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In-Depth Jobs

Issue no 14, 01-07 July 2023

Leveraging EdTech for Enhanced Access & Inclusivity in Education

Dr Rajesh Kumar

In the past, higher education or specialisation in any discipline was limited to the privileged people due to the scarcity of reading and training materials and the need to travel to centers of knowledge. Today, the internet provides a wealth of information, allowing anyone with access to learn online courses, podcasts, and avail degrees, diplomas and certificates. Technology has democratised learning, offering unprecedented educational opportunities. Moreover, technology has broken down barriers to communication and collaboration in education. Traditional classrooms were isolated, limiting collaboration to students within the same physical space. However, technology has shattered those barriers. For instance, students can explore different subjects and engage with experts through real-time expeditions, blogs, emails, and video conferences and simulations. Students from different locations can collaborate on projects using the Internet of Things (IoT). Technology has expanded the possibilities for learning, communicating, and collaborating beyond the confines of the classroom. Technology has also transformed the roles of teachers and learners. In traditional classrooms, teachers were the main source of information, while students were passive recipients. However, with technology providing easier access to information, teachers now serve as "guide on the side", empowering students to take ownership of their learning. Educational institutions are redesigning learning spaces to foster interaction and utilising technology as an empowering tool. Furthermore, technology has enabled education to be accessible anytime and anywhere. The COVID-19 lockdown had a significant impact on the EdTech sector. During the lockdown, with schools and educational institutions closed, there was a surge in demand for online learning platforms and digitaeducation resources. EdTech companies experienced unprecedented growth as students and parents sought alternative ways to continue education remotely. However, as restrictions eased and schools reopened, the EdTech sector faced new challenges with some learners returning to traditional classrooms. Nevertheless, the pandemic had reshaped the perception and value of online education. EdTech companies had to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of students, educators, and parents. The easing of COVID lockdowns acted as a catalyst for the EdTech sector to innovate further and establish a more prominent and permanent presence in the education landscape. They focused on enhancing their offerings, improving user experience, and providing innovative solutions that complemented traditional classroom settings. EdTech companies are experiencing a remarkable transformation in their objectives and strategies as they adapt to the post-COVID landscape. The education sector has always been crucial for India's development, and the government has been committed to implementing policies that create more opportunities in this industry. The post pandemic scenario has highlighted the need for a hybrid education model, leading to the emergence and expansion of EdTech companies. As students increasingly turn to these platforms, the companies have experienced significant growth in revenue and operations, expanding their product offerings and targeting the global market through mergers and acquisitions. The rise of EdTech startups in India has been driven by entrepreneurs identifying and addressing gaps in the education system with modern business models. Initially, some key gaps included the lack of cost-effective and quality content, a disconnect between content curators and learners, and an imbalanced teacherstudent ratio. The integration of advanced technology into the education system has allowed the industry to overcome these challenges and deliver improved experiences. The Indian EdTech industry has a massive opportunity for growth, with projections suggesting it could become a $10 billion economy by 2025. Several factors contribute to this growth potential, including the high penetration of the internet and smart devices, increased online content consumption, and the demand for skilled professionals in the workforce. EdTech startups have capitalised on this trend by offering a range of products in different formats including visual and textual offerings. As video consumption is projected to comprise 77% of overall internet traffic by 2022, the demand for online educational content is set to grow exponentially.

EdTech for upskilling and reskilling: India has a young employable population, with the majority of EdTech startups targeting the age group of 15 to 64 years. This population segment comprises both the existing employed or employable groups and individuals potentially joining the workforce in the near future. As skill development and online certification become crucial for employability in the modern job market, there is a growing demand for EdTech companies offering these services. The rapid growth of new-age technologies, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain, augmented/virtual reality, and natural language processing, has created millions of jobs in India. However, these domains require specific skill sets that are often lacking in Indian graduates. This has led to an increased demand for upskilling and online learning platforms as professionals seek to acquire the necessary skills. With an estimated 280 million individuals expected to enter the job market by 2050, the need for reskilling and acquiring new skills is becoming increasingly vital for working professionals. However, there are still disparities in digital access, particularly in low-income areas. To bridge these gaps and leverage technology for learning, the National Education Policy 2020 focuses on digital infrastructure, human infrastructure, and logistical systems. The policy aims to create a learner-centered model that offers flexibility in instructional approaches and promotes inclusivity.

Fostering Inclusivity Through PPP: Collaboration between the government and EdTech companies is a key aspect of the National Education Policy. The establishment of the National Education Alliance for Technology (NEAT) promotes collaboration between EdTech companies and academic institutions. NEAT, a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model aims to enhance employability skills, bridge learning gaps, and offer personalised learning experiences. It provides a platform for Indian EdTech startups to collaborate with academic institutions and address the requirements of various industries. NEAT also emphasises inclusivity by offering free course coupons to economically and socially disadvantaged students. NEAT offers a wide range of courses in collaboration with industry partners. These courses focus on making learners job-ready and cover areas such as finance, data science, artificial intelligence, language learning, and cybersecurity. They provide certifications at different skill levels and contribute to bridging the skills divide. NEAT supports educators by providing pedagogical techniques and subject matter expertise, benefiting institutions and enhancing educational offerings. Through collaborative efforts, NEAT and its industry partners merge academic rigor with real-world insights, closing the gap between theory and application. This empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds to succeed and contribute meaningfully to society. NEAT's course catalogue can be accessed through their official website www. https://neat.aicteindia.org. Here is a brief overview of some of the future-ready courses offered through this platform:-

Unique Personalised Finance Lab by Indian Capstone Simulations: This is an innovative product that offers a practical approach to learning finance skills. Developed by practitioners, this product allows students to acquire and demonstrate job-ready finance skills through a range of live work projects. Each simulation is based on real data from listed companies and market prices, providing a personalised finance lab experience. The product offers certifications and simulations for various job roles in finance, such as accountant, treasury manager, wealth manager, analyst, equity trader, credit analyst, and bond market trader. Upon completion of each course, students receive scores and certificates. To pursue the course, one needs to posess basic Excel knowledge and a background in accounting and finance. It is recommended for students pursuing or seeking jobs after BCom, MCom, BFA, BAF, CA, MBA, CFA, and other related programs. The subscriptionbased product provides access to over 70 simulations and offers certifications at different skill levels.

Machine Learning for Data Science Projects by IBM: This is a certification course aimed to provide advanced knowledge and skills in data science and machine learning. To join this course, learners should possess prior knowledge and skills in various topics related to data science as the course covers advanced topics in data science, including data modeling techniques, machine learning, deep learning algorithms, data science automation, and the application of advanced skills in real-world data science scenarios. Learners are expected to roleplay critical roles in a data science team and use AI tools for analytics and automation to solve real problems.

Artificial Intelligence - Certification Course: AI is being scaled across industries at an enterprise level, with businesses using AI for tasks such as empowering digital workforces, transforming customer service through smart chatbots, and enabling global adoption of autonomous cars. The course covers AI technologies like natural language processing, machine learning, neural networks, virtual agents, and computer vision. The course is designed for individuals interested in entry-level jobs in AI-related fields. The prerequisite skills for the course include basic IT literacy. The programme follows a "Train the Trainer" format, where institute faculty members are enabled by IBM to conduct the course. Learners will gain an understanding of the evolution and relevance of AI in today's world and explore the opportunities created by the intersection of human expertise and machine learning and analyse real-world implementations of AI solutions in various industries.

Lanquill: This is an advanced language learning platform that aims to improve English communication skills for learners worldwide. The platform covers all aspects of language learning, including Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing (LSRW), providing comprehensive content, assessments, and certifications. Endorsed by language experts and aligned with international standards such as the Cambridge English Teaching Framework, Lanquill offers tailored language learning and grammar checking features for various purposes, such as thesis, project reports, and publications. The platform is suitable for learners ranging from beginners to advanced levels and is beneficial for students pursuing degrees in Engineering, Management, Arts, Science, Commerce, Journalism, as well as those enrolled in Masters or Doctoral programs. Lanquill provides certification at seven different levels, allowing learners to showcase their skills for career advancement or placement opportunities.

Certificate in Cyber Security by Skills Factory: This course focuses on providing practical, hands-on training in information security and cyber security. The course features real-life simulated lab environments and industry experts as trainers. In today's business landscape, security is crucial due to the increasing reliance on digital networks. The course is designed to help learners enhance their knowledge and skills in preserving the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive data. Any high school graduate can enroll for this course.

Digital Marketing Manager: This course focuses on training candidates to become competent Digital Marketing Managers in the Media and Entertainment industry. The course aims to develop key competencies such as creating digital marketing strategies aligned with organisational goals, implementing and managing digital marketing campaigns, optimising campaign performance and budget allocation, tracking progress and preparing performance reports, managing marketing teams, and maintaining workplace health and safety. The digital marketing field is experiencing tremendous growth worldwide, with increasing demand for qualified managers who understand the significance of online presence. By enrolling in this course, participants can enhance their employability and experience substantial career growth while leveraging the shift from traditional marketing to digital marketing.

Prepbuddies: This is an AI-based learning management system that empowers faculty members to provide course content online to their students. The system offers various features including secure live classes, lecture video sharing, reference material uploading, assignment evaluation, online assessments, and discussion forums. Faculty members can manage all these aspects of the course through a single platform, saving time and streamlining administrative tasks. Students can access the course content through the prepbuddies app available on Google Play Store or Apple App Store, as well as through the web. The platform also provides data analytics to both faculty and students, enabling them to analyse their performance and make improvements.

EdTech Promoting Aatmanirbharta in Education: NEAT actively promotes Indian educational technology companies as part of the "Aatmanirbhar Bharat" mission, facilitating collaboration between these companies and academic institutions. This collaboration aims to bridge the gap between academic learning, upskilling initiatives, and the requirements of various industries. Presently, India boasts a promising landscape of more than 4000 EdTech startups vying for prominence in the market. The NEAT has ushered in additional possibilities for these startups, rendering the market even more enticing and projecting heightened competition in the foreseeable future. Collaborations on the NEAT platform have special focus on vocational skilling, upskilling, and reskilling in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence/machine learning, as well as domains of national importance like quantum computing, 5G, and semiconductor technologies. Moreover, NEAT has taken steps to ensure inclusivity by offering free course coupons or seats, amounting to 25% of the total seats, to economically and socially disadvantaged students.

Countering the Downsides India's EdTech sector, despite being a booming industry, has recently faced numerous challenges, raising concerns about its practices and the need for regulation. Reports of substandard course quality, misleading marketing, lack of transparency, and cheating have flooded social media platforms, leaving students feeling deceived and demanding greater oversight. While the government issued an advisory urging caution, there have been calls from various quarters for stricter regulations. Lawmakers have also expressed concerns about the industry's focus on profit over quality education and highlighted the disparity between the permissions required for traditional educational institutions and the ease with which EdTech firms can operate. Privacy concerns have further fueled the debate, with reports of data collection and tracking practices. Additionally, the EdTech sector has faced financial challenges after easing of the COVID lockdown, leading to layoffs and mounting disillusionment. The industry must address these issues, including abusive work cultures and lengthy working hours, and prioritise rebuilding trust by placing education quality above profit motives.

(The author is Assistant Professor, Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi. He can be reached at rajesh.kumar@cuj.ac.in)

Views expressed are personal.