Tech-driven education in India: Bridging the gap

Prof. Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit Vice Chancellor (JNU)
Prof. Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit Vice Chancellor (JNU)

25 Jan, 2023

India's growth story in recent years can best be visualized as a tale of 'two cities' told through the discourses of gaps, divides and disparities. The Covid crisis made these fault lines more visible and uglier. Much of the technological transformation underway in urban and metropolitan parts was spearheaded to create deliverables for the less fortunate counterparts in rural India. One major endeavour has been in the field of education. The paradigm shift began in 2014 where a courageous rediscovery into civilizational values of balance between tradition and modernity, realm and region, continuity with change, excellence with equity and innovation with inclusion.

When personal contact and mobility became difficult, India took a giant leap towards creating a digitally empowered and inclusive society. The challenges were immense, and access to the Internet was low, especially in rural India. However, with 560 million internet subscriptions in 2018, up from 238.71 million in 2013, India is the second-largest internet subscription market in the world and could provide a conducive focus ecosystem for the tech market companies to innovate in the field of education.

Urban India benefited immensely from the mushrooming of edutech companies offering a wide spectrum of online educational services. The edutech market in India was about US$2.5 billion in 2020 and is estimated to increase four folds in the next five years to reach about US$10 billion. During the Covid crisis, it was realized that schools must undergo digital transformation. Therefore, all efforts were made to make learning more inclusive and intuitive.

India has about 312,000 common service centres across the country, providing 350 Internet- enabled services, including education. In 2020, during the Covid crisis, the Diksha—one- nation-one-digital-platform—was launched to post a large number of educational content published by NCERT, CBSE and others to give universal and uniform access to students across all states and union territories to quality knowledge. The portal has embedded technology for students with visual and hearing impairments. Video recordings of more than 2000 textbooks have been uploaded on the portal and can be accessed in 31 Indian languages.

India's tech-driven education has been ensuring digital access and digital inclusion to children and students in the remotest parts of the country. Edutech platform 'first-in-class' flags its social values and has signed MoU with Rotary India literacy mission to create the largest free edutech initiative in India and worldwide. The initiative was taken to mark India's 75th year of independence-Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav; nothing could be more significant than dispelling the darkness of ignorance.

Many non-profit organizations took the initiative to bridge the digital divide by empowering teachers with technology like AI-enabled WhatsApp Chatbot. The interactive chatbots helped teachers adopt and learn digital skills for teaching and learning purposes.

Many Indians can read and write only in one of India's more than 30 official languages. They cannot access the information on personal computers and laptops with English keyboards. Several Indian software developers have enabled the reach of information and education to the Indian masses In the local languages.

In 2020, India had one of the highest gender gaps in technology access. In 2015, only 10 percent of internet users in India's rural areas were women. They suffered from information poverty due to the digital divide. However, smartphone usage among Indian women has increased phenomenally. India has a little more than 300 million households; smartphone usage is in about 200 million households, with at least one or more women user in each household.

Internet became handheld through the usage of smartphones trickling down to villages. Digital technology facilitated formal education and contributed immensely to building skills in the informal sector. People learned new skills from Internet-enabled devices, became self- employed, and ran small businesses, which was a lifesaving opportunity during Covid. India's contribution to ensuring inclusiveness is illustrated in the falling costs of data. India is the second largest smartphone user in the world, and the cost of data is among the lowest and has come down to Rs 0.10 per GB.

One major concern in India's education sector has been the rising cost, and several Indian students opted to study in countries like Ukraine and others to get professional education at affordable cost. Edutech companies provide digital access to quality education and smart governance options, thereby reducing the institutions' overhead costs. The Open Learning, is a successful example of offering affordable education and has broken the boundaries to deliver education to the learner's doorstep. It offers a flexible learning model blended with online education-aided and social tools like Moodle, WhatsApp, etc. Moreover, it strives to embed audio and video recorded lectures on online applications, facilitating the teaching and learning process for educators and learners.

India aims to become a major education hub with tech-driven content creation and dissemination within an inclusive, multidisciplinary framework. In 2021 India broke the Chinese record of having the largest number of unicorn start-ups in one year; Edu tech start- ups have a sizeable presence among them. Moreover, with new technologies like AI and blockchain, learning is accelerated, and careers are transformed.

After the Covid experience, the new normal is beset with greater comfort and confidence in online educational platforms. The students favourably weigh the cost-benefit and flexibility of online courses vis-à-vis traditional campus learning. Online learning platform Coursera reported 49 percent growth from students in India over the past 12 months, illustrative of the country's booming demand for online higher education. By June 2022, India had become the second largest market after the US, with over 24.6 million course enrolments. Coursera also cooperates with 1,100 campuses across India, co-creating courses for its students,. They report accessing more than 1.5 million learners and 14.1 million course enrolments since January 2020. According to the Bengaluru-based market research firm RedSeer, the online higher

education market is estimated to grow from 90 million individuals in 2020 to 133 million individuals by 2025.

India is in a take-off phase of digital adoption; being the second fastest digitizing country among the emerging and mature digital economies. It is set to become a global digital leader. A range of e-learning apps has increased and captured significant market share., there are innovative experiments in interactive learning through problem-solving assignments and elaborate discussions and feedback during online classes.

Among existing challenges are connectivity and limited bandwidth. Internet penetration is usually associated with greater social progress of a nation. In this context, despite existing challenges of not having a uniform or universal access to the Internet, the sheer growth of Internet usage and enabled devices speaks volumes of strides India has made in the last few years in bridging the gaps.

Education would be a major collaborative multilateral vertical in India’s Presidency of G20 because it touches the lives of people directly and thus has the potential to build stronger cooperation between G20 member-states. India can help G20 member-states and other low and middle-income countries reimagine and reinvent the educational ecosystems taking a leaf from its own National Education Policy 2020 and digital and technological transformations and in an Open Tech Model that promotes lifelong learning opportunities in a blended approach. India can showcase to the world its knowledge systems that promote sustainability and the ability to reinvent crisis into learning opportunities. India’s commitment to making G20 multilateral collaboration promote learning opportunities is illustrated by the event of special university connect that virtually brought together students from 75 universities across the country on 1 December 2022, marking the first day of India's G-20 presidency. The Amrit Kaal is inclusive and innovative as leading internally and internationally in the world that it sees as Vasudeiva Kutumbakam.