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CAN ED-TECH SOLVE INDIA'S EDUCATIONAL CRISIS ?


At the heart of any Startup sector is the core problem it intends to solve, and for EdTech, it is about solving the issues faced by the education sector in India. Some of the main issues of the Indian Education System's include; the archaic model of education that was prevalent before COVID-19, the vast disparity in the education of rural and urban areas, the hype created around some courses, and the gap in the development of employable skills through education.


Data from the Central Square Foundation suggests that while 85% of India's schools are located rurally, 75% of all teachers are based in rural India. The sudden shift to online education due to the pandemic mainly was unsuccessful for the underprivileged. There were only 32% active internet users. 60% of the children from disadvantaged backgrounds were devoid of the access to digital appliances required for studying, thus signifying the disparity in access to proper education. An MHRD report shows that about 79.8% of the students are enrolled in an undergraduate course, out of which a mere 0.5% are enrolled to pursue PhD courses. Enrollment in courses is heavily skewed towards Engineering, Technology and Science Streams due to the lucrative offers and placements and not for job fit. Millions of engineers graduate every year, with barely 10% becoming employed, showing the massive gap in students' employability skills.


Looking at the brighter side, the EdTech community has allowed revising past methods of learning. It has adapted to the online mode of education. Computer-based studies are cost-effective in terms of ditching traditional classroom-based teachings. Leveraging technology to provide seamless access to academic materials, self-paced coaching and one-on-one sessions to cater to the needs of students have revolutionized education. The introduction of non-traditional courses like Coding, Critical-Thinking and Gamification provides the kids with the breadth and depth needed to immerse in the content. And yet, these changes cater to the people who have the economic power to afford such innovative education.


Affordability has always been an issue for the rural masses. Leading EdTech startups like Byju's have partnered with NITI Aayog to donate smartphones, tablets and free access to tech-driven education. Vedantu has launched the 'Help India Learn' initiative to help the children who lost their parents. Vedantu is also partnering with Byju's to sponsor digital devices for children. Whitehat Jr is launching the WhiteHeart Initiative to conduct live sessions for underprivileged communities, free of cost. These initiatives are moving in the right direction by providing value, though the impact is minuscule. The problem of involving every corner of India is something that would require conscious efforts and collaborations with macro-level stakeholders at multiple levels.


The second problem is the quality of teachers imparting education to students. Teaching is one of the most underpaid sectors in India. The average annual salary of teachers in Germany, Australia, and England is 16x, 15x and 13x higher, respectively, compared to India. Even after adjusting to different living standards, teachers in India are not adequately compensated. Teachers have always been trained to cater to age-old textbook oriented education systems and therefore are not experienced enough to shift to digitalized education suddenly. This points to a gap in the supply and demand of skills required. While online education has allowed teachers to sit in their homes, educate people worldwide, and get paid much higher, it represents only one side of the spectrum. The lack of trained and skilled teachers and the high dropout rates prevalent in offline schooling are now permeating the students' quality of education. Students struggle to acquire even grade-level skills. Statistics show that most students (75% of the students) need help in getting foundational skills in literacy and numeracy. This gap increases further as the students shift to higher classes. The advent of online schooling and innovative self-paced courses have surely helped coach children and give them the appropriate time and understanding to imbibe what is being taught.


Nevertheless, what we are largely ignoring is the fact that 'Ed-Tech' in India is basically launching an online version of the offline world with Online Assessments, Tutoring, Career-Counselling and Certification courses. While this provides the required education, it rarely matches up with the employable skills needed. The EdTech space is supposed to hit the $4 billion valuation mark by 2025. Giants like Byjus, Vedantu, WhiteHat Jr and many others are becoming for-profit companies in a sector that is mainly dependent on the value provided, making one question the sustainability of the companies.


Impacting India's education landscape positively will require a massive shift in the mindset of the startups and companies currently at the top of their games in this sector. The shift towards value addition rather than chasing valuation is the need of the hour. When we compare the US Ed-tech scene with the Indian Ed-Tech landscape, we know that a huge transformation is needed from the grassroots level. There are companies building products for the efficient functioning of the schools and helping teachers with digital libraries, algorithmic-based teaching materials, loan facilities, fund-raisings, and so much more to improve the learning experiences and upskilling people, even in non-traditional jobs.


While technology has given us the scope to revolutionize the education that we know of, it's definitely a tricky thing to use it and eradicate the persistent problem of the lack of education in the rural parts of the country. As quoted by Pulkit Jain, cofounder of Vedantu, "for-profit EdTech, despite innovations, will not be able to reach the segment of the society who have absolutely no means to devices or the internet." EdTech should ultimately be about solving the grass-root problems in our society. Mindspark Labs, an EdTech program has tried to set up a complete solution by setting up hardware, furniture, manpower support, processes and manuals and a dashboard to see the real-time data. Their innovative ideas to integrate it into the school ecosystem includes tracking daily usage reports of students, district-level teacher training workshops, government engagement, product improvements and helping students by awarding, rewarding and creating leader boards.


With self-paced learning, rewards, and human intervention, i.e., teacher's help is given whenever required. Mindspark is probably one of those EdTech innovations that can penetrate to the grass-root level and improve the situation. If and when the leading EdTech unicorns actually gear up and take matters into their own hands by keeping value addition to the masses as their goal, the education system in India would then get the revamp it needs, which is long overdue.


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