The edtech sector has been leveraging opportunities presented by the Covid-19 crisis in a big way. The sector, which was already clocking a healthy, double-digit year-on-year growth, has witnessed a massive uptake, of late, with the inflow of investments and acquisition. Today, the Indian edtech sector consists of a wide variety of players, including unicorns like Byju’s and other players such as Khan Academy, UpGrad, Simplilearn and Toppr. According to industry reports, the Indian edtech market is estimated to grow 3.7 times by 2025 to reach $10.4 billion. The key technologies fuelling its growth are artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), predictive analysis, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
That said, the lack of a central regulator governing the edtech sector, uniform government policies, patchy internet connectivity, especially in rural India, are some of the impediments in the sector’s growth trajectory in India.
A look at the key trends in the edtech space, technology uptake in the sector, the key challenges and opportunities…
Funds flowing in
The edtech sector has emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic, with investments soaring. It has also been raising funds from global investors. The venture capital investments in the sector increased fourfold over 2019, to stand at $1.5 billion as of September 2020, making edtech one of the most funded sectors in 2020.
According to a recent research report, edtech was India’s second-most-funded sector in the first half of 2020, after fintech and financial services. Leading the table, Byju’s Classes raised nearly $1.12 billion in four tranches from January 2020 to September 2020 from various investors, including Silver Lake, Tiger Global, General Atlantic, Owl Ventures and DST Global.
Consolidation in the sector
While a large number of players have entered the market, the edtech space has also been witnessing consolidation as companies are increasingly leaning towards the “buy” in the perennial “build-versus-buy” debate.
In the first quarter of 2020, Facebook-backed Unacademy acquired exam preparation platform Kreatryx in an undisclosed cash and stock deal, and application PrepLadder for $50 million in a cash and stock deal. Besides, the company has acquired a majority stake in online learning platform Mastree for $5 million. In August 2020, Byju’s acquired coding platform WhiteHat Jr. for $300 million. In September 2020, it acquired LabInApp for an undisclosed amount.
The edtech space is also receiving investments from the Indian telecom sector, with various operators striking deals with edtech start-ups. For instance, in June 2020, Bharti Airtel ventured into the edtech space, with the acquisition of a 10 per cent stake in edtech start-up
Lattu Media as part of the Airtel Startup Accelerator Program. Further, in October 2020, the DTH arm of Airtel, Airtel Digital TV, joined hands with Aakash Educational Services Limited to launch a dedicated TV channel, AakashEdu TV. The channel will provide coaching sessions to students across India, along with live interactive classes. Meanwhile, Reliance Industries has invested an additional Rs 5 billion in edtech Embibe, which it had acquired in April 2018.
Technology driving growth
ICT plays a key role in enhancing the scope of education by facilitating mobile learning and inclusive education. Some of the key technologies changing the face of education in India are:
At present, AR and VR are dominating the edtech technology trends. The technology has transformed the classroom learning experience, making it more immersive. With the help of AR/VR, students can view the enhanced versions of images and objects on their mobile devices. For instance, in September 2020, Thrissur-based Infusory developed an AR tool, TutAR, which enables teaching through simple AR visualisations. Similarly, edtech company Smartivity makes the learning process efficient and easy with the use of VR.
AI is being employed for personalising the learning experience of each student. AI tools and devices are also enabling global classrooms, which are accessible to all irrespective of their language or disabilities. For instance, a free PowerPoint plug-in, Presentation Translator, develops subtitles of the lecture in real time. Further, Leverage Edu, a career guidance platform, uses AI to mentor students on their career journey. The tool helps them receive guidance for college applications and suggests programmes to improve their skills.
An extended application of AI, ML allows systems to learn from experience without being programmed to perform a particular task. In addition, predictive analysis, a by-product of ML, is helping edtech platforms offer more accurate results to their students. Another function of ML in the education sector is better organisation and management of content and daily curriculum for teachers. For instance, Mumbai-based iSchoolConnect uses predictive modelling to guide students in finding a course that is most suitable to them, thus easing the college search and application process.
Edtech’s sustainability challenge
The lack of a uniform e-learning legislation still remains a major stumbling block in the sector. At present, edtech companies face a web of regulators instead of a single governing body for the sector. The HRD ministry had announced plans to release guidelines for the sector earlier this year, but they are still in the pipeline.
Erratic internet connection
On the technology front, unreliable and slow internet connectivity may impede the sector’s growth. According to the National Sample Survey 2017-2018 report on education, only 8 per cent of all households with members aged between 5 and 24 have both a computer and an internet connection.
While the pandemic has made online education a buzzword, a recent report by Quacquarelli Symonds highlights that the Indian internet infrastructure may still be far from ready to support the paradigm shift to online learning. The report pointed out connectivity and signal issues as major problems faced by students while attending online classes. Further, the data revealed that over 3 per cent of the respondents who used home broadband faced cable cuts, while 53 per cent faced poor connectivity, 11.47 per cent faced power issues and 32 per cent faced signal issues. Meanwhile, 40.18 per cent students using mobile hotspot faced poor connectivity, 3.19 per cent faced power issues and 56.63 per cent faced signal issues.
Apart from these, creating a platform catering to the myriad regional languages remains a challenge for edtech companies though many e-learning platforms now support widely spoken languages to benefit everyone.
Opportunities and the way forward
Challenges notwithstanding, the road ahead for the edtech sector remains bright. The sector is set to grow with the development of infrastructure supporting digital growth in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Besides, several government initiatives such as Swayam, Diksha and E-Vidya aim to encourage technology-driven education. Approved by the union cabinet in July 2020, the New Education Policy, 2020 puts special emphasis on online and digital education, opening up a slew of opportunities for the edtech sector. Moreover, various edtech start-ups are partnering with schools and colleges across cities to enable professors to use interactive online tutoring platforms, which offer live classes to students. These edtech companies provide schools and other educational institutions a safe and secure online channel to hold classes.
Going forward, the lockdown and social distancing norms can bring to the fore untapped technologies such as wearable devices and virtual labs, which can take the learning experience to the next level.
By Shikha Swaroop