Siddhartha Gupta, CEO, Mercer | Mettl

Siddhartha envisions elevating Mercer I Mettl to realize its vision of becoming the next unicorn to emerge from the Indian startup ecosystem & establish itself as the largest assessment entity globally. A feat, he believes, made accessible because of joining hands with Mercer, a global leader in HR Consulting and a wholly-owned subsidiary of highly credible Marsh & McLennan Companies. Before Mercer I Mettl, in a career spanning two decades, he has held key leadership positions at global IT companies such as HP and SAP. He has been instrumental in building several business verticals from scratch and scaling them. Siddhartha holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management from Xavier Institute of Management.

 

The demand for digital education was gaining steady momentum until the present COVID-19-induced crisis altered the education paradigm like never before. All stakeholders had to immediately adapt to this new reality, irrespective of their digital exposure and abilities. The transition to the online mode of education offers opportunities and challenges and then more opportunities to solve for them. Detailing below a few that are worth a mention: 

Challenge: Access to digital infrastructure

Shutting down schools was the most rational decision to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, it exacerbated the chasm of educational disparities between digitally-savvy and urban and rural and underprivileged populace. According to a National Statistics Office (NSO) survey report titled ‘Household Social Consumption on Education,’ only 4% of the rural population has access to digital devices, such as computers, against 23% of the urban population above five years of age. According to another survey by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, only 47% of households in India receive more than 12 hours of electricity, and 36% of schools don’t have access to electricity. This glaring digital divide, deepened further by the ongoing crisis, disproportionately impacts socially disadvantaged learners’ accessibility to education. 

Furthermore, the lack of tech-savviness among underprivileged students and their parents adds to the inefficiencies and challenges in adopting tech solutions. 

Opportunity: Online education as an equalizer

The lack of digital infrastructure disrupts online education, which, otherwise, is a highly effective means of delivering education to the last mile. Government policies, push for digitization of education, and better infrastructure would address these needs, making education more accessible, equitable and equal. Ample training sessions that equip teachers at the grassroots to learn new technologies will further smoothen this transition.  

The government skilling bodies can actively partner with private, non-profit, and non-government organizations that offer training and learning and assessments to test and train teachers in digital readiness, helping them transition to online education processes. They can also leverage these means to provide skilling and vocational programs to students, enhancing their livelihood opportunities.      

Challenge: a reluctant education fraternity

Education fraternity, including students, parents, government and educational stakeholders, professors, and the entire education ecosystem, perceives challenges in taking the digital route. Therefore, it is reluctant to move to the online space. These could be because of the lack of trust in the convenience of classroom learning or examinations using digital tools compared to the offline approach. They are also concerned whether they can replicate these experiences and comforts in the online mode.  

Opportunity: end-to-end planning and education

The undergoing shift to virtual education is being shaped by behavioral modifications, wider acceptance, and experimentation in what was earlier thought to be impossible, owing to myriad reasons, such as the availability of internet bandwidth and digital infrastructure. Indeed, digital resources were already present, but the drastic attitude and behavioral shift, prompted by shutdowns, nudged academia to accept online education with open arms, catalyzing the adoption of virtual tools and tech-savvy interfaces. 

Online learning solutions available on the market efficiently cater to the long-felt demands concerning admissions, classroom learning, campus placements, and examinations. While factors like physical experiences and face-to-face interactions still outrank the virtual education mode, comprehensive and integrated education platforms have successfully captured all other processes. Also, they are continuously making the platforms more engaging, intuitive, and interactive to suit the learners’ and educators’ needs.     

Challenge: ease of use of examinations platforms and their cheating prevention abilities

Education administrators are naturally apprehensive about the cheating prevention prowess of the online examination platforms. Students try ingenious means to outwit cheating prevention mechanisms of online examination tools. These unique approaches involve screen sharing/ mirroring, using hi-tech devices, such as microphones, purposefully logging off from tests, and disconnecting from the internet repeatedly to restart their tests. Concerns about coordination between stakeholders such as setting up the examination process, ease of use of the platforms for students, and mobile compatibility could be reasons for academia’s tepid adoption of modern technology. Setting up question papers for multiple subjects and question types such as multiple-choice questions, mathematical and chemical questions, audio questions, or codes, and the availability of mock tests/dry runs could be other concerns of students as well as exam administrators.    

Opportunity: establishing the credibility of examinations 

The advancements in AI-and-ML-based solutions, remote proctoring, and facial recognition technologies help efficiently detect various instances of malpractices, such as impersonation, usage of mobile phones, the opening of additional tabs, the presence of additional persons in the room, and others. These technologies are trained over millions of such examination audio and video feeds and are more than 98% accurate in flagging cheating instances and detecting all kinds of digressions. The system, then, generates a ‘credibility score’ for each candidate for a particular exam. 

Additionally, these intelligent platforms are well-equipped to cater to coordination needs between stakeholders. They provide timely reminders and notifications through emails, besides enabling easy customization of question papers and types in multiple subjects and languages. All such features make online exams highly scalable, credible, and easy-to-use alternatives.   

Online education has made every smartphone owner a learner, increasing the accessibility of education, teachers, and educational institutions to students from the country’s farthest corners. As we assimilate the processes and steadily progress into the future, we all know the level of comfort, convenience, and ease these virtual platforms would offer –besides their key role in ensuring sustainability and continuity in established education and examination schedules. 

Digitization of education can equally be a challenge and an opportunity now, depending on how we move forward. Addressing the issues of inadequate infrastructure and designing our policy frameworks based on the newly drafted National Education Policy (NEP) will be critical in defining the future of education in India.  

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