Edtech in India — what lies ahead?

My reflections on how Edtech will evolve in India and how we need a fundamental shift to look at education from a “skills” perspective.

“The problem is not people being uneducated. The problem is that people are educated just enough to believe what they have been taught, and not educated enough to question anything from what they have been taught.”

— Richard Feynman

A lot has been written about Edtech in India, especially in the last 4 months post Covid-19. It is the ‘hot space’ where VCs are looking to back exciting startups and capable founders.

Traditional education institutions like schools and universities have been slow in adoption of technology and innovation. One major reason for pursuing education (though flawed) for many students is to get a good job (outcome driven) and be capable of earning a livelihood. If future job descriptions for campus hiring change, then institutes need to innovate and adopt change accordingly. Companies can trigger innovation in higher education which will flow down eventually to the K12 segment and we are seeing this happen.

But can education sector instead of being responsive to corporate needs, proactively lead innovation in the sector? Parents would find it tough to accept it unless there is correlation to higher salaries, better jobs etc. Thus, the need for innovation in Edtech will be driven by changing needs of the job market, which brings us to the point of looking at education from a ‘Skills’ perspective rather than ‘credentials’. Skills are the fundamental building blocks in a child’s learning journey.

Skills can be broadly divided into:

1) Core and cognitive skills

2) Behavioral/personality skills and ‘life hacking’ skills

3) Ready for work’ skills

  • Products using AI/ML to identify skill gaps in children is a great opportunity.
  • Vertical products focused on building a particular set of skills will emerge

Core skills

These are competencies which are important for children of all ages like reading, writing, using language and STEM. World Bank believes that 60% of children globally fail to achieve minimum standards of reading and arithmetic because of poor-quality teaching. In China, AI live class for language learning (Putao and aiKid) are interactive video-based class wherein human tutor is replaced by AI tutor which can decode human expressions, speech and offers personalized coaching at lower cost than 1–1 tutoring with human tutor.

  • Products which focus on learning through peer-to-peer & group-based social learning networks
  • AR/VR products/ gaming/social platforms focusing on core skill building

Cognitive skills

Cognitive skills development involves the progressive building of core learning skills. Some of them are sustained attention, critical thinking, working memory, pattern recognition, information processing.

  • Products which combine brain cross-training through physical and mental exercises
  • Online AI tutor to assess student’s responses and offer personalized learning content.

Behavioral skills

Skills which shape the personality of your child and his/her interaction with society. Some of them are good body language, discipline, perseverance, sharing, empathy. Parents want their children to have a well-rounded personality. There are startups in China like Online arts class — Meishubao, 61draw, Yixiaoxiang (online chess), Hexiaoxiang (online calligraphy, poetry), VIP Piliean (online live tutor piano classes).

  • Social product to teach skills through videos, tasks, programs, activities, gamification
  • Platform for taking online tutorials D2C through subscriptions.

Life skills

Life skills are those skills which makes the child independent and gives ability to handle any situation or event in a better way. Some of them are focus and self-control, self-motivation, taking on challenges, problem solving, creativity.

  • Products which use short stories, case studies, history to teach life skills
  • Massively Multi-User Online games with activities to learn and showcase life skills.
  • Games using situational simulations, interactions to teach right attitude and life skills

Ready for work skills

Skills which help is easing the transition from college to work. Some of them are networking, working in teams, leadership, multi-disciplinary mental models and frameworks, SaaS products. Only 46.2% of Indian students graduating from college are employable. College curriculum has not kept pace with changing demands of skills in industries. According to a Dell Technologies report, 85% of the jobs in 2030 that Generation Z and Alpha will enter into have not been invented yet.

  • Products to learn work skills and get jobs. MOOC enabled Hiring marketplace
  • Products like Linkedin for first job aspirants.
  • Reskilling products for middle management (30–40 year old)

Future Of Education

Let me start with the gurukul system prevalent in ancient India. It was the principal center of teaching where the Guru (the teacher) and the Shishyas (students) stayed together. You can call them residential monasteries or schools where primarily vedas were taught. Vedas provided a set of moral, ethical, spiritual and dharmik values to students. Emphasis was laid on students’ core, cognitive, spiritual, and physical wellness. Current system promotes mindless acquisition of knowledge to suit vocational pursuits. Gurukul system evolved to modern schools (circa 1837 — Horace Mann) due to the need to educate a higher population of children. A system of professional teachers who would teach a standardized curriculum of core subjects to age-based cohorts of students. Let us admit, people haven’t been educated, they’ve been schooled. We focused on knowledge assimilation and less on application of knowledge. Thus, we have more rote learners than independent thinkers.

But now we are seeing that using digital technology, we can bring back benefits of adaptive personalization (which happened in small batch Gurukul system) at scale in Edtech.

School of Tomorrow

We feel there will be paradigm shift in what future generations will learn and how they will learn.

Focus will be on personalized learning path wherein each student will have the freedom to set their learning goals and choose subjects they want to learn.

For eg. a student can learn to make an animated movie instead of learning geography. No set curriculum and complete flexibility on subjects especially post K6.

Next gen schools in US such as Alt school, Prenda schools, Sora schools are disrupting traditional private schools in US by offering student centric project-based learning model. Students from across the globe can be working on the same project for an organization and learn other cultures and behavior as well. Application-based learning is the core offering of these schools. Students work in small groups on mini projects, assignments such as designing video games, etc. Home schooling startup Primer in US is offering a platform for homeschooled kids to join communities based on their interest (chess, rockets, physics) and collaborate with other students across the globe on projects of their interest. Schools will also upgrade their curriculum to include future skills such as coding, product design, political science and maybe philosophy. Soft skills are crucial to success, yet most schools in India do not teach these skills correctly. There will be a focused learning path to develop soft skills as well.

  • Alternate K12 hybrid school model with curriculum flexibility.
  • Emergence of K6 segment focused digital businesses
  • Omni-channel ‘After school’ classes for casual learning.
  • Passion Economy — Teachers running individual subscription business online D2C
  • Pre-schools combined with daycare run with a differentiated innovative approach
  • Project based alternate school — hybrid with homeschooling
  • Other future skills such as AI, Blockchain, Esports coaching might also emerge.
  • Building an online interpersonal soft skill training product for the K12 segment.
  • School project creation, sharing and collaboration based tools and networks

Skill building in a School of Tomorrow will happen through Engagement <> Experience <> Application. It will be an ‘open school’.

College of Tomorrow

There is high probability that Gen Z will skip college. High tuition fees, high time commitment (4+2 years of UG and PG) and uncertainty of job market is making students consider alternative to college. Students might become more ROI oriented and want to learn skills that interests them and has good earning potential and growth opportunities. Gig economy is on the rise. Students want to earn supplemental income through side gigs while studying. Colleges need to work together with companies to offer joint courses, part-time gigs and projects in parallel with academic classroom sessions. There is a need for alternative higher education products which flatten the time and expenses.

College education will be more of lifelong/continuous learning process extending till age of 35 and beyond instead of completing all formal education in early 20s. Focus will be on building better and effective alumni networks which will act as moat for such colleges. There is an opportunity in building online re-skilling academy focusing on niche skills.

Colleges will get unbundled.

We believe next set of re-skilling startups will be built in financial services, digital marketing, healthcare and sales. This is in line with the success of Lambda School ISA model and its counterparts in India like Interviewbit, Pesto tech etc. For eg. Golden Education in China is providing training programs for financial certifications both in B2B and B2C markets.

  • Collaboration across colleges student community through independent network
  • Enabling colleges seamlessly tie-up with corporates through tech platform for training students on specific domains

Pay for knowledge is another interesting space wherein users sign up for online courses (audio/video or could be ‘livestreaming’) delivered by an expert in a field. Eg. Masterclass in US offers celebrity taught classes such as film making by Martin Scorsese, tennis by Serena Williams for a subscription fee. Similarly, iGetget in China valued at $1B offers 10-minute audio podcasts for $15–30 per course. Unlike re-skilling courses, users do not sign-up for these ‘Pay for knowledge’ sessions for mastering a skill or planning to make career in it. These courses are for ‘inspiration’ and not ‘outcomes’, for knowledge seekers — the self-motivators.

  • Products building a celebrity/expert led ‘Pay for knowledge’ platform in India.
  • Bite-size short content (audio/video) in ‘Pay for knowledge’ category.

To conclude

Edtech in India is still ~$750M market out of the total $135B Education market. China is expected to touch $380B education market this year. According to HolonIQ, less than 3% of total global education expenditure is currently digital, which suggests significant potential for transformation in a market expected to reach $10T by 2030, up from $6T in 2018

In 2020, we have seen surge in Edtech investments. K12 startups such as Byju’s, Unacademy, Vedantu have raised over $500M to onboard more learners on their platform and have been active on the M&A side. As schools are shut due to Covid lockdown, laptop/mobile has become the new classroom. Not just schools and tuitions, we saw theatre workshops, summer camps, dance, table tennis, football classes being streamed online. In earlier years, motivation is less, you would need teachers as mentors and face to face interaction but as the child progresses the need for using remote tools will increase. Teachers will not be present to explain concepts but only to guide the direction of interaction, solve specific queries and mentor students.

This marks a watershed moment for Edtech in India which will drive the adoption of digital education and open doors to new opportunities not catered by traditional education institutions. The biggest beneficiary of this change will be students in the non-metros, where learning, content and teachers are democratized irrespective of the quality of the schooling. New age Edtech companies might level the playing field to a certain extent.

We are entering a new chapter of online education where it will not be limited to using remote tools and digital versions of textbooks and content. New age Edtech companies need to still focus on the skills, the fundamentals, the motivation for a student, and build products on top which are engaging and fun.

If you are a founder working on any idea in the ed-tech space do write to us at adith@gembacapital.in

More about us at www.gembacapital.in Would love to hear your views and thoughts on the future of Edtech in India.

(This blog was written with inputs from Kamini Shivalkar. She can be reached on kamini.shivalkar88@gmail.com)

Sources:

· https://www.investmentbank.barclays.com/our-insights/education-technology-out-with-the-old-school.html

· https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/education/india-skills-report-finds-4621-of-students-employable/article30269722.ece

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