India's Edtech Moment
Technology is upending the traditional ways of teaching and learning. What does the future of education hold?
“When I was working at one of India’s top IT companies in 2017, I started getting benched on more and more projects. Managers would choose younger employees who were not really proficient in the project processes but coded in modern languages like Python. I had two choices: rant about the unfairness of it all or level up. I chose the latter,” says Jim George, a 35-year old techie, from Bengaluru.
It’s the story of perhaps most young engineers in India — fresh out of college with a degree and a handful of certificates, but nary a clue about what the workplace demands.
As the prospect of leaving the job seemed unfeasible, George took online courses in deeptech subjects and coding along with the company’s internal skill development courses. He soon was promoted to an offsite job and is now working with clients in the US.
George is among millions of mid-career white-collar workers in Indian cities who have taken up extra classes outside of work in a bid to further their job prospects. In fact, this phenomenon of adults ‘going back to school’ is also playing out in Tier 2 and Tier 3 pockets in India.
For a few years now India’s vast IT workforce has seen a flurry of reskilling with major companies like Infosys, Wipro, Capgemini investing millions into teaching new technologies to employees. Increased pressure on employers to bring employees to global standards, combined with automation and digitisation, means that both white-collar and blue-collar workers are at a very high risk of becoming irrelevant before this decade runs out.
India’s IT Market Comes Of Age
By the end of this decade as many as 375 Mn workers — or roughly 14% of the global workforce — may no longer have their current jobs, a McKinsey Global Institute report said last year. Judging by the extent of job layoffs in the automotive and banking sectors in the last quarter of 2019, this is happening faster than estimated before.
“India’s vast IT workforce, which has powered the nation’s growth in the IT services sector, is in danger of becoming obsolete,” a National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) report says, adding that there is a huge demand-supply gap currently in technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, machine learning, robotics and data science.
But for those who are still studying or have recently graduated and are entering the job market face a rather hard question: Schools and universities have a fixed curriculum that is relevant to that particular time.
A couple of years down the line, who’s to say that the knowledge acquired a few years back is still relevant?
“For organisations around the world to thrive throughout and beyond the 2020s, they will have to invest in comprehensive training programmes for millions of workers,” says the World Economic Forum.
Moreover, the half-life of a job skill today is about five years – and falling according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). By 2022, at least 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling. For organisations around the world to thrive throughout and beyond the 2020s, will have to invest in comprehensive training programmes in digital and data and analytics for millions of workers, a WEF report added.
“If you look at the market, a big change is happening. Twenty years ago, people changed perhaps two to three jobs (over their career). That’s not the case anymore. Now, people have to continuously upgrade their skills. From a one-time education, we have moved to continuous education,” Vivek Kumar, managing director of Springboard India, a skill development online platform told Inc42.
Why Adults Are Going Back To School
Cars that drive themselves, machines that read X-rays, and algorithms that respond to customer-service inquiries are all manifestations of powerful new forms of automation. For employees, this is a worrying time as machines replace human jobs. Many wonder how the shift of technology will affect their relevance in the job market. But skill development startups can solve this headache in more ways than one, through upskilling as well as reskilling workers in technologies that are most in-demand.
Naturally, professionals are herding to online courses in droves. As of 2018, the number of learners at MOOCs (massive open online courses) went up to 101 Mn, and counting, around the globe. Free or low-cost online business courses — offered by the likes of Coursera, Udemy, and edX—have seen an enrollment boom in the past few years, and even India’s state-backed online learning platform has seen a massive uptick since launch. Coursera has led the pack with 45 Mn registered users as of 2019, while India’s Swayam platform has over 10 Mn users, according to one report. But in FY18-19, $6.2 Mn was allocated for SWAYAM, which is 14% lower than allocation two years ago ($7.2 Mn). The efforts of the Indian government do not seem to be on implementation but in policy and institutions.
But startups are definitely alert to the need in the market for skill development. In particular, a slew of startups has looked to upskill Indian tech and non-tech workers in core subjects such as programming, app and software development as well as machine learning, artificial intelligence, blockchain and other emerging technologies.
Pesto Education, an edtech startup focusing on upskilling software developers and does not charge for its courses until the student has found a job, said that soft skills are a big part of their course for programmers. Pesto has developed an India-specific curriculum that not only teaches software development but focusses on bridging cultural gaps and being an effective remote employee. Its data-driven processes ensure productivity in remote working environments.
“We feel that there should be a lot of emphasis on how to communicate better, how to create a workflow which enhances the team’s productivity. This increases the efficiency of anyone working in programming and development”, Ayush Jaiswal, the cofounder and CEO of Pesto said.
Citing an example, Jaiswal said that once a milk seller named Bharani from a very small village of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, enrolled into Pesto’s programme. Apart from coding expertise, the course which also focussed on soft skills helped Bharani land job offers to work as a developer for US companies. “Right now, artificial intelligence is a huge vault for the education industry. Both learners and facilitators can benefit from this innovation. Personalisation is also the key to a 21st-century education. Embracing knowledge is not complete until learners are capable of executing it,” Jaiswal added.
Can Skill Development Help India Catch Up?
Sumeet Jain, cofounder of Yocket, an edtech startup that provides a solution for students planning to study abroad, believes the right choice of course and college can make a big difference in employability. There is a big disconnect between the colleges and industry, this is a place where edtech can help, he said.
“Skill development is a big elephant in the room. Indian engineers have been unemployable, according to Nasscom. If we don’t focus on skilling and reskilling and upskilling, the demographic dividend will very soon turn into a liability,” Jain added.
One of the reasons for this mass movement could be that schools and colleges are not completely equipping students with skills needed to contribute positively to a modern workplace. Another could simply be the cost of stopping work and going back to school. 87% of people learning for professional development report career benefits like getting a promotion, a raise, or starting a new career, according to Coursera’s Learner Outcomes Survey in 2019.
Among the several benefits of edtech, cost-saving is definitely one. While a degree from any reputed foreign college can cost upwards of $50K, online courses cost just a fraction of that along with the added benefit of learning at their convenience.
The menace of skill deficiency in India has had an impact on the overall productivity of the country’s workforce. As per the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in 2018, the output per worker (PPP terms) in India ($18.5K) was 49% lower compared to the world average ($36.6K). With the application of technology, the problem of skill deficiency in the country can be tackled at the early stages of learning itself. Similar to emerging markets in Southeast Asia and Africa, edtech startups in India are spearheading this revolution as well.
The reskilling wave is not a historical first. In the early 20th century, there was a large -scale shift from agricultural work to manufacturing in North America and Europe, and later in China. However this transition took place over many decades, Mckinsey said in a 2019 report.
“I think the magnitude of what’s coming our way is huge,” said Vikram Bhalla, the managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group. “There are some statistics that say about a billion jobs will get reconfigured even before 2030.”
According to global upskilling platform Coursera’s managing director Raghav Gupta, 300 Mn people will be entering the global workforce in the next 10 years of which a whopping one-third or 100 Mn will be from India. China is a distant second at 60 Mn and Brazil is third at 40 Mn.
Neetin Agrawal, CEO and cofounder of Dronstudy which offers video tutorials by IIT faculty told Inc42, “Undoubtedly there has been a gap when it comes to skilled youth. Even in technical fields like engineering, there has been a dip when it comes to employable youth. Providing refined courses and education focused on skilling and reskilling can enhance the overall workforce quality.”
An analysis by BCG showed that a majority of people felt that their livelihoods are affected by global megatrends, that close to two-thirds of respondents (65%) spend significant time on learning each year, from a few weeks to a few months.
However many market watchers and employment firms have been quick to add that the next crop of employees will need not just hard skills but also master cognitive and interpersonal skills that will help them to collaborate better with their colleagues. Like Jonas Prising, chairman and CEO of global staffing company, ManpowerGroup, said, “We think hard skills are going to be important but at the same time creativity, communication and communication are going to be extremely important capabilities to have.”
With inputs from Nikhil Subramaniam