Upgrading ‘Kotas’: How EdTech is the New Way Forward

Isn’t one of the things which you are bound to see in any of the Indian cities- big or small – the hoardings of one or the other coaching center? Hasn’t it become a common sight to see school-going kids rushing home after school only to be in time for their tuition classes? Hasn’t it become a prerequisite for students to seek extra help these days, to go that extra mile, and go to ‘that’ coaching to get good marks? Aren’t these coaching centers earning an insane amount of money by charging hefty fees from the students?

Their businesses are thriving. My main argument is that these questions would never have surfaced and we would not be dealing with the business model of various coaching institutes if the formal education sector in India i.e. the kind of education being imparted in schools was adequate and up to the mark. According to a report by the Asian Development Bank, as many as 83 percent of India’s high school children juggle time around school, extra-curricular activities, and tuitions. The ADB study, ‘Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia,’ estimated the sector to be growing at over 15 percent each year. These statistics highlight the inadequacies of the formal education system in our country.

Conventionally, when we hear the word ‘coaching’, centers like Allen, Fiitjee, Aakash, Vidyamandir and the like comes to mind. These businesses are huge, both in terms of revenue and the number of students enrolled. Such institutes have successfully established themselves, especially amongst the middle class. They are now national players and have made their presence felt in almost all big and small cities. These institutes charge anything between 1.2 to 2.8 lakhs for two years. Parents spend as much as 1/3rd of their monthly incomes on their children’s coaching fees. Thus, burning a hole in a student’s pocket. In Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, students often have to spend long hours commuting from their homes to schools and then to different coaching and tuition classes. The long commutes and financial stress create burdens beyond their heavy academic workload.

However, now we see a rise in a new trend – the growth and popularity of edtech start-up giants. According to a 2016 KPMG report, the Indian edtech market is pegged to touch $1.96 billion by 2021. The growth of these tech giants can be accredited to the increasing availability of internet connection amongst the school going students both in the urban as well in the rural areas. These online platforms have reduced the travel burden on the students and aim to provide quality content in the comfort of their homes. This is particularly helpful in the rural and remote areas where established coachings and tuitions have not yet made their way. For example, Khan Academy has partnered with various State Governments to make itself more accessible in rural areas. They signed a Partnership Agreement with the Government of Karnataka to make available educational content including videos, exercises, articles and teacher tools, in Kannada. These include 5,500 videos and 20,000 exercises in math and science, as well as dashboards, which already help millions of students and teachers around the world.

Earlier they had also partnered with the Government of Rajasthan to bring personalized learning to state schools starting from this current academic year. Thus a platform like Khan Academy proves to be an absolute respite in a student’s life. They create content in Indian languages customized to the standard NCERT textbooks. India acts as the fifth largest user base for the Khan Academy. Since 2012, the video views have grown at 45 percent year-on-year in India, and over 40 percent of the user base is students from secondary school or college students.

Online learning platforms like Unacademy and Vedantu are also light on the pocket in comparison to the established bigwigs of the business. Further, quality is also easily maintained as a single lecture can be viewed by multiple students multiple times. Thus the human angle is done away with and there is no question of a particular teacher in the faculty not being good. An added advantage is that many of these ed-tech platforms are free and thus a student has the freedom to opt-in and opt-out easily according to his/her need. Learning has never been this easy and accessible – platforms like Khan Academy and Unacademy have their content, including all exercises and videos, available on mobile, making education a click away.

Thus with the advent of technology in the education sector, the money-minting business of the conventional coaching institutes and tuitions has suffered a setback. Quality education is back in a way but we still have a long way to go. The formal education sector in India, which includes the condition of education in schools, needs to buckle up so that students are not forced to rely on coaching and online tutorials. In the words of Anand Kumar, the founder of Super30, “The most important factor (in the growth of the tuition industry) is the schooling system’s inability to match growing aspirations and requirements. I reiterate that till three decades ago, India still produced engineers and doctors, as well as civil servants. The majority of them came from the Government school system, as big public schools were few and far between. Unless the condition of schools and colleges improves, the tuition industry will only grow.”

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