The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology and given a boost to online learning. However the challenge of addressing the digital divide has persisted.
A key barrier to inclusivity is the availability of connectivity. There needs to be equitable access to electronic devices as well as high-speed Internet connections. The Bharatnet project is an attempt to address this challenge. Combined with increasing smartphone penetration, which is expected to cross 880 million users by 2030, and the proposed launch of 5G services, it is likely that this barrier will be overcome.
The other challenge is easy access to technology to deliver content. Here, ed-tech plays an important role through the development of digital tools and platforms that enable an atmosphere of collaborative learning in which learners can thrive. Hosted on cloud-based servers, ed-tech enables anytime, anywhere learning across devices.
Another advantage ed-tech brings is in skilling, re-skilling and up-skilling with relevant competencies for the new digital world. The challenge faced in higher education and skilling is to deliver learning to a large, diverse and dispersed pool of learners in a constantly evolving world. Online learning platforms can enable the ecosystem for optimal delivery and facilitate collaboration to find solutions for issues of access, affordability, and completion. While apps and devices are designed to support and enable access to content and activities for all learners, value can also be added through the use of technology to provide accessibility and adaptability.
Additionally, by bridging the geographical gap to provide access to transnational education and collaboration with peers across the globe, ed-tech is solving for the challenges of affordability, accessibility and flexibility, while upskilling the populace with the competencies of the future.
The online learning landscape is transcending horizons to provide new avenues for growth to learners from underserved communities through greater equity of access to high-quality tools for personalised education. Some players are also improving platform capacity and reducing Internet bandwidth requirements to learn on the platform. Other benefits include mentoring, peer-to-peer interactions, and support for job placements.
Technology also allows a high degree of personalisation with customised learning. The shortcomings of the traditional ‘one size fits all’ model is being replaced by AI-powered platforms that deliver personalised attention, identify and address individual knowledge gaps by tailoring learning pathways for each student.
The current higher education system, as a whole, doesn’t necessarily impart the skills required to acquire future jobs. The World Economic Forum predicts that, by 2025, around 85 million people will see their jobs being disrupted and displaced as digitisation increases. At the same time, over 97 million roles requiring new skills will be created. These will include skills in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Science and so on. Equipping workers for emerging roles will demand reskilling and upskilling at pace and scale. This is where ed-tech can play a role by helping democratise quality education for all.
The writer is Co-Founder and MD, upGrad