Covid -19 opened the gates of virtual living and learning and one industry that has seen considerable growth is that of Ed-tech. The wide availability of affordable smartphones and low-cost internet services aided and boosted the technology when online learning emerged as the only hope for accessibility of education in the trying times of the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, online education used to serve the objective of giving access to students who would not have had the opportunity to receive a regular education at a school, college, or university. It would be interesting to see how remote learning will survive in a post-pandemic world and whether would it end the traditional way of imparting knowledge and education (M.A. Sikandar,2022)
Ed tech is a combination of two words, education and technology. It is an implementation of hardware and software solutions aimed at boosting teacher pedagogy and student learning. (Victor V. Timchenko, Sergey Y. Trapitsin, Zoya V. Apevalova, 2020). There are no entrance restrictions for businesses in the education technology sector, but it is a complicated market since instructional material must be developed while taking into account regional customer preferences (Piyush Manikandan, MK Manicka, 2021).
Rise of Ed-Tech
Education technology has emerged as one of the most promising industries. Indian Ed-tech was valued at US$750 million in 2020 and is now expected to reach US$4 billion by 2025 at a CAGR OF 39.77% out of which US$1.5 billion is set to utilize for kindergarten to class 12 (K-12), after-school foundational, and pre-pre-preparation courses. The New Education Policy, 2020, has also offered policy momentum to the Edtech industry by acknowledging the significance of technology in education. An estimated 150 million students have entered the Indian EdTech market.
Huge investments are being made in Indian Ed Tech. With Byju's leading the list with 57%, Unacademy coming in second (10.5%), and Vedantu coming in third (9.5%), Indian EdTech start-ups raised more than US$ 1.43 billion across 100 transactions in 2020 (IBEF). The sector produced six unicorns, including Unacademy, Eruditus, UpGrad, Vedantu, Lead School, and PhysicsWallah, as well as one decacorn (Byju's). Kota now houses Unacademy and PhysicsWallah’s first offline location. In a concerted effort to open offline tuition facilities in 2022, BYJU purchased Aakash Educational Services (AESL) for $1 billion last year.
Why the problem
But, among these torch-bearers of education, many ed-tech firms have been found to be indulging in various forms of business malpractices to attract consumers and make their investors smile. Many courses which are advertised as free, are later found to be paid for, the refund and cancellation policies are not clearly mentioned and are often missed by the customers, and the problems also range from privacy to data protection. Although there are legal frameworks in place, they are insufficient to cover the new progressive elements of the Ed-tech sector. These businesses are beyond the limitations of traditional coaching institutes in terms of their methods of instruction as well as their methods, procedures, and organizational cultures. As per a report of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Ed-tech in 2021-22 was the largest violator of advertising code.
The middle class normally fears loans, but when it comes to their child’s education believing that the benefits will outweigh the expenses, they try to overcome their apprehensions. These businesses pressure individuals to enroll in their courses on loans with complicated terms and conditions for returns while presenting themselves as charitable organizations. These companies routinely exercise wide latitude in revising, changing, and discontinuing their policy, and frequently do so with or without prior notice to the user.
Need for regulation
It is the need of the hour to manage the Ed-Tech sector's operational complexity if the government wants to encourage belief in the sector's transformation through technology and digital development. While it is imperative to provide safeguards to protect and regulate areas that affect parents, children, and instructors as they form a vital part of the education system. Rules to oversee the marketing, advertising, data protection, grievance redressal processes, and operations of EdTech enterprises are also urgently needed. The junction such as e-commerce, education, consumer goods and services, advertising and marketing, and the digital economy where ed-techs operates makes it difficult to navigate.
As informed by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), the main corporations in the field of education technology created the Indian EdTech Consortium (IEC) earlier this year, which will abide by a single “Code of Conduct”. To guarantee high-quality and reasonably priced education, organizations and start-ups including Byju's, Careers 360, Great Learning, Harappa, Times Edutech & Events Ltd, Scalar, Simplilearn, Toppr, Unacademy, upGrad, Vedantu, and WhiteHat Jr have joined the self-regulatory - IEC. A two-tier grievance resolution process is also established to guarantee the honest handling of businesses and safeguard the interests of students. The government has also warned that if self-regulation would not work, the government will formulate stringent guidelines.
The third most invested industry in India had a dream run during the pandemic boosted, global digital boom. But, now in a post-pandemic world, ed-tech startups are struggling to survive. As per Layoff. fyi, during FY23, until September 15, Ed-tech start-ups account for more than 40% of start-up employees laid off in India.
Recently, Byju reported a loss of Rs. 4,588 crores in the same year that Byju acquired numerous start-ups and businesses such as Vidyartha, Tutor Vista, Osmo, WhiteHatJr, Hash Lear, Epic, and many more. A lot of these Ed techs are going offline and preparing to adopt hybrid mode. But, going hybrid means increased cost, of infrastructure, whiteboards, desks, etc, which will reflect in the increased student fees.
Most people believe that online classes can never replace offline classes. No one monitors if the student is attending the lectures, and no one keeps a tab of the student’s progress or give any special attention to a student slacking in a subject. Unlike offline classes where the teacher recognizes everyone by their face. The online self-paced course is more suited for grownups who prepare for competitive exams or working professionals. For K-12 online might not be very fruitful, as it also hinders their overall development as online mode lacks physical-social interactions which are very important for the development of interpersonal skills.
In order to survive and sustain itself in a post-pandemic competitive world, this industry needs to refocus and formulate its business model and also safeguard the interest of its customers.
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