Technology in education dates back to the 1980s in India. TV programmes were organised by the UGC (University Grants Commission) and other state governments promoted institutions. Over the last few decades, we have made progress from smart classrooms to virtual live classes, video lessons and e-learning platforms to AI based coaching. To the urban elite, access to the world’s best content and tutors is not a challenge. Education has been democratised to extents never seen before in our country. However, the sector continues to face the challenge of readying students with skills that employers are seeking. To make matters complicated, the world is changing fast; new technologies keep developing and the demand for new skills continues to emerge every few years. Thus, the knowledge imparted and skills taught in schools and colleges needs periodic refreshing. Edtech provides us with the opportunity to keep pace with the changes around us. The pandemic of COVID-19 has pushed us to adopt many new practices. How does edtech embrace these developments and seize the opportunity?
Job, employability and expertise are the key areas of focus for higher education and the finishing schools. Similarly, the areas of focus for the school level of education is moral values, life skills and exposure to multiple possibilities. Poor implementation aside, these have long been our guiding principles. Yet traditional education providers have found it hard to stand up to these expectations fairly.
They are unable to attract the best minds to teach in their schools and colleges; their methods of education and content delivery are not getting refreshed quickly enough. The evaluation methods used to categorise the output do not correlate well with the success of a student in his or her future. As a result, students and parents often become disenchanted with these providers barring a few exceptions who stand apart in all these dimensions. The challenge is bigger when we come to higher levels of education. For every edtech player, may it be in the domain of K12, higher education, exam prepping or skill building and certification, these basic principles continue to hold good.
The world is changing fast and more of that due to COVID-19 such as the need of working from home, avoiding travel and gatherings, adapting quickly to new areas of focus and so on. Many traditional providers of education have not been agile in their thinking and hence, have not been able to revamp their courses, methods and industry alignments. They need to engage with their students, alumni, recruiters and industry colleagues to listen to their experiences and expectations. Hence, edtech players must recruit people who are naturally adaptable, who listen to their stakeholders and who are quick in execution.
Secondly, we need to rethink the other components of our talent strategy. This will allow us to focus our efforts on a select few areas of talent landscape while the other wheels of execution run on the momentum created by the core talent of the organisation. Leaders have to take the bold decision of defining which talent is core to their organisation, put their hearts and souls in attracting, engaging and developing them. This is not to say that the others in the organisation can be dispensed with and are worthless. This is simply to acknowledge the fact that time and efforts are limited; we will focus on areas which deliver long term and sustainable results while the short-term goals and results are owned up by the talent who is core to the company. The right mix of outsourced staff and gig workers with staff in permanent roles is desirable.
Over the last 5 years, more than 4000 edtech companies have started in India, it is a 2 billion USD opportunity. There are a million plus schools which are yet to adopt digital education; millions of tutors and private institutions who need their online presence and education; millions of students across the spectrum who have smart phones and internet connectivity raring to learn online.
The opportunity is immense, the power of the idea and the nimbleness to make course-corrections in execution is critical. The discipline and rigour of the leadership team in seeing the idea translate into a commercial success is supercritical.
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