Edtech startups raised more than $1.43 Bn across 100 deals between January 1 to December 15, 2020. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown forced both parents and educational institutions to turn to tech enabled learning solutions to ensure children’s education wasn’t left in the lurch, resulting in the sector being the most funded in the country.
All eyes are on 2021 now.
Will this momentum sustain, as schools in most states start resuming in-person classes for K-12 grades in February?
The Blume Ventures edtech report predicts that the country’s edtech market is now poised to become $4 Bn by 2025 from the current $750 Mn. Interestingly, out of the projected $4 Bn, a whopping $1.5 Bn will be focussed on K-12, after school foundational and pre-college prep. Skills like early literacy (English reading and fluency) and numeracy (mathematics) will see more focus.
The National Education Policy of 2020 reflected this sudden emergence of edtech into the spotlight, by stressing the importance of leveraging technology in education solutions.
Even pre-Pandemic, the K-12 learning outcomes numbers were dire. As per the ASER 2018 report, only 20.9% Std 3 students in government schools and 40.6% in private schools can read a Std 2 text. In Std 5, this number rises only to 50%.
So, if formal schools are shut down for a whole year, how will learning outcomes like reading be impacted? The ASER 2020 Wave-1 report suggests that while only 30% families of children who went to government schools, 50% families of children who went to private schools owned smartphones in 2018. This number rose sharply to 56% and 74%, triggered by the sudden transition to online learning.
However, just access to devices and connectivity doesn’t automatically translate to effective learning. Hence, the need to enable inclusive remote learning, track learning outcomes, and make learning content available in regional languages, as NEP 2020 suggests, is of the highest priority.
One of the main edtech hurdles that was overcome in 2020 was amassing consensus over the adoption of technology to enable learning. Schools which had previously been hesitant to make the shift were forced to. So while in-person learning might still be a part of the ‘new normal’, one can’t deny the advantages digital learning has presented us with anymore. The term ‘screen time’ doesn’t automatically evoke apprehension from parents anymore. Brands that promote and create good screen time content that productively engages children will win the market.
While many initially struggled, across the country, teachers have successfully transitioned to online teaching, effectively managing entire classrooms over multiple learning platforms.
Blended learning, which combines digital and traditional place based learning, will now become an intrinsic part of K-12 as well and won’t just be exclusive to higher education as it previously has been. All of these trends suggest that technology might become more intrinsically tied with education.
However, the previously established dichotomy of teachers and technology has been shattered. It has now become evident that technology will not replace teachers but rather empower them, giving them the tools and platform they’ll need to ensure effective in-class learning. Small ratio classes like 1:5 or even 1:7 have worked really well because personalized attention on specific student needs could still be accomodated. Quality learning outcomes can only be achieved in adaptive and personalized digital classrooms where a combination of tech enabled-teacher led-AI backed system and curriculum is at play.
So while the market might have scope for expansion, what is going to determine players’ success in the industry is not merely going to be what they teach and how they teach it but how they track what’s being taught and whether the desired outcome is achieved. Foundational academics and early social skill development would have to evolve beyond textbooks and aim to equip children with the tools to succeed in a world that’s rapidly changing.
Learning outcomes or even classroom engagement will not be similar in a 1:40 digital classroom, as most colleges and schools that had to quickly transition online found out last year. Pedagogical approaches will have to become more dynamic. The future of digital learning will have to be more personalized.
Those focusing on improving clearly defined foundational learning outcomes are likely to create impact. When it comes to the education sector, long term impact always trumps short term goals. We may have likely overestimated what we can do in 1 year and underestimated what we can achieve in 10 years. So asking the question ‘will the edtech ‘bubble’ burst in 2021’ seems shortsighted. Instead of asking ‘how will edtech sustain the momentum’, seems more prudent and productive.
While there are still many gaps that need to be filled, it is becoming clear that engagement-driven personalized content, adaptive digital classrooms and blended learning approaches will define the sector in the coming years. These are by no means easily achievable goals.
To keep up the momentum, edtech needs to adapt itself to rapidly changing learning needs not just in 2021 but in the decade ahead. Then we can answer definitively that not only will the bubble not burst, but that technology, backed by human intervention, will be the sustainable solution for long term impact at scale.