Few events in recent history have left as widespread and deep an impact on the world as the Covid-19 pandemic. The disruption was felt across society, and education had to turn to technology overnight to prevent severe learning loss.
With lockdowns and curfews universally in place, students, teachers, and parents alike had to quickly adapt to digital and online education. As measures were introduced to control the spread of the virus, laptops and computers went out of stock, and demand for virtual edtech platforms shot up. Schools across the country, as well as working professionals looking to upskill turned to edtech.
Meeting of the minds
The past year has seen the higher education sector embrace online learning, with the University Grants Commission allowing universities to offer up to 40 percent of courses per semester online. The government has supported the adoption of edtech—and its New Education Policy, introduced in 2020, focused on maximising online education opportunities. Rs 93,224.31 crore was allocated to the Department of Education in the budget for 2021-22.
Simultaneously, both local as well as global startups and giants were quick to offer potential solutions to mitigate the impact of lockdowns on learning. While existing platforms ramped up scale, newer e-learning platforms worked in partnership with the incumbents. From January until September 2021, the edtech sector saw deals worth more than $3.35 billion, more than 3x the consolidated amount raised in 2019 and 2020.
The tech in edtech
Edtech has the potential to allow for a far more personalised learning experience. At the same time, technology now makes it possible to offer high-quality online support that is affordable, relevant, available 24/7, and accessible anywhere via the device that suits the learner best. Online educational content is available in a range of formats—including live tuition and on-demand streaming—and can reach learners across a variety of levels, whether they are K-12 pupils, higher education students or well into their careers.
Some edtech players have also introduced new technologies and platforms that have made online learning even more seamless and user-friendly. Through features such as gamification, communities, flipped classrooms and discussion forums, learning also promises to become more holistic and enjoyable. This presents an opportunity for these companies to learn on the go through feedback from learners, modifying or course-correcting as needed.
Diversifying the ecosystem
Another key factor in the shift within the edtech ecosystem is that the ‘student’ is no longer a term that exclusively applies to young people attending school or university. Edtech can play a crucial role in lifelong learning, allowing people to skill up when and how they want—whether they are a student looking to better understand key concepts from their course, or a professional seeking to take the next step in their career.
This is particularly important when we consider how rapid technological advancements are driving up demand for digital skills. Between January 2020 and February 2021, demand for skilled tech workers in India grew between 150 percent and 300 percent. Edtech is opening up access to increasingly important skills, helping to enable learners to achieve their career goals regardless of their academic path.
In addition, for many companies, the future of work is hybrid. This flexible model can offer some working professionals the time and space for learning and upskilling, while contributing to the growth and diversification of the edtech sector.
Promises to keep, and miles to go...
At an infrastructure level, the big challenge that remains is the digital divide. However, thanks to a reduction in data costs, rural India is predicted to have more Internet users than urban India by 2025. With telecom players geared up to take data to the very last mile, edtech can finally help bridge the gap between rural and urban education. Individual state governments are also teaming up with e-learning platforms to provide solutions for their schools. For instance, last month, the state of Maharashtra launched its own Education Technology Forum, bringing together policymakers and IT experts to discuss technology-based solutions to enhance learning.
Covid-19 showed us the promise of edtech. There are many lessons to learn, but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Technology will continue to be an enabler for young and old alike, with the potential to deliver the gift of education to more learners throughout the world.
As visionary, author and modern-day seer David Warlick likes to say: “Technology is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of the world.” We are stepping into a new world where technology and education are analogous, and India is geared to be at the forefront.
The writer is Managing Director of Chegg India.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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