opportunity. Therefore, while innovation and content are important for each platform, edtech companies must be able to bridge the skill gap without widening the digital divide.

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