Is online education in India heading to the right direction?

Education in India is a pretty debatable topic amongst the intellectuals. With Primary and Secondary education system in the country is solely aimed at building students to qualify and choose the next education “stream” followed by entering a college to spend the next three to four years, it becomes very monotonous for teenagers. Picking up skills, looking forward and getting ready for the first job is something not every one of them is able to do because again, they’re stuck in getting through the college, unscathed. Enter online education that has been serving the students since the last few years.

According to a report by KPMG titled “Online Education in India: 2021”, India’s online education sector is set to become a 1.96 billion USD industry catering to more than 9.6 million users by the year 2021. That’s an 8x growth from an industry that in 2016 was valued at 247 million USD with 1.6 million user base. The major areas which will witness the growth in e-Learning are the supplementary education in schools, test preparation courses for competitive exams, skill enhancement certifications, higher education and non-academic learning.

TechRadar India spoke to Mr Gopal Devanahalli, Senior Vice President of Manipal Global Education who helms various digital initiatives in education in India.

Online education in India rose to fame with Coursera and edX so much so that it now commands the largest user base outside of the US in the field of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) backed by all the major providers. We asked Mr Devanahalli about some of the companies that are preferred by graduates to which he explained, “A large number of e-learning companies such as Jigsaw Academy and ProLearn have emerged in India. Such companies are preferred by learners to upskill themselves to job requirements which are immediate and in demand. Graduating students and job seekers also prefer such avenues for their 1st job. Companies find them as a good conduit for creating a good talent pool in emerging areas such as digital marketing, android development and data science. Manipal ProLearn, for example, is a preferred partner for Google in android development and digital marketing.”

But in this crowd of companies offering online education, it takes a mix of expertise in technology, education pedagogy, customer experience management & content relevance, to survive and stand out.

Companies offering quality e-learning courses is just one category of growth in the online education market. Basic know-hows of working on a computer or smartphone and accessibility to the Internet share an equal importance. Along with this, in a price sensitive market like India, the cost of the online course also matters. In the last five years alone, a lot of technical advancements have been made in the field of e-learning. Users can now learn on-the-go as the content is packaged into modules that can be accessed almost anywhere as long as they have access to the Internet and a smartphone.

“With content being universally available to all, packaging the content in a manner which is best suitable for consumption and enabling an optimal and effective learning experience have emerged as key differentiators in the eLearning technology space. From providing a document in a PDF format in a web portal, today’s content interacts with the learner in a mobile device. Learning has moved to a social & a collaborative environment from isolation. Text books have given way to games and simulations. Digital Marketing from ProLearn offers a simulated environment for the learner to practice digital marketing concepts like bidding on AdWords. Another game changer in recent times are learning on mobiles and this demanded that the content be refurbished without reducing the depth. Tutor bots have emerged to provide learning support 24*7,” Mr Devanahalli tells us.

As for internet penetration, the government of India helming its Digital India initiative and Reliance Jio disrupting the telecom space in India to a level where costs of a data pack have been reduced to a great extent, it’s not long till everyone in the country will have access to the web. “The rapidity with which technology has made itself omnipresent in our life presents a great opportunity to improve our education system. The universities and regulators need to make use of it to deliver quality education to all. MOOCs should be integrated with the mainstream education to allows us to address the lack of quality faculty and also to provide the most relevant content to our students,” adds Mr Devanahalli.

Whether initiatives by the government such as Digital India, Skill India and Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) are in line with the ground reality of the employment situation in the country, Mr Devanahalli states that speed of executing these programs pan-India is the key. “The market is changing so rapidly that many jobs that are in demand today weren’t even existing ten years back. This reality demands that regulators and policy makers be proactive,” he says.

Global technology companies including Apple, Google and now Microsoft have ventured into classrooms with their online education solutions which according to Mr Devanahalli is “a welcome move and will result in more innovation in the online education space which is very important for India. Where they lack, will be the education expertise which can be overcome through strategic alliances with existing players in the education industry.”

But again, these things are like gears moving in sync, driving force for the machine, just like education. All stakeholders – government, industry, universities and people have an important role to play. Mr Devanahalli wants the government to focus more on growing the economy, improving ease of business, enabling the startup ecosystem and making the regulatory system for education effective. Industries working closely with colleges will ensure that right education is imparted by the institutions falling under the requirements of the industries. And colleges leveraging latest technologies along with inspiring students for e-learning will help them improve their skill set. But ultimately it’s up to the student to take advantage of quality content present online.

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