The Indian education system is often the subject of debate over outdated curriculum, rote learning, rising cost, poor quality of teachers and lack of infrastructure. On the positive side, our country boasts of world-class institutes such as the Indian Institutes of Management, Indian Institutes of Technology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Jawaharlal Nehru University. We are also one of the largest and oldest education systems in the world.
Formal education in India is still based on a traditional model or brick-and-mortar classes. Students have to attend schools and colleges to complete their education. While ed-tech is the commonly accepted mode of formal education across the world, the education fraternity is opening up to online education or e-learning.
Scope of ed-tech
Online education or ed-tech goes beyond the realms of secondary, post-secondary and tertiary education. It also includes courses and modules for competitive exam preparation, professional skill enhancement, and other non-academic subjects
Drivers of ed-tech growth
Online education in India is evolving at a swift pace owing to the following factors:
1. Growth in Internet and smartphone penetration
2. Cost of online education is low
3. Traditional model unable to fulfill demand
4. Digital-friendly government policies
Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ to spread digital literacy, create a knowledge-based society in India, and implement three principles ‘access, equity and quality’ of the education policy.
- e-Basta (schools books in digital form)
- e-Education (all schools connected with broadband and free WiFi in all schools and develop pilot MOOCs, or Massive Online Open Courses)
- Nand Ghars (digital tools as teaching aids)
- SWAYAM (MOOCs based on curriculum taught in classrooms from 9th class till post-graduation)
- India Skills Online (learning portal for skill training)
In order to establish digital infrastructure, the government has also launched National Optical Fibre Network, which aims to expand broadband connectivity and create a fast network.
5. Demand among working professionals and job-seekers
Challenges are many
Online education is definitely has a bright future in India, but the journey is fraught with several challenges.
1. Insufficient digital infrastructure
While the government has been making efforts to create and improve a digital infrastructure across the country, there hasn’t been any noteworthy progress. According to the World Economic Forum, only 15 out of 100 households have access to the Internet, and mobile broadband remains for a privileged few, with only 5.5 subscriptions for every 100 people. Further, currently broadband reaches just about 600 corridors, largely in and around the top 50-100 Indian cities, leaving rural areas with poor connectivity.
2. Poor learning engagement
In traditional classrooms, student-teacher and peer-to-peer engagement are very high. Learners can approach the instructors and fellow students for feedback or discussions, and get their concerns addressed on-the-spot. Ed-tech is not yet developed to a level to stimulate open-ended or crowd learning, unless the courses are imparted live with the help of an online instructor.
3. Lack of standardization, credibility and quality
The lack of standardization of online programmes and their formal acceptability still remain a concern. E-learning players offer multiple courses on the same subjects with different levels of certifications, methodology and assessment parameters. Online courses are designed and imparted by different instructors, who may be given autonomy to design the curriculum. So, the quality of courses may differ across different ed-tech platforms. Most online courses do not get academic credits, credibility and recognition in the traditional educational eco-system.
4. Language of the courses
India is a multi-linguistic country, and a majority of the population comes from non-urban areas. The online courses mostly focus on English content. Hence, non-English speaking students struggle with the availability of vernacular content.
5. Low completion rates
Online courses are self-paced learning. There is minimum or negligible motivation due to lack of face-to-face interaction. Hence, the completion rate of online courses is very low.
The e-learning sector in India will witness the following trends in the next few years:
1. Hybrid model
There will be a convergence of the online and offline education models. Online course providers will work actively to provide supplementary education, such as after-school coaching, e-tutorials, internships and live projects. They will also reach out to students at offline touch points like group discussions and labs. There will be virtual classrooms where traditional offline pedagogy will be aided by digital courses on practical knowledge and soft skills.
2. Addition of new and offbeat subjects
Apart from popular subjects like data science, cloud computing, and digital marketing, the e-learning curriculum will offer courses in unexpected subjects such as culinary management, forensic science, cyber law, etc.
In order to make learning more interesting, competitive and rewarding for academic students and professionals, the digital courses will incorporate features such as badges, discounts and leader boards. Corporates, educational institutions and e-learning platforms will come together to co-develop content.
4. Peer-to-peer learning and profile mapping
E-learning providers will develop a peer-to-peer model to establish collaborative learning between students through notes and idea sharing on a common platform. Technology such as artificial intelligence, big data, data analytics, facial recognition, etc., will be used to offer profile-based customised courses.
5. Investor interest will grow
Over the last three years, there have been several large-ticket deals in the Indian e-learning sector. The Chang Zuckerberg Initiative invested $50 million in Byju’s, Bertelsmann India has put in $8.2 million in Eruditus, and Kaizen Management Advisors and DeVry Inc. have invested $10 million in EduPristine. Not to forget Khan Academy, which has so far received financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and Netflix founder Reed Hastings. So, the sector will continue to spark more interest among investors and attract funding.