Why edtech needs a deep renovation

Two years, four unicorns and one decacorn later, the Edtech industry is in trouble. The Indian EdTech market is oversaturated with almost 4,500 start-ups. Cracks in the Edtech business surfaced right after the pandemic, when students returned to schools.

Some leading Edtech companies have laid off hundreds of employees, even as estimates suggest that the Indian Edtech industry is expected to reach a market size of USD 10.4 billion by 2025.

Edtech is at a crossroads. Their business model is crumbling because their products have failed to create excitement in the classroom. Success has been measured by the number of customers rather than learning outcomes. As of today, we have no external validation of the effectiveness of Edtech’s teaching methods. The truth is Edtechs have not really used technology to make learning fun, which could have helped in improving learning outcomes.

Need more than just a new shiny bottle
Take the case of learning content – is it more of a case of old wine in a new, colorful and shiny bottle? Content has been merely digitized, without any context or student engagement. Ideally, content should be based on an understanding of a student’s learning style. Instead of assuming what is best for students and teachers, Edtechs should listen to the voices of teachers, parents and other stakeholders, to know which products work and which do not.

We rarely see this happening. Edtech industry hard-sells itself as a private online tuition center, that can improve school grades. Most Edtech content replicates a physical classroom, where the teacher is reading out from a textbook. An interactive approach, which actively engages students in individual and group learning, would be far more effective. Classroom management tools, such as screen sharing can help teachers better instruct students. Gamification is another way to improve student engagement through storytelling and using characters that students can relate to. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can be used to personalize content depending on students needs.

True measure of success
More student engagement will improve student outcomes. Education is not like other businesses, where sales and profits alone matter. In education, the most important metric of success of a product is an improved student outcome. There has to be a way to track, quantify and monitor learning outcomes. The product is a failure, if it does not improve learning outcome. We need an effective monitoring and evaluation system that can tell us, if the product has improved student outcome.

Track and Improve
Tracking and monitoring of learning outcome is absolutely necessary to know if the product worked. We need to know, where students are in their learning journey and what can help improve their achievements. Data can be helpful here. It can be used to identify, where students are placed against a set benchmark. In a classroom, this is easily achieved because the teacher is physically present and can gauge the impact of lessons directly. On Edtech platforms, tools such as data analysis can help teachers track student behavior, while using the platform. It will tell us of the impact of a course on a student’s performance. Data on student performance can be used effectively in Edtech to adapt to the learning capacity of a student.

Teachers First
School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, was a leapfrog moment for education and Edtech. Teachers faced a stressful time during the COVID-19 pandemic, when they had to learn new technology and keep students engaged. While teachers used Edtech effectively during the pandemic, we will have to find ways to train and motivate teachers. We have to bring back pride in teaching. Engaging with teachers on a frequent basis is one way to motivate them.

Go Scale
Another issue with Edtech is scalability. So far, edtechs have targeted affluent customers in Tier- 1 cities. A report by PWC says that with 87% of the Indian population living in Tier-2 cities and beyond, Edtech players can attain a large-scale presence in these under penetrated cities, if they can develop multilingual, personalized content. While doing so, we will have to account for the constraints of rural schools, since they serve a significant portion of students and often those with the least access to high-quality educational material. We will have to get into the shoes of a teacher and understand what a rural school is, where there is no roof, no fan, their windows are closed, and it is a multi-grade classroom. Any Edtech solution will have to be based on an understanding of the rural environment. For instance, when children work in the fields, there is a very high degree of school absenteeism. We have to think of ways to address this.

It is a challenge to be solved, because Edtech is expected to play an important role in education. The growth in India’s internet penetration will support the adoption of Edtech. An IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report, estimates that India’s active internet users will increase by 45% from 622 million users in 2020, to 900 million by 2025, because of higher adoption rates in rural India. Small towns will account for two out of five active internet users in the country. There is significant opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid, which can be tapped into, if we understand the constraints and offer the right solutions. But, do remember education can never be a cut-throat business.

The writer is Founder and Chairman, Sampark Foundation & Former Vice Chairman and CEO,

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