A visionary and a learned entrepreneur, Mr. Nirpeksh Kumbhat is the founder and CEO of SkillEnable, an edtech organization dedicated to bridging the gap between the industry and academics to improve the employability of job candidates. He plays a vital role in handling all the operations and formulating key business strategies for the organization.
The rapid advancements in technology are ushering in a wave of change in the education sector. The sector has witnessed several revolutionary changes since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. A report by UNICEF revealed that the pandemic impacted 61.6% of the world’s student population, out of which 32+ crore learners were affected in India alone! The hard push has resulted in a considerable transformation in the pedagogy – something that was unimaginable a few years ago.
However, it would be imperceptive of us if we didn’t acknowledge that digital education comes with its own set of challenges. Online education depends upon 4 things:
- Network connectivity – 4G/broadband
- Learning Platform – G-Classroom, etc
- Content – videos, images, infographics, etc.
- Distribution infrastructure – Smartphones/tablets/desktops
If any one of the above four is missing, online education will come to a grinding halt. Let’s take an example of EdTech giant BYJU’s strategy. They are currently providing all the facilities needed for a student to have an uninterrupted learning experience. They have their own app (platform), they have pre-recorded lectures and supporting notes (content) and they also deliver tablets with pre-loaded content such that educational access is available even when a student is offline (distribution infrastructure).
Let us delve deeper into the challenges faced by the continuously digitising education sector. In order to better understand the hurdles, we ask 2 basic questions which umbrella all the major challenges.
Challenges in executing digital education:
- Are inequalities widening amid the digitisation of the education sector?
Gender Inequality: Publicly available data shows that females have reduced access to the internet across India. Only 28% of the females in rural India and 32% of the females in urban India currently have access to the internet. The absence of equal access to the internet takes away a key component of digital learning and does not enable women to become a part of the digital experience.
Caste-based Inequalities: A large part of our population is dependent upon government resources. Data indicates that 77.8% of STs and 69.4% of SCs are enrolled in government institutions. The financial burden on these strata is high and likely to lead them away from investing in digital education.
Educational Inequality: A research by IIT Jodhpur in 2020 revealed that 66% of the Indian population is rural, of which a mere 15% has access to the internet. The number jumps to 42% when we look at urban households. A more distressing fact came to light – only 7% of ALL households in India have access to both, a computer and the internet.
The above 3 matters of discussion clearly show that a digital divide exists across classes, genders, regions or places of residence. However, this is only one facet of the problem. Let’s explore the next façade with the second question.
- Are we prepared to take on online education?
Need for a conducive study environment: Census data indicates that 64% of the households in urban India with three or more members have two-room dwellings. This number jumps to a whopping 74% in rural India. It is unlikely that a student will be able to reap the benefits of digital education in an undisturbed environment.
Internet Speed: Uninterrupted education requires a seamless connection between the teacher and the students. Since lectures rely heavily upon video conferencing facilities, higher internet speeds become paramount. With regards to fast internet speeds, while cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad feature at the top of the list, cities like Patna, Nagpur and Jaipur feature at the bottom. The UT of Jammu and Kashmir have had it worse as disruptions in connectivity result from constant threats.
Lack of trained online instructors: In rural areas, the application of technology in education isn’t as fruitful as one would like it to be. There is a severe dearth of digitally trained educators, and the existing personnel have neither adequate knowledge nor the required skillset. Traditional blackboard education still continues in these areas, and it is difficult to bridge this divide.
Lack of funds: In a developing country like India, heavy investments are needed to digitally transform the entire education sector. Considering that our educational framework has not evolved significantly over the last few decades, this is a big leap to make in a short span of time.
Holistic development: Switching to digital education means that all physical activities have come to a standstill, considering that the pandemic is still raging, and a third wave is being anticipated. Involvement of the students in extracurricular activities has been halted, which means they spend hours in front of their screens.
Although the education sector is faced with a multitude of challenges, the government is trying to do its best with several policy measures. The administration is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that network connectivity and other necessary amenities are set up in areas where there is no such facility.
Opportunities in the digital education segment:
The integration of technology into the educational framework has opened up a lot of avenues for entrepreneurs, educators and learners to drive growth.
Mobile Learning: Internet users in urban India grew by 4% in 2020 to 323 million, encapsulating 67% of the urban population. 33% of the active internet users in India are from the top 9 cities. According to the IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report, the number of active internet users in rural India will exceed the number of internet users in urban India by 2025. In the last year, the number of internet users in rural areas has grown by 13% to 299 million users.
Blended Model: The convergence of offline and online models is inevitable in the post-pandemic era. In what is popularly known as ‘blended learning’, technology is leveraged to enhance the methods of traditional classroom teaching to achieve a better learning outcome. Face-to-face interactions in combination with virtual connectivity are already largely popular and will continue to be so.
Creative Content Curation: EdTech players can not only augment the learning experience but also tweak the content to make it more suited for virtual distribution and faster learning. The gamification of education is a rapidly growing model with worldwide acclaim. The potential for growth in this particular arena is beyond imagination.
If industries, the government and universities join hands and take the collaborative approach, the entire education sector can undergo a facelift in no time. While the digital transformation is brought about, course managers can begin overseeing design modifications to suit the needs of the students to facilitate better learning through creative means. Innovators can step in and tailor the content for localised needs such that every student has access to quality education without any communication barriers.