02 May 2019 16:16 IST

A snapshot of the tech-enabled Indian education sector in 2019

Huge scope for newer policies to promote data analytics-driven educational outcomes

Education technology (or EdTech which has become popular in venture capital and startup circles), offers great promise of transforming millions of careers and accelerating learning on an unprecedented scale. EdTech has gained special relevance in India over the last few years. Therefore, a dialogue on the country’s education sector cannot be delinked from the general macro-trends in education technology itself.

Recent news of a Bengaluru-based edtech startup raising a record $540 million may have shaken industry outsiders, but it is merelyevidence of the financial and strategic monstrosity that this sector has now come to represent. That a single startup could raise half a billion dollars in a single investment round despite operating in a sliver of the total education technology market, speaks volumes of the market size .

There are many trends that may come to dominate education technology in the next few years, but online education remains the main focus. Transformation of the physical learning space into a digital learning ecosystem refers to an infusion of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies within the traditional education space, which may also gradually see the introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

VR and AR solutions

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as elucidated by companies such as Unimersiv and Star Chart, can be extremely relevant in accelerating educational outcomes for all kinds of classrooms. For instance, Teach For India fellows often use technology and edtech alternatives to introduce concepts to younger and slightly older students for conceptual clarity and deeper immersion in the subject. .

It has been proved that the most elementary fabric of education — conceptual immersion and exposition or the medium of speech itself — has been successfully augmented through VR and AR solutions. Virtual reality has been used to help educate youth about career choices. Seemingly logical interventions such as virtual demonstrations of, say, coronary bypass surgery have not reached the masses, primarily because of the cost factor, which is a limitation of VR.

Innovations in higher education

India has prized higher education more than any other emerging economy in recent decades. The prestige of a specialisation within medicine, or that of a business school degree from elite, age-old institutions, or even a journey abroad only to return with an international pedigree and the right networks, have all enamoured Indian parents.

Yet, higher education has seen a number of changes in the recent past — two-year master’s degrees have a number of high-quality one-year equivalents from competing schools, some portions of older degrees such as economics (namely, data analytics and statistics), now have their own specialised standalone degrees. And digital learning is now an integral part of most courses of higher education.

Pearson India itself offers a number of such services, particularly in the business school space. With a variety of interactive options, ranging from flash cards to instructional simulations, higher education services don’t just augment student learning outcomes but also provide substitutes for certain lectures and even student-specific learning issues that may not be addressed in the classroom environment.

Moreover, with the advent of a multitude of standardised tests and institution-specific entrance tests, an average student, operating within just one single field of study has his work cut out in the absence of professional learning support. It is, after all, inconceivably difficult to attend regular college hours, or clock in equivalent time in a full-time job, while also attending instructional classroom lectures in another field of study, and then allotting time for revision.

If you are a student who is even remotely flexible in choosing a higher education stream, this can be a scheduling nightmare. For instance, a student who is equally passionate about management as well as law will have to make prioritised choices between learning about either the former or the latter. Digital test preparation services save such students the time and effort required in actual offline classroom sessions for both, and provide them the resources to be flexible regarding their career choices. Several such solutions have witnessed a spike in usage among student and professional audiences in recent years, and this focus is only bound to increase in the future.

Data analytics

Machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to be relevant across multiple sectors. For the education sector, in particular, there have been path-breaking reports and studies, such as the one conducted by the Akshara Foundation, through its Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP) platform.

The report described a key finding — that the existence of women’s toilets in a school led to increased participation, longer retention, and wider outreach.

With a new government about to assume power at the Centre, there is massive scope for newer policies that are based on the successful implementation of data analytics driven educational outcomes. These can be piloted across States and cities for achieving better learning outcomes. This, in turn, can influence education policies proposed by government institutions.

2019 is a tremendous year of opportunity for all stakeholders invested in the education sector. With a progressive outlook on start-ups as well as governments, this sector is bound to grow in strength and set out a growth-oriented blueprint for the years ahead.

(The writer is the managing director of Pearson India, an education company.)