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Mayank Kumar and Apoorva Shankar

Upskilling India: The $2 bn ed-tech potential

02 November, 2017

One of the most telling signs of the promise that education technology holds is the sheer number and increasing rate of ed-tech players in the Indian market alone. This is because they have all recognised the potential of the market and are trying to tap into various segments of it. The ed-tech industry is all set to grow to $2 billion by 2021, according to a report technology giant Google and consulting firm KPMG. This means that users would rise from 1.6 million to 9.6 million.

The school education segment in India is yet to claim that its students are learning in school and are well-prepared for the rest of their education, eventually being job-ready.

This is why many startups and ed-tech companies are targeting the largest chunk of the online education industry, school education, which roughly has a market share of $73 million. However, technology in education is still supplementary in nature as it will be a while before parents and students are comfortable taking school education completely online.

After school education, the largest market share of the online education industry is captured by the reskilling and certifications providers and test preparation and higher education segments. This is not surprising given the drastically changing industry landscape of the 21st century. Emerging technological trends such as big data, analytics, digital marketing, product development, and more, are rapidly transforming how organisations function. This is changing the way Indians work and the impact is being felt across industries like IT, manufacturing, automobiles, engineering and other traditional verticals. For instance, in 2015-17, tens of thousands of IT employees were laid off¬ by giants like Wipro, Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, and even startups like Flipkart.

This is happening because of a lack of employable skills rather than the inability of the Indian workforce to keep up with the pace of change and adequately match supply with industry demand. Roughly, 50-60% of employers face difficulty filling jobs.

This is where new ed-tech companies step in to help working professionals reskill or upskill themselves while at work. The advantages of online learning programmes in this case are many, including but not limited to low cost and low time commitment (in comparison to offline); flexibility to learn at one’s own pace, which is a major differentiator for working professionals to pick online over offline; personalising courses that is often difficult to achieve in the traditional route of learning; increasing the importance of employee training; constant need to upskill as technologies and job roles become obsolete; industry-relevant and case-study led learning; and of course, expanding Internet penetration and ease of access.

These providers are trying to plug the gaps left by the long chain of command that is the Indian education system. From school education to higher education, many tasks have been left unfinished when it comes to preparing a strong and easily adapting workforce and unfortunately, the brick and mortar investment required to educate and train the relevant demographic is unsustainable at more than $100 billion.

But is the future entirely bright for online education in India? Not quite. While many battles have been waged and won, there are many challenges that still persist:

1. Lack of recognition of reskilling/retraining as a priority: This is displayed by not just policymakers, but also business leaders. A survey on business leaders by the World Economic Forum found that only two-thirds believed that change management and future workforce planning featured as high priority on their organisation’s leadership agenda. By not recognising the need for reskilling and retraining, industry leaders are likely to miss the bus on structural changes and innovation in their fields.

2. Lack of personal interactions: This was often cited as an issue with massive open online courses (MOOCs) and which possibly contributed to the inability of the MOOC model to take off as expected. However, more personalised and blended models are addressing this.

3. Accessibility and affordability: Only 26% of India’s population is online at present. It will take a considerable amount of time for the remaining 74% to come online. The Internet is still an expensive commodity for most in the country and in that sense, access to it is restricted. Financial considerations, connectivity or quality of broadband, language, etc, cause barriers to entry. In absolute terms, India has the third highest number of Internet users but it also has the largest offline population in the world.

4. Perception: Online education is still not viewed as being very academically rigorous, compared to offline, and is not ‘serious learning.’ A British Council report confirmed this too, stating that such qualifications in India are considered second-rate by parents, students and employers. Online education is believed to be similar to working from home and reflects a person’s inability to get admitted into a good quality and well-known academic institution.

However, recent developments show more promise for the development of the sector. Draft regulations released by the University Grants Commission for online education providers show that the online education market will open up even more. The category is also gaining lone due recognition from regulatory authorities.

Mayank Kumar is chief executive and co-founder of online professional education startup UpGrad.

Apoorva Shankar leads the content marketing and online scholarship verticals at UpGrad.

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Upskilling India: The $2 bn ed-tech potential

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