Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

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

Published: Aug 10, 2012 12:30:17 AM IST
Updated: Aug 10, 2012 04:00:49 PM IST
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

[This article republished with permission from the author and the Tuck School of Business.]

Post Your Comment
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated
  • Hardik Vaidya

    Being a current Teach For India Fellow,when I use apps,social media platforms,audio and video resources to teach my sixth graders in an under resourced governement school in Mumbai, the kids are hugely driven and motivated to learn faster and better. There is a tremedous amount of scope to implement technology within the confines of a classroom,if implemented well and over sustained periods of time.

    on Jun 30, 2013
  • Alfonso Sintjago

    Nice post, India will likely support some interesting innovations in years to come, but so will the United States. Also, why outsource it? There is a lack of jobs in the United States, while its important to collaborate internationally there is also a need to provide jobs for all Americans. Also, there are fields such as history, sociology, literature, that are probably best taught by someone that belong to that particular culture and mixes experiential learning with knowledge formal schooling.

    on Oct 13, 2012
  • Nihar

    I am not very much convinced with three reasons that have been mentioned here. I will talk about each of them. a) Culture: You are right about Indians willingness to pay for education. After willingness comes ability to pay for education and more importantly willingness to pay for education coupled with technology. Indians are not at forefront of use of technology. b) Demand: I think here you have talked about need not demand. You will see compromise with quality to increase enrollment in higher education institutes. That has already started happening. c) Mobile: India leapfrogged landline because of less regulatory barrier in doing so. Ecosystem in education is very very regulated. There are rent seekers everywhere. Had education been only about teaching /learning things would have been otherwise. People expect a certification and a job after education. Providing certification which is valued by industry is a tough task.

    on Oct 11, 2012
  • Harjeet Kaur Bhatia

    I agree with the views presented.In India people price education over everything else and the technological revolution that has made convergent devices available to people with a lot of apps that may be made use of in cost effective manner would accelerate their urge to find creative use of them for educational purposes.

    on Oct 11, 2012
  • Thomas Charles

    India the future hub of education both at K-12 and higher education levels has interestingly stepped up the pace. Today India is the Rockstar in the edtech sector. The day is not far when the international futurist educational standards will be according to the indian scenario.

    on Oct 1, 2012
  • Ravi

    This is a great article. In fact india offers lots of opportunities in field of education.

    on Sep 30, 2012
  • Thomas Charles Williams

    The revolution has commenced,the speed of transformation is awesome. Classroom teaching at K-12 level is now becoming extinct. A tecnosavvysocial generation gap is emerging, this gap is to be bridged. Hence the new generation of online guidance and tutoring sites will determine the future course of education in India.

    on Sep 26, 2012
  • Madhulika Kaushik

    For all this to become possible, India will need to make a paradigm shift in its credentialling and credit recognition processes. If these are remodelled to be in tune with the times,then edutech will usher in the next revolution in Indian Higher education and accomplish what the white and the green revolution did to dairy and agriculture

    on Sep 25, 2012
  • Madhulika

    For all this to happen, India will need to make a paradigm shift in its credentialling and credit recognition prcesses . If these can move with the times,edutech wil usher in the next revolution in higher education in India , after the white and the green ones.

    on Sep 25, 2012
  • Karthik


    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Karthik


    on Sep 10, 2012
  • Dashradh Ram.nutakki

    All said and done this is just one side of the story. Though there is an increase in aspirations for employable education from all the sections of the society, we need a paradigm shift in the Indian education system which can impart skills and functional competencies rather than delivering a \"piece of paper\". Unfortunately the business of literacy in India is owned and run by illiterates who never understand the potential benefits of a better education system and how modern technologies can help them to delivery quality education. More importantly, we lack quality teachers/professors/trainers due to lackluster recognition and remuneration for this profession without which any efforts to improve the system can go for a toss. My 2 cents.

    on Aug 18, 2012
  • Jaspal Rekhi

    Lets us also add actualization of the knowledge worker along with cost of technology analysis, the mentioned dynamics could cause tremendous growth in corporate learning value

    on Aug 17, 2012
  • Shiv Shankar

    India has the skills and expertise to deliver technology to improve education delivery. I agree that mobile platforms will be a primary platform of delivery. Educational organizations in India should embrace the technology and provide a proving ground for India based education technology companies. Once this is proven we can export the technology to rest of the world. We have already received enquiries from South America and Africa. One piece that I would disagree is the culture. Although Indian families prioritize education, I see hesitance to pay for software (educational apps or web-site services). We tend to pay only for things we touch and feel. As a country we need to value software and should be willing to pay for it.

    on Aug 16, 2012
  • John Kern

    Hello Dr. Kim, The three broad strokes you\'ve outlined sound promising. Do you know of specific institutes, organizations, projects or companies in India who are leading the way? Regards, John

    on Aug 13, 2012
    • Sidharth

      educomp, eduserv, zeelearn etc

      on Aug 16, 2012
  • Ano Lobb

    Interesting idea, but aren't most impediments to education cultural and social, not technological? In the US we have more than sufficient technology and know-how to produce high quality online degree programs. Why do so few exist? They are not very profitable (when done well), education as a whole is not socially valued, and the current culture of higher education is not ready for the redesign that good online learning requires. My questions about the fertility of Indian higher Ed for online education: Will students and families value the online educational experience to the same extent that they value the traditional face-to-face experience? Is the culture of Indian educators resilient enough to adapt to an entirely new web-based paradigm? Some hints that traditional settings will remain preeminent regardless of need and technological capability: Social and educational holdovers from a British colonial (i.e. not terribly progressive) past, and the importance placed on standardized entrance examinations.

    on Aug 12, 2012
    • Joshua Kim

      Ano...all good questions - the exact right questions to ask. I tend to think that the sheer demand for new models of post-secondary education and credentialing in India will swamp any limitations. The math is simply too compelling for an educational system rooted in 19th century structures to persist in a setting of rapid population growth, urbanization, and evolving technology.

      on Aug 23, 2012