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Ajith Sankaran

Ajith Sankaran is Senior Vice President – Market Intelligence at Blueocean Market Intelligence

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Technology: Setting the Stage to Disrupt Learning in India

In the last 2 to 3 years, there has been a significant increase in the use of technology in the education sector.

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The Indian education sector is at a crucial stage, poised to witness major growth in the coming years. The country has more than 1.4 million schools, with over 227 million enrolled students and over 36,000 higher education institutes. India is touted to be on its way to having the world’s largest tertiary-age population and second largest graduate talent pipeline by end-2020. However, education – be it primary, secondary or higher education, is faced with significant challenges, and without effective education, India will not be able to take advantage of this “demographic dividend”.

The sector is affected by issues such as the need to increase reach and access, to make education affordable, to ensure quality, to improve infrastructure and to pursue excellence. While policy initiatives and public private partnership initiatives can address some of the challenges, technology has emerged as a key agent for a positive change in the education sector. Increasing computer penetration, broadband internet growth, and rapidly growing mobile devices, coupled with a shift in attitudes towards technology, have laid the foundation for technology to play a major role in the India education space.

How is technology being adopted in the education sector in India?

In the last 2 to 3 years, there has been a significant increase in the use of technology in the education sector, primarily in these key areas:

Enabling technology use in educational institutions

Technology is becoming an integral part of classroom based teaching. Many schools, colleges and universities are using screens rather than blackboard projectors and gadgets such as tablets and laptops rather than hand written notes. Animated content is being created on different subjects and languages for easier understanding of complex subjects. Educational institutions are also investing in technology that can make their overall operations more efficient.

Distance Education driven by Universities and Colleges

Nearly 12% of all the students have enrolled for Distance education, according to a report released by All India Survey on Higher Education 2014-2015 by Ministry of Human Resources Development. Distance learning has been made easy and seamless for students in tier 2 and tier 3 cities with the availability of broadband, hi-speed internet and low cost computers.

Online Platforms

Online learning platforms have enabled a major shift in the education space. These platforms help students to learn at their own pace, and rely on technology to provide rich content and intuitive user experience. Mobile devices has been the single biggest game changer driving online learning platforms, with over 90% of India's college and university students owning or craving for a mobile phone and/or an internet connection. The youngsters use mobile and data connectivity as the primary means for information processing, communication, sharing and retrieval of knowledge. India is the fastest growing smart-phone market globally and with the prices of tablets and smart phones falling, the reach and accessibility of these platforms are growing exponentially. This is the fastest growing sector in the education sector, with the maximum vendor activity and investor interest.

Key reasons for mobile and online for student-led learning

·         Native platform for the young

·         Offers reasonable anonymity and provides the freedom to ask questions

·         Personalization based on information

·         Freedom of choice

·         Instant results

·         Study on the go

·         Blurring limits of  geographies and location

·         Inexpensive

·         Offers personal tutor, when required

Changing trends - Online learning is slowly becoming mainstream

Physical brick and mortar classrooms are gradually giving way to virtual and digital ways of learning. Personal computing and the advent of cloud technology for one-to-one learning has made education available to anyone anywhere, anytime. BYODs and telecom upgrades have helped drive this even further. Gamification, m-Learning and the latest SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies are adding a lot more fun also in the ecosystem.

Education-technology start-ups and funding received

In this backdrop amid the growing trend of online platforms, several technology entrepreneurs have forayed into the edtech sector to capitalize on the opportunities.

In 2016, Edtech was the fourth largest sector in India, in terms of VC activity (after online retail, online travel and alternative lending). According to sources such as Tracxn and Economic Times, the total investment in the edtech sector in 2016, was in the range of $143-145 million.

Investors in this sector have also significantly increased since 2015. Nearly 200 investors evinced interest and contributed to the funding of ed-tech startups. Some of the major investors in this space include Sequoia Capital, Sofina, Lightspeed Ventures, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Blume Ventures, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, 500 Startups, S. Chand & Company, and Aarin Capital.

Some of the recent startups managed to raise funding of over $10 million including Byju’s, Toppr, Simplilearn and EduPristine.

Select list of EdTech vendors and funding

Investment in specific sectors

India is one of the largest markets, after the US, in –e-learning. As can be seen in the table below, a bulk of the funding was in e-learning, while funding in edtech tools (school management systems, learning management systems and school security tools) seems to be lower. In order to have an overall development in this sector, the existing schools and colleges and universities will have to implement and adopt technology and acquire the necessary skills in terms of infrastructure and equipping the teachers.

Way ahead…

With inexpensive data connectivity, students of the future will find new ways to acquire knowledge. Their dependence on books and classroom lectures will decline, and they will growingly seek information, data and new subjects from online databases, journals, research articles, e-books, or by directly connecting with industry professionals, scientists and knowledge workers.

However, the spurt in adoption of technology in education, and the frenetic vendor activity in the ed-tech space may not necessarily tell the full story. It is worrisome that the bulk of the sector’s funding resides in one company, which single-handedly has pulled the sector to a record level of investment The penetration of technology in education in India is still quite low. The education sector in India is also riddled with its own set of unique challenges - Multiple Stakeholders and Decision Makers, Longer Investment – Return cycle, Challenges in Monetization & Scale, Digital Divide, lack of niche technical skills, etc.

The Government of India is investing in various initiatives to increase digital literacy to at least 50 percent of Indians and to boost the growth of distance education market, besides focussing on new education techniques, such as E-learning and M-learning. This could throw open a plethora of opportunities for all the stakeholders involved. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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