Will the Indian EdTech Industry survive a post-Covid and back-to-normal world?

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An IMF forecast projects 2020’s global economic activity to contract by 3 %, making it even worse than the 2008 financial crisis. Unlike the numerous industries and businesses that experienced an alarming state of affairs in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the few sectors that picked up and flourished was the EdTech (education technology) industry. With schools and colleges all over the country (and the world) shutting down because of the lockdown imposed by the government, students and teachers soon moved to shift their education base to online platforms. Globally, this has affected over 1.2 billion children.

If we look back to before the Covid outbreak, we see the Indian EdTech industry poised to boom, with over $1.8 billion investments in start-ups, and the Indian market generating a very heavy demand for online test preparation and online certification programs. The Economic Survey 2017-181 finds that the income elasticity (in relation to private final consumption of expenditure) for healthcare stood at 1.95, whereas it was 0.93 for education-related commodities, indicating that Indian households are less likely to change their educational services than their healthcare services in times of changing income, and would compromise more on healthcare than on education. The advantages that these online prep services provide are immense too, convenience and cost savings being the two most important – which leads one to believe that the online education platform was already ready for a strong growth trajectory even before the pandemic hit.

As the pandemic hit and students shifted to online platforms for their educational needs, the industry has seen traditional players (like Byju’s, Unacademy) and even start-ups not just grow, but even forecast rapid expansion in the near future and contribute to increased employee generation by next year. EdTech start-ups like Byju’s, Vedantu and Unacademy have seen substantial rise in revenues, minutes watched on the platform (user engagement), heightened especially after providing free access to their users. Not only that, but venture capitalists in India have put in over $795 million in EdTech start-ups2 in the first half of 2020 itself, buoyed by the extraordinary growth and future prospects of the sector.

(Image from YourStory3)

A natural question that arises from these recent developments is whether this EdTech boom is here to stay. Whereas it is natural to think that this pandemic induced upsurge in EdTech revenues and business, when back to normal ‘pandemic-free’ environment, would probably decelerate, there are finer points to take into account.

In any recessionary period, businesses react majorly by cutting down their employee count and the most inefficient resources are the first to bear the brunt of this employee retrenchment. Following this pandemic, workers all over the world have recognized the importance of upskilling themselves – leading to online MOOC platforms like Coursera, Udemy growing substantially – and this trend is expected to stay. The only way to secure a future at a workplace is by continuous upskilling and being more qualified than peer workers, or growing in skills which are sure to see future continuous demand and growth. The pandemic has forced professionals to take stock of their current qualifications and upskill, and many believe that it has only given force to a movement which was there to come.

What has essentially replaced classroom learning in all schools and colleges over the country, is expected to revolutionise the way our generation learns and partakes in education. As it is, there is rampant uncertainty about when schools and colleges will reopen post the pandemic, a lot of universities and colleges even announcing a whole semester online, which goes to say that digital learning platforms are growing strong and here to stay. But what really works for digital learning platforms is the lower-cost investment required to set up a platform, access, and the fact that even a pandemic which in spite of shutting down the entire world, couldn’t put a stop to education. Digital education is also ushering in adaptive learning, where students can learn at their own pace, at their own convenience and in a way which doesn’t hamper their overall growth. The benefits which digital learning has brought into the lives of students are expected to prevail and last even after the pandemic ceases.

With even more potential for the digital education industry to make a mark for itself and really take over education even post-covid, there are challenges and hurdles that need to be addressed to ensure a smooth sailing for the industry. Whereas affluent schools and a certain section of the society could easily make the transition to online learning, a large portion of students have been left behind. With inadequate infrastructure and inaccessibility coupled with the economic, psychological and familial stresses of the pandemic, education has been forced to take the backseat for many. Especially in a country like India, which has been ranked 112th in the Global Gender Gap Index, inequity in access to education can end up worsening a deep rooted problem of years of gender divide.

What is to be seen now is how the decision makers make the process equitable for all stakeholders, most important of them being our students. If the government and responsible authorities really take a stand to ensure equitable access, if the internet penetration of India (which is currently at 50%) can be increased to ensure better coverage, we can really lock in the benefits of digital learning and continue with the system post lockdown. Yes, schools and colleges will open up, but supplementing them with different learning methodologies via online platforms would only call for a more refined, beneficial system of education.


References

  1. Economic Survey (Volume I and Volume II), 2017-18
  2. Romita Majumdar, “Ed-tech startups witness massive jump in VC investments in H1 2020”, Livemint, Jun. 28, 2020
  3. Sindhu Kashyaap, “India’s edtech market will touch $3.5B by 2022: RedSeer and Omidyar Network India report”, YourStory, Jul. 8, 2020

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