Copyright 2016,

3 Reasons why India will lead EdTech in the 21st Century

Anyone who works in educational technology (or edtech for short) is blessed with one of the world's greatest jobs.  We spend our days working at the intersection of education and technology.  These are two exciting places to be if you get excited about disrupting the status quo and participating in creating the future.  

I count myself amongst the luckiest of the edtech tribe, as I work for an institution of higher learning that is committed to exhibit world leadership in the goal of leveraging technology to improve learning.   

So what could possibly be troubling me as I contemplate my edtech career and the larger profession in which I work?  One word:  India.

As I write these words I am acutely aware that I am about 7,579 miles away from where all the excitement in the edtech world is most likely to occur.

I am convinced of two things:
  • The education will be the most important growth business of the 21st century.
  • That whatever comes next in education will emerge from India.

While it is true that the large software, hardware and publishing companies have a large presence in India (think Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Pearson etc.), the education teams for these firms are based in the U.S.  If I were running one of these education units the first thing I'd do is move the team to Mumbai.

Why is India the future of edtech?:

1. Culture: 
The reason that the next technology revolution will occur in India is the degree to which the culture prizes learning and scholarship.  Indian families will save and spend to educate their children.  India students of all ages understand that the only way to achieve their dreams of economic improvement are individual investments in learning, and societal investments in the human capital of the population.   This pro-education cultural orientation will translate into education platforms and apps being products and services that people (at every income level) will pay for.   It is no accident that gaming and entertainment seem to be gaining the attention and funding in the U.S., as I worry that my fellow U.S. citizens do not experience the drive for learning that I see in the people of India.  The global diaspora of Indian tech entrepreneurs will prove a magnificent resource in the creation of 21st century educational technology companies.

2. Demand: 
According to Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution, between now and 2039 India could add over 1 billion people to the global middle class.  To get there India will need to greatly improve its productivity, and the route to higher productivity is education.   Even if India is able to follow through on plans to create 1000 new universities between now and 2020 the supply of higher education spots will dramatically lag demand.  India's young age structure (with nearly one-in-three Indians below currently below age 14) will drive huge demand for post-secondary education opportunities.  A campus-placed based model for 21st century higher education will never suffice to meet the demand.  Higher education will inevitably move towards online and blended learning.  The coming waves of Indian college students may not have the resources to pay tuition at today's high-end residential institutions, but the huge numbers of potential students combined with the scale economics of the web will result in profitable opportunities for education providers.   

3.  Mobile:  Just as India leapfrogged landlines and jumped directly to mobile phones, the country is set to leapfrog campus-placed based higher education and jump right to online learning.  The first trend, mobile phone adoption, will catalyze the second (online learning).  India has over 850 million mobile phone subscribers; with a rate of increase over 10 million a month these mobile devices will be the classrooms of tomorrow.   Big technology and publishing companies have so far failed to understand the potential of educational services delivered via mobile devices.  Once the potential for mobile learning is understood, with revenue models from advertising to micro payments, there will be a gold rush into the Indian mobile education market.

Dr. Joshua Kim is the Director of Learning and Technology for the Master of Health Care Delivery Science program at Dartmouth College. He has a PhD in demography and sociology from Brown University.  He writes the Technology and Learning Blog for Inside Higher Ed