Myra Nigam, a Class 4 student, attends online drawing classes on Crejo.Fun
Image: Hemant Mishra for Forbes India
For nine-year-old Myra Nigam in Bengaluru, learning both in and out of school consumes most of her usual day. While offline classes at school constitute the first half, online extracurricular activities make up the second. And the latter is what she is most excited about. “I love learning both art and dance online… we learn something new at the end of every session,” says the enthusiastic youngster.
For the past eight months, Nigam has been taking extracurricular classes at Crejo.Fun, a digital learning platform that offers a range of activities to children aged four to 11 years. Her mother prefers her daughter learning these skills online rather than in school as virtual classes provide a personalised learning experience, something that she thinks is difficult to offer to a large group in school.
“I prefer online classes over offline any day. Edtech platforms offer the convenience and safety of being at home… we do not have to travel miles to get to a place for our child to learn something,” says Rashmi Kothari, 44, Nigam’s mother. “Offline school has not affected her engagement with the platform.”
In a metropolitan city like Bengaluru that is crammed with traffic, not having to travel miles has been a boon for Nigam’s family. “With online platforms, it is much easier… we do not have to take her anywhere or compromise on our work, and she is also not missing out on anything. In this entire scheme of things, I think online teaching platforms are a blessing in disguise,” adds Kothari.
While there are parents like Kothari who want their children to learn life skills online and at home, there are others who are now opting out of online extracurricular platforms as schools and colleges reopen.
Also read: The constantly evolving educators of edtech
Shruti Kapoor, 34, from Gurugram had enrolled her four-year-old son Yuvaan Joshi in more than a couple of online extracurricular edtech platforms during the lockdown. For activities such as art and craft, music, and dance, Kapoor used platforms such as Yellow Class and Flinto to a great extent in the past one-and-a-half years.
Since schools began offline classes, Joshi’s engagement with online edtech platforms saw a decline. “Since his school has started, there has been a drop in his online classes. Outdoor classes have opened up now, and things are gradually coming back to normal, and, therefore, he has started to pick up some other activities offline—like swimming and lawn tennis,” says Kapoor.
The edtech boom
It’s no secret that edtech startups were one of the major beneficiaries during the pandemic. With some like Byju’s, Eruditus, Vedantu, UpGrad and Unacademy turning unicorns, online education has been the talk of the town. As a result, extracurricular edtech startups also saw exponential growth during the two taxing years of the pandemic.
With children stuck at home and no social activities to channellise their creativity, extracurricular edtech platforms saw increased subscription levels and an increase in the amount of time spent on them. As per a report published by Barc and Nielsen, there was a 30 percent increase in the time spent on education apps on smartphones during the lockdown.
Since the lockdown, the extracurricular edtech market has seen a variety of activities with which students want to engage. Skills like art, music, dance, coding and finance have piqued the interest of children and teenagers. According to a study by students of IIM-Kozhikode in 2020—which surveyed parents about their children’s co-curricular activities—for almost 75 to 80 percent of children, visual arts and performing arts were the preferred activities.
Ishaan Preet Singh, co-founder of FrontRow, an online edtech platform offering extracurricular activities in creative arts and sport, believes that extracurricular edtech is “a massive untapped market that’s just started getting served”. “There has been an explosion in demand for categories around passions and hobbies. The number of people searching for music or dance classes is 3x the number of users searching for JEE tuitions. As we remove friction and serve this latent demand, we’ve also started seeing an explosion of talent and content creation across these categories,” he adds.
FrontRow, a one-and-a-half-year-old platform, has over a million downloads and has enabled over 1.5 million hours of learning over the past year.
Crejo.Fun has also experienced growth in users, even after schools have reopened. With over 1 lakh registered users and a 6x growth in terms of paid users in the last six months, Vikas Bansal, co-founder and CEO at Crejo.Fun, is happy with the response to the platform, and with the increased awareness of co-curricular activities among parents and children.
“Post-pandemic, the growth continues to be strong because access to quality content and teachers is still lacking in the offline world,” says Bansal.
While art, music, coding and dance can be taught online, outdoor activities like swimming, sport, etc are in huge demand during holidays. Online platforms, therefore, are now experiencing a pullback for their courses. “Besides indoor activities, parents feel it is important for their kids to engage in outdoor activities. For activities like gymnastics, swimming, etc, online training doesn’t make sense and it won’t be as effective,” says Kapoor.
With school schedules back on track, children are trickling back to after-school co-curricular coaching classes. “Parents have started sending their kids back to our centres. It’ll take time to go back to the pre-pandemic student enrolment numbers, but we’re on track,” says Monika Singh, 55, a teacher who runs an extracurricular education centre in Jalandhar, Punjab.
Singh used to conduct online classes during the pandemic, but shut them in September 2021, around the time schools started reopening. “I’ve seen that children are more attentive and learn better on-ground than online. That is also the reason why parents prefer sending kids to physical centres,” she adds.
Parents in cities like Jalandhar are still reluctant to enrol their kids for online extracurricular education courses, Singh continues. “I don’t see online players as my direct competition because parents and children that I speak to prefer learning life skills in person,” explains Singh, who takes music, dancing, acting, art and craft classes for close to 100 children aged between four and 16.
“As we’re going back to the pre-pandemic, on-ground education phase, there has been a decline in the preference for extracurricular and co-curricular online courses. There are multiple reasons for that—like schools and colleges offering ample learning opportunities in those fields and children having less time at hand because of increased travel and academic burden,” says Aditya Arora, CEO of Faad Network Private Limited, an investor network that assists early-stage startups. “The pandemic let parents and children experiment with multiple life skills learning opportunities at home, which is not a priority anymore.”
Although schools and offline learning have been the go-to medium of learning skills, online edtech platforms have been able to create a positive impression in the minds of children, especially during the pandemic. According to the founders of these platforms, and some parents who are appreciative of their kids learning on these platforms, an online or hybrid education model is here to stay.
However, online classes lead to a sharp increase in the amount of screen time for kids. Edtech platforms see this as a big concern among parents. “While there’ll only be a small pullback in academically-oriented courses [tuitions, coding, chess, public speaking, etc], there will be more pullback in kids doing hobbies online as parents aim to reduce screen time,” says Singh of FrontRow.
“Offline school has not affected our user engagement at all. In fact, it’s the reverse. The screen time for children has dropped as schools have moved offline. Parents are therefore open to positive screen time in activities like arts, dance, chess and yoga, as it leads to the holistic development of children. Additionally, as parents are back in office and there’s nobody to take the child to nearby academies, online classes are a boon for them,” says Bansal of Crejo.Fun.Also read: Online lectures most misleading trend of the pandemic: SpeEdLabs' Vivek Varshney
The big city-small city divide
As parents slowly return to offices in tier 1 and 2 cities, taking their children to offline classes is proving to be tedious. As for tier 3 and 4 cities, parents continue to depend on online classes for children to learn from skilled teachers across a range of courses—something difficult to find in smaller cities.
“There is increased adoption in tier 1 and 2 cities, given a higher proportion of working parents and nuclear families. We are seeing some children coming from tier 3 cities as well who are looking for structured learning from high-quality teachers in India from the comfort of their home,” says Crejo.Fun’s Bansal.
In comparison, FrontRow users present a different story. “Interestingly, the pull from tier 3 and 4 is much higher because the categories which we are offering are just not accessible offline in smaller cities,” says Singh.
xQ, a global e-learning school that focuses on new-age creativity skills for kids, especially video production, presents a mixed picture. “We have observed that parents and schools in tier 3 and 4 cities appreciate the opportunity to learn and create videos more than parents in tier 1 and 2 cities given the limited access to learning new-age skills in these geographies,” says Simon Jacob, co-founder and CEO at xQ Video Labs. “Parents and schools feel that including a skill like video creation into their curriculum gives them a distinct advantage over their peers and allows kids to compete with kids from tier 1 and 2 cities.”
Given the fatigue with online learning, schools prefer offline learning, but they are receptive to hybrid models after the pandemic, says Jacob.
“With the Video Labs, we are able to offer schools the best of both worlds as we offer offline learning for kids in the lab and are also able to inspire them through an online community and additional learning resources,” he adds.
The road ahead
“I think these platforms are here to stay. While stuck at home, both children and edtech players were experimenting with extracurricular education and figuring out its scope. But now, I feel, only the most passionate ones will enrol in skill development courses in the long run. What started as a mass market, thanks to the pandemic, will now become a more niche and focussed learning segment,” says Arora of Faad Network.
BrightChamps is another extracurricular edtech platform that offers courses for a child’s technological, financial and social development. “Given that we’ve had online classes being a mass reality for almost two-and-a-half years, both students and parents have a clear handle on what works for them, what doesn’t, and what they expect from their learning partners,” says Ravi Bhushan, CEO and founder, BrightChamps.
“Life and future skills training are not directly tied to academics… there is no one standardised way of measuring impact. We are proud of the impact that our platform is creating in the form of understanding and application of concepts within frameworks of escalating levels of difficulty; retention over time; student, parent, and teacher satisfaction, etc. The seriousness and precision with which extracurricular edtech platforms today are measuring impact are a new and welcome change,” believes Bhushan.
“The importance of interweaving extracurricular and co-curricular initiatives into mainstream education cannot be undermined. Considering this, various edtech organisations today are focusing on how students can be supported with locally relevant educational resources and skills that can make them future-proof,” says Viral Jani, EVP and country head, India, Times Bridge, the global investment and partnership arm of The Times Group.
“To make the next generation of students future-ready, they will need to be equipped with far more abstract and interchangeable skills. From taking a tough stand on climate change to keeping up with the global digital revolution, the future generation of problem-solvers will require unorthodox ideas and a creative approach to problem-solving, which is only possible by a holistic approach to education,” says Jani.
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(This story appears in the 01 July, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)