April 17, 2021 8:48 am
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EdTech: An idea whose time has come

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EdTech: In the midst of a global pandemic, unprecedented disruption, and widespread turmoil, if there’s something that has thrived, it is resilience. Industries and businesses have not just found ways to recover from difficulties but transformed themselves to survive, revive, and improvise; and technology has fuelled this transformation in ways unfathomed before. In the last 10 months, technology has permeated most sectors, empowered many, and radically redefined few, with the education sector falling into the last category.

These past 10 months, as school and university classes moved completely online, reskilling courses saw a massive surge, and virtual corporate training became essential, the education technology sector in India overall witnessed exponential growth. Education technology or EdTech has been claimed as a sunrise sector for the last few years, but never has this been as prominent as it is today.

Technology in education was a “good-to-have” facet for education providers a few months ago, today it is a “must-have”. It was optional for institutes and individuals some time ago, today it is essential. Learners could have done with or without online learning a couple of months ago, today they have adapted to the change. The pandemic has pushed for a change in consumers mindset that would have otherwise taken many many more years naturally. But will this Covid-infused technology adoption stay once the pandemic is over? According to research estimates, yes. Reports say that hardware, software, and services will all accelerate in response to the shift in customer preferences in education.

EdTech has progressed thus far to truly be a sunrise industry, indicating a bright decade ahead. EdTech has only just started out on a promising journey and a lot more will follow. They say fact without data is just an opinion, therefore shedding light on the nuanced trends in EdTech below.

EdTech — The landscape

First things first, EdTech simply refers to using IT to facilitate learning. That means it’s not limited to a specific age group or a particular technology tool. The consumers of this segment include primary and secondary education students aged 2-20 years, higher education students aged 17+ years, students availing tutoring or private coaching across these first two segments (typically 2-30 years), learners preparing for tests (usually 15-30 years), and learners aged 15 years onward that opt for reskilling and online certifications and hobbies and language-related training. There’s another segment here too: learners taking training at work.

The user base for EdTech has been growing in all these segments in the last 10 years primarily driven by the increasing internet penetration, support from government initiatives, rise in the number of start-ups, and increase in the venture capital towards these start-ups. Add to that the Covid push, which made EdTech the most funded sector of 2020. Venture capital in EdTech rose to $2.22 billion in 2020 in comparison to $553 million in 2019.

Interestingly, two areas – test preparation (from K-12 to entrance exams) and online certification have been getting more VC attention than other areas. Between 2014 to 2019, start-ups in these two categories alone earned a massive 88% ($1.6 billion) of the total capital inflow towards EdTech.

The crack of dawn

It is popularly known that India is home to 2 of the 20 global EdTech unicorns (private company with a valuation over $1 billion) – Byju’s crossing the $10 billion mark and Unacademy recently getting added to the list. What is not as popular – just yet – is that India has over 4400+ EdTech start-ups including some that are gaining momentum and carving new niches for themselves.

With so many competitors in the field, will there be space for more? Yes, yes, yes. All of these combined have just touched the tip of the iceberg – EdTech is just about 1% of India’s total $90-billion private education market. With strong Covid-19 tailwinds, India’s EdTech market is expected to grow 3.7x in the next five years.

And wait a bit, EdTech is not just conducting classes online. It’s an entire ecosystem in the making. As NASSCOM defines it, this ecosystem is vast and can be categorised into 4 different segments:

  • Online education: That covers primary and secondary supplement education, higher education, test preparation, reskilling and online certification, and language and casual learning.
  • Assessment: Which includes remote proctoring and testing platforms.
  • Smart classes: That covers learning management systems, content management and delivery systems, enterprise resource planning, innovative classrooms, mobile phone delivery, HD animated videos, and story-based learning.
  • Offline education: Also integrates technology with tablets and SD cards.

This is just an overview of how expansive this space is and how much is left unexplored. Even globally, tech has just penetrated ~3% of the total education sector. In fact, the global education research firm HolonIQ has defined a periodic table of 55 elements demonstrating areas where technology can permeate in the education industry.

The daylight appears

Shifting the lens from the industry/providers to the consumers/learners, an equal opportunity can be noticed.

India has the largest youth population worldwide, having 356 million 10-24-year-olds. Out of this, 260 million students study in 1.5 million schools. There are 50,000 higher education institutes and 13,000 industrial training institutions. About 9 million students graduate from higher education institutes every year. Moreover, over 15 million Indian students prepare for competitive exams who now have easy internet access in India’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns. This is a vast addressable market for K12 and test preparation providers.

The working population makes up 67% of India’s total population and offers great potential for skill development, reskilling, and upskilling providers. Add to that the fact that the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report lists India very low (107th place) on workforce skills. This creates the need for improved and expanded digital skills and vocational training, to facilitate ease of finding trained employees. India is, after all, a growing ‘knowledge economy’ of white-collar workers.

In the horizon

India is just setting out on its EdTech growth trajectory, there is a lot to follow. Not only will technology reach more learners and smoothen the entire learning ecosystem with new tools and platforms, but it will also enhance the learning experience through innovation and form experimentation. Consider these:

  • Gamification encourages learning by providing immersive experiences and is expected to grow by 38% in the next 2-4 years. Online education platforms have started using incentive-based learning, level advancement badges, and simulation of concepts to drive user engagement.
  • Smartphones are everywhere and the internet is now within reach. This is encouraging mobile-first solutions with micro-learning content (bite-size easy-to-consume content).
  • Only 10% of India’s population can speak in English, paving the way for the content in vernacular languages.
  • Personalised education is being facilitated by artificial intelligence. Content offered can be adapted as per a learner’s requirements. In fact, AI can free up teachers’ time from administrative tasks like grading and testing, and instead focus on individual learning.
  • Immersive learning is aided by virtual reality. A VR headset is capable of mimicking real-life scenarios in areas such as virtual field trips, scientific and anatomy laboratories.
  • Schools will continue to get more automated, especially in a post-Covid world. From using face recognition technology for taking attendance to analyse autonomous data for informing learning decisions, there is so much more to come.

Let us watch the sunrise!

We are moving to an age where we are not using technology, we are living technology. Education is at the forefront of digital adoption, learning on-the-go. Education is showing resilience by integrating technology and empowering its learners and facilitators alike. EdTech is at the start of a magnificent rise, it’s an idea whose time has come.

The author works with Microsoft India. Views are personal.

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