The pandemic has placed a big question mark over the future of the education sector. Technology offers India a chance to update its outdated curriculum to suit digital delivery, as well as an opportunity to provide such services to underserved communities in remote areas. Will the sector bite the bullet?
By Nijhum Rudra
During the pandemic, the importance of technology has increased considerably in the education sector. Both public and private schools have now implemented technology and use electronic gadgets for teaching. The Internet has played a key role in enabling technology-backed curricula. In education, technology’s role is divided into four categories—as a part of the curriculum, as an instructional delivery system, as a means of aiding instructions, and also as a tool to enhance the entire learning process.
Prior to COVID-19, nothing much was happening in the tech-enabled education sector across India. There was a spurt of e-learning platforms like Byju’s, etc, but the adoption of technology in mainstream education was minimal. For most educational institutions, technology meant setting up a computer/IT lab where a very archaic curriculum was followed. In India, ensuring that tech is adopted across an institution, far beyond the mandated hour of computer studies, rarely gets much support from the institution’s management, but gets driven by informal groups formed by students.
Technology’s deep role in education
According to the US government, both public and private schools are furnished with at least one computer for every five students and over US$ 3 billion is spent annually on digital content. A couple of years back, the US federal government announced plans to introduce high-speed Internet and free online teaching resources at every rural or remote school. Gradually, many of the European nations also implemented the same techniques, followed by India, where now more than 50 per cent of schools (both public and private) have computers and other electronic gadgets, claims the HRD ministry.
The utilisation of electronic gadgets is extremely crucial in the current pandemic, and is also helping students and teachers in various ways. The experience of learning and teaching via cool gadgets and technology can be somewhat similar to watching your favourite movie, show or music video. Though teaching and learning with electronic gadgets can sometimes be a bit challenging for teachers and students alike.
However, technology based education helps students to think beyond their notebooks and improve their learning skills. Learning from a tablet, PC or smartphone can also be easy and can be done at home anytime because these devices are every portable, easy and convenient to use.
|ICA Edu Skills has highlighted several challenges the education sector faces.
Content: Both digital education and physical education have their own pros and cons. It’s slightly difficult to state these with numbers or data. We are still seeing a lot of traditional courses, which were relevant decades ago, being prevalent even today. So, how can we have a better digital learning experience? If we look at the generic B.Com degree, the syllabus in India hasn’t changed in a decade. The engineering syllabus has only been modified slightly, but technology has changed everything and so demand has changed. We need to change our content. We need to invest a lot of time, energy and brains into developing content that is relevant in today’s times. This is really important.Connectivity: Though Internet data packs have become affordable, there are many places where connectivity is still poor. Although I believe this issue is being addressed at a good pace by telecom giants like Jio.Hardware: When we speak of digital education, it does not mean a mobile phone. Our country has one of the lowest penetrations of laptops and PCs in the world and with digital education gaining popularity, these electronic systems need to be made available, especially to the people who cannot afford them. This can only happen with government intervention.Skilling: We have heard this term being used by a lot of political figures, underlining its importance for the nation’s growth – to eradicate poverty and make the country self-reliant. However, we still have a long way to go. A huge allocation of funds is the demand of the hour so that skilling can reach every young individual of our country. Currently, there is no such major project that is addressing the skilling and training needs of our youth, digitally.
|What the experts say about the role of tech gadgets in Indian education
India is the second most populated country in the world. And we have always heard talk about the demographic dividend of having the world’s youngest population. But this demographic dividend can only be encashed in GDP terms if this population is educated, skilled and trained, thereby adding value to our country’s economy. This can only happen with a proper skilling ecosystem in place. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, right from how we live, work, interact, eat, study or spend our money. Times are changing and so are the demands. What was relevant or in high demand ten years ago, probably doesn’t make any sense now. We need to update our skills accordingly. That’s why the most important time is NOW—to focus more than ever on how to take advantage of this digital wave to improve our education system. Only then can we reap the benefit of this demographic dividend. ‘Digital’ offers a unique solution to reach every deserving candidate in any part of the country, and with proper skilling and training, we can minimise unemployment and achieve the dream of a self-reliant country.
The uneven development in the country has led to uneven allocation of resources. So what is available to people dwelling in metros and Tier 1 cities isn’t available elsewhere. Digital initiatives can considerably fill this gap, so that professionals as well as students get access to the best of education and skills, which are really needed to excel in a career. We may have differences in infrastructure, but we cannot deprive students and professionals in Tier 2 and 3 cities and towns of the latest industry expectations.
Ankit Shyamsukha, CEO, ICA Edu Skills, says, “With accessible and affordable Internet, people are consuming content like never before. Even movies are being released online first. Doctors are being consulted over a mobile screen. Money is being earned and also spent online. Hence, it is only logical that education/skilling is also going to see a sea change. From a hardware perspective, electronic products that provide portability, as well as the comfort of a wider screen will always be high in demand, especially in the short to medium term. This period will see a huge increase in PC, laptop and tablet sales. From a software perspective, anything that encourages guided or differential learning experiences will be high on priority. This pandemic has already shown how education should be our prime focus.”
Sources at ICA Edu Skills state that a lot of money has already been pumped into the education sector right since the beginning of this pandemic, with firms joining the race to innovate. Online learning is going to take a lot of precedence now and in the future too. Home or private tuitions may see a disruption in the immediate short term. Guided learning from firms such as Vedantu or Byju’s, which were considered as an ‘add-on’ only to private coaching, will now become mainstream. A lot of changes will also happen at the test-prep industry online, and will gain more popularity over offline and classroom-based competitors. This change may be temporary or could become permanent.
Growth of technology/electronics in the global education sector
Back in 2017, the global education technology market had reached a revenue of US$ 17.7 billion. This is expected to grow to US$ 40.9 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 18.3 per cent. According to Frost & Sullivan, the education technology market’s growth is characterised by seismic shifts in demand and innovations, with a strong movement towards virtual reality and augmented learning, and a user-centric product development strategy.
On the other hand, MarketsandMarkets Research Pvt Ltd’s survey of the global education technology market concludes that it is expected to grow from US$ 43.27 billion in 2015 to US$ 93.76 billion by the end of 2020, at a CAGR of 16.72 per cent. The research report also states that there are a number of new trends that are creating new opportunities for education providers and learners. For instance, today, information can be effectively accessed by even students with disabilities. Assistive and learning management solutions (LMS) are enabling the teachers to deliver special education online and not in segregated special needs classrooms only. The constant progression of technology in education has helped educators to create classrooms that are collaborative and are conducted entirely through Web services.
The education industry is now supported by high-speed Internet and top-notch electronic equipment valued at US$ 76.4 billion in 2019 (a figure that is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.1 per cent from 2020 to 2027).
Growth of technology/electronics education in India
Globally, India is an important education market and has one of the highest clusters of sophisticated educational institutions. The education sector in India (online and offline) was estimated to be US$ 91.7 billion in FY18 and reached US$ 101.1 billion in FY19, claims research firm IBEF. India has today become the second largest market for e-learning, after the US. The total foreign direct investment (FDI) into the education sector in India was US$ 3.24 billion from April 2000 to March 2020.
A couple of months back, the government of India launched PM eVIDYA, a programme for multi-mode access to digital/online education. Other initiatives to be launched include Manodarpan, as well as a new national curriculum and pedagogical framework called the National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission in the coming year. In order to boost the Skill India Mission, two new schemes—Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (SANKALP) and Skill Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement (STRIVE), have been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), government of India, with an outlay of ₹ 66.55 billion and will be supported by the World Bank.
According to a report from KPMG, the Indian e-learning industry was about US$ 247 million in 2016 and is expected to reach US$ 1.96 billion by the end of 2021, with around 9.5 million users. Backed by the Digital India scheme, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has launched many initiatives to boost this industry—E-Yantra, virtual labs, Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE), the National Digital Library (NDL), SWAYAM and also SWAYAM Prabha.
Current obstructions that the online education market faces
In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the global economy has been crippled, but at the same time everything has gone online, as it has in the education sector, with electronic gadgets and technology playing a crucial role. Sources at techARC state that, “Like any other sector, digital has become the backbone and the key enabler. No formal assessment has been done yet, but what we observe is that every school has now gone digital, at least in the private sector. So the growth in the use of technology would be by multiple times. Whatever it is—it will not be less than 300 times or so.”
This article was first published in Electronics For You August 2020 issue