Rise Of Pandemic-Proof Learning Solutions

Arjun is an experienced sales, marketing and product development professional, who have exhibited tremendous expertise in education technology, fashion, automotive and realty, and electronics

The sudden outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has disturbed routines across geographies. How-ever, it has paved the way for another full-grown sector which adds a new dimension to the Indian economy - the edtech sector. While the entire country and most businesses are on a standstill waiting for things to get back to normal, those in the field of education refused to take things lying down and in unison exclaiming "The Show must go on".

Online learning was anyway on the growth trajectory but with the arrival of COVID-19 pandemic, the sudden shifts have pushed the e-learning model to become a mainstream. The rapid strides that it took in its initial days, have brought both students and educators, to slowly accept the new normal. While the growth of several well-established sectors on one hand have taken a severe beating during the pandemic, the emergence of new and innovative products and evolving technologies on the other, catapulted the edtech sector to soaring heights. The online education market is expected to grow to around 10 million users by 2021 and an industry that will be worth nearly $2 billion by next year, with some segments of it growing at an average CAGR of 64 percent, according to a survey by Google-KPMG.

The pandemic has proved to be counter-cyclical for edtech, and thanks to the internet boom in India that played a pivotal role in its success. The number of inter-net subscribers in India increased from 718.74 million at the end of December 2019 to 743.19 million at the end of March 2020, clocking a growth rate of 3.4 per cent on a sequential quarter basis, showed TRAI data on sector's quarterly performance. The numbers indicate the high level of internet reach and penetration, which has made it easier for edtech players to tap the potential across the country.

Today one cannot overemphasize the importance of skilling for mid-career professionals in an era where the half-life of knowledge is reducing more rapidly than ever. Another major factor contributing to the growth of the sector is the fast-changing industry requirements and the demand for skill-abled professionals that can help companies sail through the tech-driven era.

The pandemic has proved to be counter-cyclical for edtech, and thanks to the internet boom in India that played a pivotal role in its success

Rise to new opportunities
Amid the chaos of coronavirus, the sector that has started leveraging opportunities in a big way is education technology. While the demand for educational apps and tech tools have been strong in the past few years due to rapid internet penetration, the pandemic has given a new lease on life to the sector, allowing businesses to tap into the multi-billion-dollar sector.

The increasingly significant investments in the sector in India is ample testimony to the kind of serious attention edtech is getting from the venture capital firms from across the world. Venture Capital (VC) investments have almost tripled from January to July 2020 to $998 million, from $310 million, a year ago, making edtech the most funded sector in 2020 India's Edtech industry is the second largest in the world after the US. The need for upgrading the online education system has been pending for a long time in India but in the last couple of years, the edtech industry has scaled up as between 2014 and 2019, at least 4,450 such start-ups were launched in the country, spread across various segments such as test preparation, e-tutoring, online certification, skill development, online discovery, etc. Not just the sprouting opportunities, but owing to the flexibility and feasibility, individuals/professionals in the coming times would prefer to take up online programs from the comfort and safety of their houses. Also, as the trend continues, with more and more renowned universities adopting e-learning and investments reducing in infrastructure, the cost of education will substantially be reduced.

Role of the Government
On its part, the Government of India has also undertaken various initiatives to promote online learning through the SWAYAM program, DIKSHA which serves as National Digital Infrastructure for teachers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered mobile application called the National Test Abhyas App created by the National Testing Agency for students preparing for JEE (Mains) and NEET entrance exams. The timing of the 21st century's first education charter - National Education Policy 2020 - could not have been more perfect. The visionary document, the first in 34 years, calls for a transformational, creative and multidisciplinary approach to learning, and making the present and coming generations future ready. The newly arrived policy examined the promise of the edtech sector very thoroughly by extending the scope of Right to Education (RTE) to students aged 3-18 years with one of its recommendations being to harness edtech through app-based learning, online student communities, and lesson delivery beyond `chalk and talk'. The policy has also rightly focused on integrated learning based on inquiry, discovery and analysis across curricula - from sciences, arts and humanities to games, sports and fitness, and from languages and literature to human and cultural values. In that sense, NEP 2020 covers all aspects of education and will help bring out the latent capabilities of learners across social and economic backgrounds.

Challenges in the sector
Online learning, given the pandemic outbreak, has taken the front seat, which otherwise was playing a second fiddle to the offline model. However, in the remotest parts of the country, including rural India, we do not have enough internet bandwidth to shoulder the responsibility. Education providers (including HEIs) and online platforms must make educational quality content available on 2G and 3G data speed to ensure accessibility across tier II and III cities.

Secondly, many are navigating uncharted waters, especially the offline educational institutions, who pushed to quickly switch gears and implement e-learning plans for the first time. They are using regular VC tools like Zoom video conferencing or Google Hangouts, to conduct classes, which in turn are creating pressure on consumer's available bandwidth. These VC tools were primarily made for professional use/meetings which have now been adopted as a convenient mode of teaching and demand high bandwidth to stream video content on the screen. Hence, it would be appropriate to say that our existing infrastructure is not ready to support digitalisation, at large.

Thirdly, the attitude shift needs to happen. Individuals' preparedness to transition to online be quite low. We do not see teaching as a viable career option and therefore, often miss acknowledging the fact that edtech also opens opportunities for many great minds, who are currently pursuing different jobs, can take up online teaching as a part-time. The skill has become quite critical in the current scenario, to be honest.