– Pallav Pandey and Abhishek Bhatnagar
Education, in theory, is a tool for empowerment – an enabler that brings people out of poverty and improves their quality of life. It aims at eradicating intergenerational poverty and making society equitable. Yet, the state of the Indian education system has actualized the exact opposite of the objective.
Imagine three learners – A, B, and C. For simplicity, let’s assume A, B, and C belong to the high, medium, and low-income brackets respectively. A goes to the best private school; B to a middle-income one; and C goes to a low-income private school or a government school. A receives the best exposure and quality of education and then goes on to achieve high school-level outcomes. C, however, struggles to derive even basic learning outcomes. A then accesses a high-quality college, while C, in all probability, does not even access higher education. No points for guessing the expected amount of income derived and the quality of life that they end up enjoying.
Unsurprisingly, the top 10 percent of the country earns the same as the bottom 64 percent. The top 1 percent of the country holds 22% of the country’s income.
Technology was expected to challenge the status quo, the way it did in so many other places. Thanks to technology, farmers today have a platform to sell their produce at competitive prices and completely bypass the middleman. Even in small towns, people are now able to order the cheapest groceries, select the best doctors for consultation, and access the once unaffordable taxi service at the click of a button.
Despite continuously growing smartphone penetration across the country and parents’ willingness to spend on their children’s education, no such revolutions have taken place in education. Why hasn’t EdTech transformed education?
Affordability seems to be a major issue. 98% of the learners pay less than INR 30,000 annually in school fees. 70% of EdTech products in the market are priced around the INR 20,000 mark. The cost of EdTechs is an additional expenditure on education, in addition to the school fees. Things could have been different if EdTechs were priced at a fraction of the current cost. Recent observations strengthen this hypothesis.
Take the success of Physicswallah, for example. It offers pocket-friendly content and courses. It is generating annual revenue to the tune of INR 250 crores and has achieved unicorn status without raising any venture capital funds. Similarly, other educational YouTube channels have derived hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of views. Therefore, EdTech actualized at the right prices is expected to appeal to the mass-market.
EdTechs have not been able to figure out how to take their products to the masses – to the ones who really need them the most. Most EdTechs today are focused on making high ticket size sales to the cream layer of society. They have not been able to crack the distribution strategies that could make their products affordable and hence accessible.
Entirely new distribution channels need to be created, and the current system needs to be re-looked at. Physicswallah created a distribution channel in the test-prep market by leveraging youtube – a platform that aggregated millions of users. On the same note, the schooling system can be looked at as a distribution channel, as it collectivizes millions of learners. EdTechs that are able to attract and penetrate schools can potentially achieve success at scale, just as Physicswallah did through YouTube.
In general, there is a need for high-quality and affordable EdTech products that appeal to the masses by leveraging currently underutilized distribution channels. Only then can EdTechs rise to make education a more level playing field and drive the much-awaited “revolution”.
Pallav Pandey is co-founder and CEO of Uolo and Abhishek Bhatnagar is vice president, Learning at Uolo.