Success of any technology depends on its importance for the society at large. As India has the world’s largest youth population, educational institutions play an important role in the national growth. Nidhi Arora, executive editor at EFY, in conversation with Reekrit Serai, co chair at Confederation of Indian Industry, explores technology adoption in the Indian education sector and possible business opportunities
Q. What are the popular technologies driving the current and future wave of education?
A. There are many trends picking up steam, but the major ones that will make any lasting impact are 3D printing (provided through Makerspaces or Atal Tinkering Labs in India), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) including deep and machine learning, gamification and a gradual shift towards flip learning.
Q. How do these technologies benefit the education system and students at large?
A. In these disruptive times, children should get access to new technologies as their future employability and success depend on being able to use technology efficiently. I met an edupreneur recently and we discussed pedagogical innovation through technology. He refused to create an AI for his EdTech platform. I was baffled.
“I don’t want to include technology only for the sake of it. It should really add value to the content”—if we keep this ethos in mind, and not merely beef-up on technology because it sounds fancy, I think we can really add a lot of value to the teaching-learning process. For example, we have a 3D printing lab in our school, which is linked to the core curriculum of NCERT so that students are able to practically apply what they’ve learnt in the class in real time and real life.
Q. Are educational institutes ready for these technologies? What are the major challenges in technology adoption?
A. First, there is a mindset issue. The faculty needs to understand that technology is here to make their lives simpler and not harder.
Second, there is limited access to good technology. Mostly regional vendors are monopolising the influx of technology in schools by sharing lower-quality me-too products.
Third, teachers need to be trained properly by the right agencies. Institutions need to invest in training.
Fourth, budgetary constraints. Technology is expensive. That’s why it needs to be linked to the core curriculum to yield a better return on investment (ROI).
Lastly, implementation takes time. I met the principal of a school in Maharashtra who told me that it took the teachers one year to start using e-mail. Why? They didn’t know the basics of a computer. This is an extreme case. But, look at how Facebook and WhatsApp drive deep penetration into the Indian rural population.
One major challenge is lack of awareness regarding the role and utility of newer technologies. Another challenge is financial constraints. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. But it’s more of a chicken-egg problem. Does adopting newer technology lead to revenue growth? Or is it a sunk cost without any financial return? I feel an investment in right technology leads to quantified benefits in terms of revenue too.
Q. Are the required tech resources, both hardware and software, easily available to the educational institutions?
A. In metros and tier-1 cities, there is definitely good availability. A lot of good companies are trying to target tier-2 and smaller cities. I think it’s a matter of natural progression. Technology tends to seep down to smaller cities if there is adaptability in metros and larger cities.
Most schools understand technology as smart classes, tablets, IT labs and Wi-Fi. Investment in a technology that drives academic growth would vary as per the infrastructure, number of students, etc. There is no size fits all.
Q. How big is the opportunity for technology providers? Who all are stakeholders in the business?
A. There is tremendous potential as the whole market is virtually untapped in India. But, as mentioned above, lack of awareness and hesitation in adopting new technologies are major hurdles.
I think if educationists are willing to invest in these companies and mentor them, like I’m doing, there can be faster growth and adaptability. A little evangelism is required. But, everything takes time.
It’s like telling a professional driver that unless he upgrades himself, he will be replaced with an autonomous car. Some may see this as a threat, whereas others see an opportunity. I am happy to say that the ed-tech startups funded by us, including 3Dexter, YoScholar, Edyoo, ChildAcademy, SmartPortVR, EduRev, Simunalis and StudyMarvel, are really doing some wonderful work in core academics and ancillary services. This shows that right relationships can drive sustainable business.
Q. In terms of adaptability, how does India compare with the other countries?
A. Adaptability takes time. Let me give an example of e-books. The trend virtually bypassed India until a few years ago. Even now, there aren’t many e-book readers. Let me share another example of tablets. How many of us actually use one? You can count the number of tablet users you know on your fingers. What about VR-headsets? Barring a few gamers, no layman would have one.
Why? Because adaptability of technology in India trickles down from developed countries. If it’s cool in the US, it’s cool here. You can replace the US with other major countries, and even China to a certain extent. But, the smartphone revolution has baffled everyone. Maybe things work in India if these are relatively cheaper and widely available.