Budget 2021: Going forward into 2021, the edtech industry will require better internet infrastructure and robust data protection system to make further in-roads into the uncharted territories of the country.
Unacademy Group claimed to have over 48,000 educators on its platform and more than 1.5 lakh live classes being conducted every month. (Representational image: IE)
2020 — the year turned the age-old way of teacher-student interaction on its head. Coronavirus-induced lockdowns brought schools and educational institutions to a grinding halt and “online classes” became synonymous with “learning”. It was also the year when online education – or edtech – grew at a never before pace as it broke newer grounds and permeated to tier 3 and 4 towns and villages of India.
Statistics reflect exactly how the edtech juggernaut progressed in 2020. As per YourStory research, there was a 60% rise in edtech-related searches on Google. According to a KPMG estimate, the number of edtech startups in the country grew to 3,500 in the previous year. The government has projected that India’s edtech expenditure could rise to $10 trillion by 2030.
In just a few months of the last year, people gained confidence in online learning which normally would have taken perhaps three to five years, says SP Balamurugan, co-founder and CEO of GUVI – an IIT Madras incubated startup. “More than $2 billion USD has been invested in the edtech companies in India in this financial year and more employment opportunities have been created in this segment during this year.” he says, adding the reduction in the digital divide among the various segments of learners has been remarkable.
In the year when “Zoom” entered the day-to-day lexicon of billions around the world, for students 2020 was the “year of firsts” in many senses. For them ‘zooming’ became synonymous with lectures and lessons. Ishanpreet Singh, co-founder of FrontRow – an edtech startup launched in 2020 – says, “2020 was a breakout year for online education especially in terms of the number of first-time users. A massive number of people across age groups took their first online course, their first Zoom call, or their first online exercise class.”
Online education has moved forward by a few years, Singh says while pointing out towards an interesting development, “Learners now recognise that some things can just be done better online, such as learning from their idols or the absolute best teachers.”
The pandemic ensured that there was no time to take a run-up before this leap of faith. Like Winston Churchil said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” educators and institutions adapted to technology during the pandemic almost overnight and e-learning achieved in a year what would likely have taken it five years under normal circumstances. Shashank Pandey, co-founder of ConveGenius – an edtech social enterprise, seconds this thought.
“2020 surely has been a rollercoaster ride for everyone around the world. However, we are grateful to say that it was more about going upwards for the edtech industry. Several companies have managed to reach their five-year goals just during the pandemic. Edtech has become more acceptable among people. They now acknowledge the vital role that technology has to play in classrooms and parents are now viewing edtech as a viable solution for their child’s educational enquiries. We have already collaborated with 9 state governments in India, with more than 8 million students already learning through our platform,” says Pandey.
With full classes yet to resume, Pandey says his goal for 2021 is to reach 1 crore students in India by March and create an educational impact at scale.
“With great power comes great responsibility” is an oft-quoted adage. And the pandemic-accelerated edtech revolution is seeing some hiccups along the way. Excessive use of online resources has jaded users of all ages, especially the young ones. Prof Prathap Haridoss, Professor-in-Charge Online Degree Program at IIT Madras and Coordinator of National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), elaborates this, saying, “Covid has had conflicting impacts on the Edtech sector. On the one hand, very large number of learners have more actively looked at the sector for solutions to their educational requirements. This has encouraged more entrepreneurs to provide their solutions for the public to experience the possibilities. At the same time, the high usage of online resources has strained the users and online fatigue is also evident in many cases.”
Expectations from Budget 2021
For online education, 2020 was all about building the strong foundation and 2021 will be all about consolidating on the jumpstart. Going forward into 2021, the edtech industry will require better internet infrastructure and robust data protection system to make further in-roads into the uncharted territories of the country.
And edtech-preneurs hope the government will allocate funds to aid the sector and fuel their ascent further in the Union Budget 2021. As Anshul Kapoor, COO at MBA Rendezvous and co-founder at LearnerRoom, says, “Edtech startups will continue to make more inroads in the domain of education because of their offerings on skills more than theory. But since startups are cash starving but driven financially, the government can envisage loans as investment plans to small entrepreneurs with the planning of exemption of taxes for a decade (at present it is for three years) or so. Meritorious startups can be given wild card entry in platforms like FICCI, ASSOCHAM, UGC, AICTE to think and play bigger. Provisions may kindly be planned to recognize certification of pass-outs from edtech companies by regulatory bodies so to gain employability in the market.”
The government should pay attention to the need for basic digital infrastructure across the country for better utilisation of the available resources, says Prof Haridoss. “One area that possibly needs more attention is the access and affordability of high-speed internet as well as laptop-type devices in smaller towns and villages. Schemes that make these possible will greatly assist a larger fraction of the population benefit from the vast and high-quality online education resources that are now increasingly available,” he says.
Singh feels that instead of simply pouring funds to fix the offline modes of education, providing stimulus to online education could be the smarter way of going about it. “Online education needs greater support from investors and policymakers – it’s much more accessible and scalable than rebuilding our offline infrastructure which is broken and often non-existent in education,” he says.
But there might not necessarily be the need to choose offline over online, and vice versa, as Pandey says ‘blended learning’ can be the watch-word in 2021. He elaborates, “With all the changes in the education industry during 2020, we have high hopes for 2021. We believe, even after the pandemic is over, we would see the crucial role of edtech in education through blended learning. By creating a perfect combination of traditional and digital education, we can lift the Indian education system by several meters.”
On the monetary side, for a lot of edtech-preneurs, the 2020 edtech boom is still a promise waiting to deliver. Although edtech companies gained a lot of traction this year, their monetization was not that great, says Balamurugan, because in 2020 the focus was more on bridging the gap created in learning due to Covid-19. He elaborates, “Most of the companies were spending money to get more users on to their platform with the hope that they can monetize later. Many edtech companies gave their online courses and services for free or at a very discounted price to support the students when the colleges and schools were shut.” He feels the government should consider this fact in the Budget this year.
Incentives to the edtech sector can go a long way in making quality education accessible to all through technology. As Aaditya Agarwal, co-founder at TutionBud, sums up his expectation from Budget 2021 saying:
Firstly, digital infrastructure will enable quality tutors in any area to reach out to enthusiastic students in any part of the country to learn. Strong digital infrastructure and increased smartphone penetration will make high-quality education equitable and accessible to all.
Secondly, strong data protection laws which will enable trust in our systems and the digital adoption by tutors and students will expedite.
Thirdly, 100% FDI in the inventory-based model, which will enable edtech firm to get more capital to invest in R&D and in turn pass the benefits to the customers who get to study in the state of the art technology and help children have a wholesome growth.
“Next up, tax support to Indian firms is required due to our willingness to helping Indian students and build human capital in the country. Made in India apps could become a benchmark for firms globally as we innovate and grow. And finally, policies regarding skilling and training educators to teach online. Training of tutors in the field of digital infrastructure will enable them to teach and impart education to students in a better way. It will make learning fun and easy,” Agarwal adds.