Online education –  For Indian minds

Gayathri | Thursday, October 20, 2016 9:59 AM IST

Education is the key to inclusive growth in any society. India is a young country with nearly 300 million people in the 19-35 age group. Based on the recent FICCI–EY report, currently India’s gross enrolment at 22 percent (30 million) is one of the lowest in the world, compared to 90 percent in the US, 62 percent in the UK and 31 percent in China. If we need to push our ratio even high enough to match China’s, then that amounts to educating an additional 15 million students – which seems like an overwhelming task, especially through our traditional brick-and-mortar education system.

The traditional education throws two major hurdles our way – accessibility and financial affordability. Business education is very expensive in India, especially considering the ROI on them. The tuition fees for premier B-schools in India are very high and they spike periodically. This situation pushes a majority of applicants to the lower tier schools, which have a mixed track record with respect to their placements. A working professional who is evaluating going to a business school in India may be extremely discouraged when (s)he takes into account the tuition costs, living expenses and most importantly the loss of pay during the period of education in a full-time programme. Of course, the lucky few who bag a great placement after the course may get a strong ROI for their time and money invested in a top tier B-school.

If we consider the distance learning method in India, it lacks the quality to deliver desired results. Of the 30 million higher education students, approximately five million are distance learning students. This means they receive self-study materials and enroll for end-of-term examinations. The system seems scalable and eliminates the need for additional infrastructure, but the students barely learn anything, have no professional guidance and lack the skills to tackle real-world problems. These students often end up in the lowest rung in terms of employability.

Technological disruption in education – our only ray of hope

Technology has disrupted industries across the globe and even in India, especially the retail, information accessibility and communication sectors. Now a fundamental change driven by technology has entered the education sector.

The latest developments in technology offer competitive and effective alternatives to traditional teaching. Today, we have blended learning, online courses and Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs). Each leverages IT infrastructure in varying degrees. Online learning is sweeping away the ground beneath us as we know it and replacing it with globalised, technology-enabled world of teaching and learning.

The year 2015 alone has witnessed nearly 591 edtech startups in India.The annual increase in the edtech startups indicates that Indian students are voracious online learners. Class Central indicates that nearly 35 million students across the world have enrolled for online courses in 2015, as compared to 15 million in 2014. And nearly 10 percent of these students are Indians! Over the last few years, online learning has shown impressive growth numbers, thus drawing investors’ attention. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife's, Priscilla Chan, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, made its first investment in Asia in Bengaluru-based Byju’s, a mobile-based online learning company. This company is already backed by Sequoia Capital and Sofina, among others – and this is a clear indication of how this sector is being perceived.

With the increasing need to up-skill and further increasing number of students seeking education, there has been a tremendous rise of interest in online learning. The widespread connectivity of Internet access and the various international educational institutions joining open online learning have equipped Coursera – the market leader in online learning – with 1,500 courses from universities and schools across the world; they currently cater to 1.5 million students in India. Other top players in this sector such as edX and Khan Academy have similar success in terms of enrollment numbers and the wide array of courses offered. Byju’s, however, has a different model than these MOOC platforms, as it generates its own content for the video classes and tests offered on its Learning App, which has already surpassed 5.5 million downloads and has over 2,50,000 annual paid subscriptions.