Forging ahead

With the global pandemic increasing digitisation, ed-tech startups have re-vamped the way India studies, learns and grows

December 17, 2020 12:53 pm | Updated 12:53 pm IST



The Indian education system was established on an archaic model that has remained largely unchanged over the years. It is based on an outdated syllabus, and an equally out-of-date evaluation method. In addition, a majority of India’s population resides in rural areas, with little access to quality teachers and resources, causing nearly 80% of students to grow up without learning key employability skills.

Challenges also exist for students, in terms of accessibility to and affordability of quality education and availability of the desired education programmes. While the draft National Education Policy 2020 seeks to address many of these concerns through international collaborations, and emphasis on holistic learning and vocational education, it will take time for the policy to be finalised and implemented, and even more for it to show results. Fortunately, ed-tech startups have been valuable in bridging the gap.

Cause and effect

Earlier ed-tech startups faced limited acceptance but have made a mark during the ongoing pandemic. While educational institutions across the board were forced to adopt remote teaching methods, ed-tech startups were already equipped with the tools, methodologies, and necessary expertise to navigate these trying times. Equally significant, they helped to mitigate the risk posed by the lockdown, to our traditional education model. Not only did these virtual education organisations provide an efficient way to narrow the skill gap, but also provided critical support to traditional education institutions in transitioning to the virtual world.

Digital learning has granted students round-the-clock access to learning resources, tutorials, and experienced educators. Anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection can develop new skills, and hone existing ones from the comfort of their homes. Going forward, education will encompass an amalgam of online and in-class pedagogy that will be responsive to evolving circumstances.

Ed-tech also offers the liberty to customise qualifications and study material according to the learner’s requirement, that will enable students to determine their strengths and weaknesses, while continuously tracking progress.

Online course providers are also in a position to fulfill an important aspect of the NEP 2020: of providing parallel vocational training to allow students to augment their capabilities while simultaneously pursuing their under-graduation or post-graduation degrees. Already, ed-tech platforms are leveraging technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence to offer dynamic teaching strategies. After the outbreak of the pandemic, their reach has extended to remote areas thereby giving students access to learning opportunities that would not have been possible without physical relocation.

Operational issues

The rise of ed-tech has increased the importance of infrastructure at the learner’s end. In the traditional system, universities and colleges had to ensure all facilities but with online learning the onus of having some basic technology infrastructure is on the learner. Despite the widespread penetration of smartphones and other digital devices, there is a need for better Internet connectivity, especially in remote areas. This presents an operational challenge for education providers who need to enable learning accessibility for students in those regions.

The hasty transition to online learning has also amplified cyber-risks, due to the inadequate security of home networks and lack of public awareness. Some digital platforms also proved to be vulnerable in the initial months of the pandemic, leading to hackers gaining access to online classes and harassing students.

Ed-tech startups are also vulnerable to other cybersecurity-related issues, such as server and data breaches that threaten the safety of personal data and increase risk liabilities. Further, cyber-attackers can have a crippling effect on the accessibility, affordability, and availability of quality education, for both individuals and institutions. Therefore, it is essential to mitigate these risk at an early stage with technology risk management.

While it is impossible to avoid all risks, putting robust risk management processes in place will ensure that the impact and shock of uncertainty and crises are minimised. Sound management principles dictate, and as the Covid-19 pandemic has emphatically demonstrated, every organisation must always be prepared with risk management strategies that include tech-based solutions and risk assessments.

The credit for the relatively (and surprisingly) seamless transition to online learning must go to ed-tech startups that had established a successful education model through a mix of innovative pedagogies and methodologies, even before the pandemic. This has irrevocably changed the way young India is studying, learning, and growing.

Hersh Shah is CEO, India Affiliate of Institute of Risk Management, the UK, and Udit Hinduja is COO & Director, Enguru: Live English Learning, and Corporate Mentorship Board member at IRM India

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