Regulators must learn how to nurture India’s edtech revolution

Posted by Kankon Sen | Feb 11, 2022 6:37:00 PM

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, many have claimed that educational technology (edtech) is the next fintech, with the potential to bring a similar revolution to education that has been seen in recent years to finance. Edtech encompasses a range of digital learning tools, from simple e-learning platforms to artificial intelligence (AI) software and cloud-based learning.

Lockdowns and restrictions have ushered in an era of online learning for students worldwide, generating an incredible boost for tech companies that can help countries pivot to remote learning. India has emerged strongly in this space, attracting $3.8 billion in investments in 2021, according to research by global intelligence firm Holon IQ.

Edtech Venture Funding in India

For primary- and secondary-level students, edtech enabled remote learning during lockdowns and greatly reduced schooling disruptions like those that affected 247 million Indian students in 2020.

As the country emerges from the pandemic, the technology has huge potential to level the playing field between the children of well-off families and tens of millions in the lower echelons of society. By improving the delivery of education, edtech would allow the next generation of Indian students to reap the benefits of high-quality education, including improved literacy, income levels, employment opportunities, and standards of living.

Yet late last year, a School Children's Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey revealed that only 24% of urban Indian students and 8% of rural students studied online regularly in 2021. While infrastructure issues like poor internet are partly to blame, this can also be attributed to poor regulation in the budding edtech space. The government recently noted deceptive pricing and marketing strategies for online courses, which makes digital learning expensive and unreliable for lower-income students. If the benefits of edtech’s investment boom are limited to only the upper echelons of society, the issue for policymakers is how to remedy this inequality.

Enter the India EdTech Consortium (IEC). India’s major edtech companies recently formed the self-regulatory IEC to address government concerns, mandating a common code of conduct based on government standards to protect every learner’s right to education (including transparency in marketing and payment). If successful, self-regulation will encourage private players to extend high-quality, affordable edtech resources to more students across income groups—even if their agenda is to grow their own presence and profits. Ultimately, this presents a significant opportunity for the consortium to bridge the gap between the challenges of public education and potential of private education.

Regulation is a double-edged sword, however, and India must also be wary of the consequences of overregulating growing industries with state intervention—as seen in China. Until July 2021, China was leading the edtech revolution, with startups rapidly innovating educational tools using AI and robotics, strong investments, and a conducive culture for tech adoption and innovation. This came to a crashing halt when China clamped down on its private education industry and tech giants, citing a high-pressure education industry and anti-competitive practices such as false advertising. The edtech sector bore the collateral damage, dampening investment and growth prospects.

From this perspective, the creation of the IEC could prove to be a turning point for India. A light-touch regulatory approach can advance private sector interests and support public-sector goals for access to education while deterring the need for extensive state intervention.

Edtech has the potential to transform India’s education sector in the upcoming decade—but only if regulators learn to nurture the industry via a strong public-private partnership. Whether or not they manage to walk the tightrope remains to be seen.

Topics: Technology, India, Government and education, Coronavirus, Education, social and health, Technology and the internet, Artificial Intelligence, Digital, Online, Remote work

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