Ravi Jitani, cofounder of Countingwell, a maths learning app for the students of middle school
India is today home to a very young population, with over a third of its citizens – nearly 500 million – falling in the 5-24 years age group. Of this young population, about a half is currently in school, which makes it abundantly clear that imparting quality education at the school level ought to be among the highest priorities at the policy level in our country.
However, this task is easier said than done. Providing high-quality and yet affordable education to such a huge population is beset with enormous logistical and economic challenges. To begin with, we have no easy answers to the question of how we can ensure enough numbers of well-trained, well-compensated and motivated teachers in schools around the country.
Thankfully, our policymakers are aware of this challenge and have sought to address it with the help of cutting-edge technology. The New Education Policy (NEP) announced last year features an excellent blueprint for integrating technology with education, with the larger goal of improving the quality of education at both the school and college levels. This is a highly welcome development for all stakeholders in the education ecosystem – most of all our young students – for technology can truly complement the teachers and help them deliver world-class education to their students.
The age of edtech
Private sector companies and startups providing technology-enabled solutions for education – often termed edTech – have taken off in recent years on account of two big factors: the proliferation of cheap digital devices including laptop computers, smartphones or tablets; and the nationwide availability of highly affordable and high-speed data plans by telecom companies. According to Indian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (IVCA) and PGA Labs data, Indian edtech startups have seen a total investment of $2.22 billion in 2020
The real push however came with the pandemic last year, as the long-term closure of schools and colleges brought edtech into the lives of schoolgoing children. Schools, as well as colleges, shifted to online or digital classrooms with help from edtech and other technology companies, and the technology industry in turn has raced to build and offer innovative software for remote classes, assessments and examinations that cover the whole gamut of a real-life learning experience.
Tech for transformation
We are today witnessing a digital revolution in the education sector led by edtech companies, which can truly democratise world-class education across India. With over 4,000 edtech startups currently operating, India is home to the second-highest number of edtech startups.
Unencumbered by any physical boundaries, these companies can take high-quality learning experiences to even the remotest places in India.
As noted above, schools have quickly adapted to an online-only mode of teaching. While the effectiveness of online-only teaching or learning is debatable, it is abundantly clear that going forward all school education will be a blend of classroom and online teaching.
We’ve already made tremendous progress towards this goal over the last year. Until the pandemic struck, most schools did not have a robust digital educational framework, which could support textbook learning or integrate traditional learning methods with online classrooms. They also had challenges in creating a digital infrastructure that would get students to join classes virtually in a more engaging way.
But most importantly, schools had to focus on equipping their teachers for online classes. Several surveys, media reports, and even our first-hand interactions with parents and students had pointed towards a significant gap in the efficacy of the online education system. One of the biggest challenges cited was that teachers are not enough tech-savvy and lack clear communication while teaching online. Further, they also lacked e-learning resources to support and engage online learning. It also increased the workload of already-overworked teachers, with having to prepare new lesson plans and content almost every day.
This feedback has opened a plethora of opportunities for the edtech ecosystem to help schools develop new and more efficient tools for learning and for training and upskilling their teachers to become better at online teaching. No wonder then that the market for online education offering for classes 1-12 is projected to grow by 6.3x to reach $1.7 billion over the next two years, as per a recent report on the edtech sector by RBSA Advisors.
The future portends a greater collaboration and tighter integration between education institutes and the edtech industry. This collaboration promises to create value not just for them, but also and more importantly for the millions of students across India. While the schools will be able to use tech-enabled tools and software to significantly improve the quality of their education, the technology providers in turn will have the opportunity to directly impact the learning experience of our future generations. As stakeholders in the future of education in India, we surely hope that this industry-academia integration comes good on its promise.