COVID-19 is a ‘Black Swan Event’ that will be etched in memory for those who’ve endured it. The pandemic ravaged every business sector – aviation, tourism, manufacturing, transportation, etc to name a few. However, the most notable impact from a human developmental standpoint was the education sector.
According to the Human Rights Survey, more than 1.4 billion students opted out of school in the initial phase of the pandemic. Whilst the country (India) witnessed a complete or partial lockdown for more than four months, delivering education became a challenge, for schools, colleges, and other private coaching institutes.
This ushered in mass acceptance for EdTech platforms and their value propositions, from students whose classes shifted overnight to a digital world.
What made it possible?
The connected learning market always had great growth potential and the Covid-19 induced pandemic acted as an accelerant towards fulfilling its destiny. Since over 87% of learners got affected, the only option for the education sector to deliver continuity of learning was only possible with the timely intervention of EdTech platforms.
After quickly assessing the new normal, most academic institutions decided to collaborate with various EdTech platforms like Khan Academy to aid students with online learning methods. According to a research conducted by BARC India in collaboration with Nielsen, “an increase of 30% of time spent on EdTech apps on various smartphones was reported right from the beginning of the lockdown.”
The Many Facets of the Industry
Before delving further into the details of how the EdTech platforms became a ‘White Knight’ it is necessary to understand how this landscape is shaped.
The segmentation of these start-ups has broadly been carried out by services offered and the intended target audience –
- Test Preparation – To aid students to prepare for competitive exams such as IIT-JEE, CAT, UPSC, SAT and medical entrance tests
-Byju’s, Unacademy, Vedantu
- Online Certification – Offer certified courses for acquiring a specific skill set
-UpGrad, Coursera, Simplilearn
- K-12 Learning – Online learning material to supplement school curriculum, targeting students up to grade 12th.
-Lido, WhiteHat Jr, CampK12
- Skill Builder – Offer courses to enable swifter skill development and further upskilling/reskilling for gig economy workers and others in entry-level technology roles
-Disprz, Aeon, Edureka
- Online Classroom – This segment witnessed maximum growth as now these start-ups are further integrating this solution to continue to remain sustainable in a post pandemic world
-Classplus, School Guru
Notwithstanding these challenging economic times, the EdTech sector has attracted significant interest across the VC community. According to a YourStory research, EdTech start-ups topped the funding charts beating the traditionally popular FinTech sector.
Despite recording lower deal volume (84) the sector bagged an overall impressive purse of USD1.8 Billion. Amidst macro uncertainty, investors continued to maintain a positive sentiment. The increase in the number of early-stage deals indicates support for innovation. At the same time, the continued investment in growth and late-stage companies signals support to scale.
Also its important to note that when other sectors across geographies were laying-off their employees, EdTech stars like Byju’s, Vedantu, UpGrad, Simplilearn etc created over 3000 new job opportunities. According to a survey conducted by DataLabs, there are roughly 4000 EdTech platforms currently working on the academic revolution in India by transforming education through online test preparation, online certified courses, e-diplomas, e-skill development, e-tutoring, and e-enterprise breakthroughs.
Key Drivers & Potential Challenges –
‘Smart classrooms,’ where AR and other technology solutions were identified as a significant enhancement to the student’s learning experience pre-pandemic and this is where most EdTech platforms capitalized on the available opportunity through which education was delivered to students for most of the pandemic. From physical examinations to one-on-one preparation – everything has experienced a paradigm shift across the industry; however, some challenges cannot be neglected.
How Restricted Access became a deterrent:
We read about how mainstream educational institutions have undertaken this transition to EdTech platforms to maintain continuity seamlessly, however there are many more who are still struggling to cope with the demands to this new wave of technology. Most Indians living in Tier II and below have restricted access to the internet. Three-fourths of students in India did not have access to the internet at home, according to a 2017-18 all-India NSO survey. In the same survey the share of those who did not have PC’s/Laptops and other devices such as smartphones/ tablets, was recorded at 89%. Notably students from government schools and the ones that need one-on-one training were affected the most during the pandemic.
Traditional Mindset leading to Laggard Behaviour:
Education now more than ever is required to adapt to new normal practices. However, there are still large sections of society that lack awareness about e-learning and its importance towards developing the future of the nation. What the EdTech sector is aiming to create is to make education simpler, easier, and accessible to anyone, anywhere, and any time. This requires a change in mindset, towards accepting and understanding how to use these technologies. Whilst this shift to online did boost the utility of EdTech platforms, the basic understanding on the working of these platforms wasn’t easy for students and teachers across varied socio-economic backgrounds. It is imperative that more effort be undertaken to bridge the gap between conventional methods and new age approaches.
Where do we go from here?
EdTech platforms are seeing unprecedented growth, but there still remains a larger question that looms – will this last?
While going digital has ensured that learning hasn’t been disrupted there are intrinsic issues with this new medium. Distractions during online classes, internet connectivity problems, lack of focus and motivation and missing the benefits of the classroom environment are few of the popular issues recorded. Also, socialisation and other life skills cannot be replaced by online learning which is an important by-product of physical learning.
Online classes alone will not deliver the overall education experience, however when used in tandem with the physical classroom, it could create the required synergy and balance to deliver the next phase of evolution for the education sector.
Going forward this hybrid approach seems to be garnering the backing from – teachers, parents, students, and other key stakeholders. EdTech start-ups, have now positioned themselves to be data-centric and agile towards the growing demands to build a sustainable competitive edge driving positive new behaviour. This approach also has the potential to narrow geographical boundaries and democratise education.
In a world characterised by globalisation and transformation, fast adaptation towards technological changes is necessary across all sectors. To ensure this technology transition trickles down to students from all socio-economic backgrounds, the onus cannot lie on any one stakeholder. It is thus imperative for Government, Educational institutions and Technology start-ups to come together to fulfil this promise to create a stronger India.