Beware of false ed-tech claims, govt warns parents, students; asks schools to be more vigilant in signing up

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has issued a detailed advisory to consumers of ed-tech companies and asked the stakeholders in school education to research before deciding on opting for online content and coaching.

online education, ed-tech companies, false promises, education ministry, learning software, advertising
Government cautions parents, students against ed-tech companies. Image: Bloomberg

The union government has issued an advisory to parents regarding the use of caution against education technology (ed-tech) companies. A notification issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, stated, “Given the pervasive impact of technology in education, many ed-tech companies have started offering courses, tutorials, coaching for competitive exams, etc. in an online mode. In this background, the parents, students and all stakeholders in school education have to be careful while deciding on opting for online content and coaching being offered by a host of ed-tech companies.”

The notification also urged the parents, students and stakeholders involved in school education to be cautious while deciding on opting for online content and coaching through ed-tech companies. The ministry said that the offer of free services should be carefully evaluated. The Department of School Education and Literacy has maintained that the ed-tech companies are luring parents in the garb of offering free services and getting the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) mandate signed or activating the auto-debit feature, especially targeting the vulnerable families. It urged the citizens to read the terms and conditions before acknowledging any acceptance of learning software or devices.

Stakeholders are also asked to demand for tax invoice statements when purchasing educational devices loaded with content or apps designed to offer online learning. The ministry also recommended a detailed background check of ed-tech companies and verification of their content quality before subscribing to their service.

“Activate parental controls and safety features on the device or in the app or browser as it helps restrict access to certain content and limit spending on app purchases,” the ministry added. It also advised the parents to make their children aware about the features and marketing strategies used by education apps. The ministry also recommended users to look for student and parent reviews about the particular ed-tech company before enrolling into one. “Record the evidence of spam calls/ forced signup for any education packages without complete consent for filing a grievance,” the advisory maintained.

The notification also spoke about consumer protection rules and regulations, citing Consumer Protection (E-commerce) Rules, 2020, for the protection of edtech consumers. The rules mandated that edtech companies need to have grievance officers who will address consumer complaints against the company.

Further, it also cited the Advertising Standards Council of India’s code for self-regulation that requests ed-tech companies to desist from publishing misleading advertisements, specifically asking these firms to not claim to guarantee jobs or special positions after using its services. The notification asked the companies to stop referring to their products as degrees or diplomas unless they are issued by a recognised educational institution.

The notice includes a list of free government-backed e-learning resources including Digital Infrastructure for School Education (DIKSHA), Olabs, Swayam, and National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).

The notification comes a few days after Parliament member Karti Chidambaram questioned the practices of ed-tech players in the Lok Sabha, maintaining that these companies are engaging in predatory marketing practices and preying upon the aspirational poor. Chidambaram had also written to education minister Dharmendra Pradhan regarding the concerns.

The year 2020 and 2021 has witnessed a slew of ed-tech companies emerging as unicorns and ruling the growing segment. The Indian ed-tech industry was valued at $750 million in 2020 and is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025 growing at a CAGR of 39.77%.

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