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The Digitization of the Indian Education Sector: Finally a reality?

 

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For long, the idea of implementing educational technology in India has largely been limited to niche segments that include either the prestigious educational institutions or well -funded private colleges or government initiatives that cover only a few rural establishments. Widespread adoption of educational technology has been a long distant dream. It is primarily because of this factor that investors and technology providers have traditionally shied away from venturing into the technical domain. However the scenario is set to change on account of two factors – the introduction of digital educational tools & the awareness around it and secondly, the emergence of the neo middle class that is willing to spend for quality education.

The typical Indian classroom in schools and universities that was once characterized by students sitting through one hour long monologues by teachers is gradually giving way to digital teaching. This has largely been possible because of the symbiotic participation of educational technology vendors and educational institutions especially the affordable private school segment. The technology penetration in private schools has been found to be very high and thus this has been the playing ground of technology vendors for some time now. For instance, EduComp, one of the first Indian companies in this space has launched the SmartClass which is a digital content library of curriculum mapped multimedia rich 3-D content. Further, the fact that more than 12,000 schools have adopted across 560 districts in India have adopted the Smartclass emphasizes the growing penetration of digital education in India.

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The increased penetration of digital education in schools in India has been an interesting phenomenon given that the education system in India had not changed for decades. Previously, the high costs of digital technology posed a major roadblock to the former’s adoption. However, innovative strategies from a few vendors have changed the scenario. For instance, after realizing that high upfront costs prevented schools from buying software for digital classrooms, Educomp offered to make the initial investments. Schools were allowed to

make the remaining payments in installments over the next 3-5 years. Further, Pearson charges rates as low as $2 for every student for every month. Such strategies have worked and schools are keen on adopting digital education as a part of their curriculum.The good news for firms willing to invest in educational technologies is that though schools are willing to adopt such technologies, only a few have actually implemented them. While multimedia teaching has penetrated into only 10% of private schools, it is yet to make any significant inroads into government schools. This implies that there is a huge potential market (the total number of schools in India currently stand at 1.3 million) waiting to be untapped.

Further, owing to the rising income of the middle class, people are now willing to spend more than before on the education of their wards. Interestingly, this trend has been on the rise in tier 2 and tier 3 cities along with the metros. In fact, popular educational technology vendors such as EduComp, Everonn and Pearson report that more than half of the demand for such products comes from schools in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Schools in these cities have begun considering digital media as a means to expose their students to a level of exposure as students from tier one cities. Further, parents are willing to spend a premium to arrange for the best educational experience for their wards.

Meanwhile, firms such as Edureach ( a subsidiary of EduComp) are collaborating with state governments to tap into rural educational institutions. However, till date the adoption of multimedia tools in the rural sector has not been very impressive mainly on account of lack of basic infrastructure and logistical issues. The same reasons also currently prohibit its potential as a market for educational technologies. Nevertheless, the efforts of the government directed towards improving rural literacy will involve the use of digital tools. As of now, the private school segment looks ready to absorb such technologies provided that the concerned vendors offer competitive prices. Further, care should be taken that the products are relevant to the requirements of the Indian education industry.

This Blog is written by Akansha Sahoo, Sr Analyst with DART Consulting

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