Rameez Hashmi delves into the progression of EdTech as a result of the pandemic whilst exploring what its future may look like moving forward.
The Realm of EdTech Today
Is EdTech merely a consequence of circumstances or perhaps a great equalizer for global education? Many would hail 2020 as the Year of EdTech, a year where the pandemic has forced us to adopt technology, transition to new and unfamiliar systems and created opportunities far and wide. With $10 Billion in investments and prominent Venture Capitalists such as Lightspeed and a16z adopting education theses, the path ahead may seem promising.
An Evolution of Learning or Moonshots at Best?
Prior to the pandemic, EdTech failed to galvanise the masses, plagued with what could be characterized as clunky software and badly specified hardware. The pandemic forced a scramble towards digital education that has not been without its growing pains. Yet, backed by enormous capital inflows, the sector has seen rapid innovation in the form of numerous startups. Among them lies Byju’s, India’s 2nd most valuable startup worth nearly $11 Billion. They offer personalised tutoring from India’s best teachers, with nearly 65 million users currently using their platform. Of those only 4 million of those users pay a fee of $135 annually to gain access to personalised tutoring, alongside the repository of lessons and video available to all the users. Testimonials from a variety of users show high levels of engagement, Kriti an 11th-Year student says, “I think after the pandemic is over, most of the students will continue to use Byju's instead of going back to their physical tuitions”. The convenience of virtual learning paired with the individualized tutoring has played a large role in capitalizing on a culture of extra-curricular tuition within India.
Meanwhile, a Bengaluru-based startup, Quizizz, has witnessed an organic growth of nearly 15 million active users since June, a 30% increase. With a global user base of 65 million active users across 150 countries, the startup uses a time-tested quizzing method. Essentially, teachers can create quizzes, assign a quiz from a repository of 100 million questions or host a live quiz amongst their class for a competitive experience. The mixture of competitiveness and work-at-your-own pace learning, has led to a USP. As founder, Ankit Gupta, puts it “we look to make learning more engaging and fun via gamification and analytics,”.
With over 4000 EdTech startups and $2.2 billion in capital inflows in India alone, there is certainly a good diversity of approaches, niches and solutions to what has become the foremost concern globally.
The Great Equalizer or A Driver of Disparity?
Yet while startups around the world are innovating new models, how effective have they been in educating the less affluent? What of large families with limited access to the Internet and a small range of devices to share amongst themselves? For example, Byju’s caters to the better off students in larger cities that would traditionally attend costly tuition, whilst Quizizz requires stable internet access and a mobile device. Meanwhile, a survey of 1200 US School Administrators revealed that the digital divide is the top challenge faced by schools in maximising student success with a 31% vote. According to a World Bank report, nearly 72 million primary school children are at risk of falling into “learning poverty”, meaning that the need for an equitable and broad scale solution has never been more urgent.
These 2 reports raise an interesting notion around the divide in EdTech in Eastern countries relative to their Western counterparts. Take the UK for example, through project “Janet”, the Government provides an educational backbone that connects schools and universities with service providers in order to effectively access the Global Web. This serves to highlight the stark difference in digital infrastructure that lies at the root. Whilst global funding and donations are helping to bridge this gap, innovative solutions are needed in the EdTech to circumvent massive digital spending.
To this end, a South Korean startup named TagHive, a result of Samsung’s C-Lab Incubator, is making an interactive classroom solution that looks to bring education to all. Through use of a complex AI backend, they are able to deliver personalised learning to children both at home and in the classroom, with lessons available online and offline. It’s patent pending clicker-based solution enables affordability and low technological requirements so that it becomes a viable solution for rural areas. With 450 onboarded in South Korea within 1 year, they expanded to the Indian market where they have partnered with state governments to reach more than 2000 schools. They attribute a key factor in their success to be the Business to Consumer solution known as the “At Home Learning” app that has over 100,000 downloads.
Governments, Charities and Organisations are rapidly investing in the provision of technological infrastructure in order to lay the rails for potential wide-spread solutions. The World Bank’s Education Global Practice has invested nearly $5.2 Billion in supporting the implementation of cost effective EdTech in over 62 countries. It’s efforts have reached over 400 million students and 16 million teachers. As the foundation is developed we may see the emergence of new and promising EdTech unicorns in 2021.
A Future Beyond the Pandemic?
With vaccines rolling out, many if not all of us welcome the return to real interaction in conventional educational systems. Yet the impact of EdTech is here to stay, hopefully in a manner that complements and synergises with existing frameworks as opposed to cannibalising them. A study by Promethean showed that nearly 70% of educators embrace innovation, whilst over 82% say the future will be a balance between technological advancement and traditional education. In a post-COVID world the classroom has broken the shackles of 4 walls, with EdTech being the key enabler. Whether it be 10 or 20 years from now, the future of education has undeniably been changed. What remains to be seen is whether it will be a system-wide revolution or a hybrid partnership.
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