Sarita Digumarti is the Chief Learning Officer at UNext Learning. She is responsible for academics, content, and delivery for online degrees, certifications, and enterprise (B2B) programmes at UNext. Prior to assuming her current role in UNext Learning, she was the COO and Co-founder of Jigsaw Academy. She holds an M.B.A. in Finance from T.A. Pai Management Institute and a Master in Arts, Quantitative Economics from Tufts University.
Historically, learners migrate to big cities to pursue higher education degrees due to the possible unavailability of quality education in their regions. To some extent, distance/correspondence education tried to take education to individual households but could not achieve its goal altogether. The advent of digital technologies enabled digital learning, which proved to be very useful during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, learning from home or remote learning has become an integral part of education – from kindergarten to research studies.
Globally, education technology flourished as an independent sector during the last two years, thanks to pandemic-induced online education. Incorporating various technologies and tapping new segments, the sector registered a massive growth in these tiring years. With EdTech solutions, institutions could continue their academics by providing quality education to their students, who were distributed across regions during the lockdown.
The increasing internet userbase, expansion of high-speed connectivity, and changing consumer behaviour support the growth of the EdTech industry. As per an estimate by a global market research firm, the EdTech market was valued at USD 254.80 billion in 2021 and forecasted to be USD 605.40 billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 15.52%. The Indian market also witnessed exponential growth. According to Statista, the Indian EdTech industry is valued at USD 2.8 billion and will reach USD 10.4 billion by 2025.
More and more people from tier-2 and tier-3 cities, and rural areas are using digital technologies such as smartphones, e-wallets, digital payment systems etc, and have started exploring the possibilities of learning from top institutions. The smaller towns and villages contain a large youth population, who are eager to acquire degrees or similar qualifications or skills to secure lucrative jobs. The focus of EdTech companies has now turned to providing quality education to these people. They’re unleashing a host of innovations and features to adopt these segments.
EdTech to fulfill aspirations
Let’s find how EdTech is fulfilling the aspirations of people from lower-tier cities and towns:
- Learn from top institutions: Top-ranked higher education institutions in countries like India are in metropolitan cities. For example, IITs in Delhi, Bombay and Madras, IISc Bangalore, and several other public and private HEIs are in metropolitan cities. Though the Indian government attempted to establish premier institutions in tier-2 and tier-3 cities, a large section of students is from big cities. On the other hand, EdTech companies are trying to take education from top institutions to the fingertips of each learner, irrespective of their location.
- Affordable education: Online education reduces the cost of education. Education cost puts off the higher education dreams of many brilliant students, especially those outside tier-1 cities. Students are often unable to spend the required money on accommodation, food, travel, and other allied requirements, besides course/tuition fees. In online education, students need to pay only course/tuition fees, that too often lesser than an offline course. Several EdTech companies offer scholarships, stipends, and no-cost EMIs.
- Study on the go: The major feature of EdTech solutions is high convenience and flexibility to learners. Since all the learning activities are conducted through a learning management system (LMS), learners can access the course content and attempt the assessments and tests at their convenient time. Even working professionals can study without altering their work schedules. EdTech entities focus on developing their LMS compatibility with low bandwidth of internet, thus enabling anytime, anywhere learning.
- A sense of security: Families in 3rd and 4th rung cities and villages are reluctant to send their children, especially girls, to far-away cities due to security concerns. This remains a key concern for rural women’s literacy. Since EdTech companies facilitate education from the comfort of their homes, parents from lower-tier cities find online learning as the safest mode of education. It enables more students- both female and male- to continue their education without relocating from their homes. Married women and new moms also find it feasible to achieve their dreams through this mode.
- Outcome-based approach: Along with delivering the best content, the EdTech approach is towards the outcome of the courses, which includes improving the productivity of the learners by enabling future-oriented employability skills. Moreover, online courses are designed with industry inputs. EdTech platforms employ individuals with high practical experience as faculty and course coordinators. Regular interaction with industry experts and leaders is provided to learners. All these help students acquire up-to-date industry insights and build and expand their professional networks to succeed in the future workplace.
- Higher employment opportunities: Almost all the e-learning providers prepare the learners to become job-ready with required skill sets and offer career assistance or placement support upon successful completion of the course. This EdTech approach enables students from any location to find a suitable job and remain relevant throughout their professional life. Unemployment among the graduates is very high, especially among the rural graduates. A 2017 All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) study found that over 60% of engineering graduates remain unemployed every year. Employers report skill deficiency among graduates. Incorporating industry inputs and focusing on the employability of students will improve employment prospects.
The boom of online education and the EdTech industry is inevitable amid the advancement of digital technology. Countries like ours realised its potential at the initial stage and facilitated EdTech growth with supportive policies. Acknowledging online education as a vital mode of education, the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 emphasised its significance in improving the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in education, specifically in higher education. By expanding its operations to new geographies, EdTech companies can help the nation achieve a higher GER in the coming years.
In sum, the prospects of EdTech industries to meet the educational aspiration of learners in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier cities and villages are very high. We will witness its full potential in the coming years.