EdTech in a Pandemic-Driven World

Future of Industry

Technology has always played a major role in shaping the teaching-learning process. For instance, the invention of the modern blackboard in the early 1800s changed the face of knowledge dissemination. Since then, technological advancements including audio-visual recorders, overhead projectors and smart screens have contributed in creating more immersive educational experiences for learners of all ages. History’s foray into Information Age has catapulted education technology towards new directions wherein students can learn remotely and experience virtual and augmented reality.

While academics and educators across the world were debating the pros and cons of depending on EdTech, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has made all the cons irrelevant. With social distancing being the order of the day, the need for user-friendly EdTech has skyrocketed, to allow teachers and learners to continue working from home. Let us take a look at the growth of the EdTech Industry in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

EdTech in times of pandemic

Due to the spread of Coronavirus, over 180 countries have authorised school closures, affecting approximately 1.6 billion children and youth. Despite the staggering statistic, one must acknowledge that it is a measure that has been enforced worldwide to curb COVID positive cases from escalating. However, prolonged school closures affects employability and human capital formation in the long run. EdTech companies in pandemic are working with great fervour to bridge this gap.

These companies are transforming learning experiences with the safety of staying home. Between January and July 2020, the global venture funding for EdTech companies reached $4.1 billion. As of October 2020, China’s Yuanfudao is the world’s most valuable EdTech company, having raised $2.2 billion, followed by  India’s Byju’s. With different companies targeting different groups of leaners, the following are some of the categories of EdTech Firms:

  • K-12 (for children, students from kindergarten to class 12)
  • Language Learning
  • Digital Libraries
  • Education Management (Curriculum building, Student engagement)
  • Workforce Development (focussing on employees and training)
  • Tutoring
  • General e-Learning (Coursera, Udemy, etc.)

These categories are neither watertight nor exhaustive but help in studying the growth of the industry. In addition, there exists a multitude of Augmented and Virtual Reality apps such as Star Chart and Boulevard that bring astronomy and art history to life. Unmersiv, for instance, makes use of VR to transport learners back in time, to ancient Egypt or Greece. These apps could fit into more than one category. Gaming technology is also a part of the rapidly developing EdTech, wherein students can learn by doing. For instance, Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health along with Tata Interactive Systems developed a simulation-based app for students to practically navigate the world of forensic trends and other issues in healthcare.

Besides VR and Gamification, the largest contribution of EdTech, that is gaining momentum worldwide, is the MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) model. Although this model has existed for over a decade, with the New York Times christening 2012 “Year of the MOOC”, the pandemic has been a catalyst in bringing these platforms to the forefront. The USP of MOOCs during their initial period was to address the skills gap that existed between traditional degrees and the requirements of the industry. In addition to new learners, it also helped professions to stay updated and equip themselves with specialised knowledge. Udacity, for instance, offers nanodegrees which are recognised by different industries. Training for competitive exams was also made available across the globe. All you needed was an internet connection! With the pandemic, the role of global MOOC platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, Khan Academy and EdX has expanded to balance the loss of learning caused by temporary school closures. Coursera, one of the biggest international portals offering hundreds of MOOCs announced a 644% increase in enrolment during the pandemic. As of May 2020, it has a student database of over 56 million of which 18.5 million learners are from the US and India.

Impact of COVID-19 on the EdTech sector. The Indian landscape

EdTech  industry in India is the second largest in the world after the US. Between 2014 and 2019, 4,450 education-based startups have been launched in India. In 2020, this industry garnered investments crossing $1.1 billion with Byju’s being the biggest player. In 2016, Byju’s raised $50 million from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and over $1 billon in 2020 from Mary Meeker and Yuri Milner, Silver Lake, Tiger Global, General Atlantic, Owl Ventures and DST Global. Unacademy has raised $150 million from investors such as SoftBank, Nexus Venture and General Atlantic.

What makes the Indian EdTech scene different compared to Coursera or any of the other global players? The answer lies in its packaging. Of the above listed categories, tutoring has been the biggest seller in India. Byjus, Unacademy, Toppr or the newer Vedantu team up with teachers across the country and design their courses to supplement learning that occurs in the traditional kindergarten to class 12 system. They have designed different courses to match the different states, CBSE and ICSE boards and sell their MOOCs as additional tutoring  for students. They also train students for Indian competitive examinations such as IIT-JEE, NEET, CAT, IAS and international ones like GRE and GMAT.

Where do they fit in…

With most schools and universities switching to Zoom classes or the multitude of other portals available for live teaching, where exactly do these EdTech firms fit in? The answer to that question is fairly complex. The pandemic has forced the conventional education system into an overhaul. This transition phase has certainly not been easy on teachers and learners. Facilitators who have been groomed in the chalk-and-board style of teaching are finding it difficult to connect with students online. While the younger generation is comfortable with the Internet, it is important to acknowledge that Internet and its associated infrastructure are not easily nor cheaply available in all parts of the world. According to the World Economic Forum, only 15 out of 100 households in India have access to internet. Coupled with unreliable electricity supply, attending live classes can be a hassle for many students.

This is the problem, many believe, that EdTech firms can address, particularly through MOOCs. Since they give the learners freedom to access content at their convenience, the newer generation of educators believe that MOOCs can democratise education and create equal platforms that even traditional forms of schooling have struggled with. Moreover, with appropriate recognition, this industry will revolutionise education, allowing the learners to choose from across disciplines as opposed to the limited choices provided by schools.

EdTech during pandemic - what the future holds?

There is no doubt that EdTech during pandemic is the next big lucrative investment across the globe. The pandemic has simply accelerated its growth that was eventually bound to happen. It has suppressed the most important concern against remote online learning –– the lack of interpersonal relationships. Traditional educators have always argued that personal interactions between the teachers and learners are a major contributing factor in for a wholesome learning setup. The current demand for social distancing has simply suppressed this concern. What will happen after? Will EdTech continue to grow? All trends seem to point towards yes. But will it continue to grow in the same pace? Will it share the arena with in-classroom teaching in a COVID-free world or try to replace it? We will have to wait and watch.

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