Published: 14th July 2021
Why India's EdTech boom will not be contained by the end of the COVID pandemic
The pandemic was a major boost to online education and with it, EdTech platforms. But what happens once institutions reopen? We find out
The pandemic has managed to change so much in the world. Probably the most disruptive among those changes is the rapid adoption of technology, especially in the education space. With classes in schools, colleges and universities across the world going online, it has paved the way for several to invest in technology to facilitate them. But what happens once things go back to normal and educational institutions reopen? What happens to EdTech start-ups once classes go back offline? These are some pertinent questions that had to be asked as the second wave is now receding and several states are announcing that schools and colleges will be reopened shortly.
The game is strong
Even though there has been a boom in EdTech post the COVID-19 pandemic, several major companies were seeing an upswing much before. Some even achieved the coveted unicorn status and have since become the largest EdTech start-ups in India. Among them is Bengaluru-based BYJU’s, which added an estimated 45 million new students to its platform since the pandemic began. It’s Chief Operating Officer, Mrinal Mohit, says, “While students have always preferred the online learning medium, the pandemic has brought about a significant change in the mindset of parents and teachers as well. This will lead to sustained growth. We are also expanding our footprints across international markets by providing ‘one-on-one' personalised classes under the newly launched BYJU'S Future School.”
But where has all this growth been?
A huge amount of growth has especially been seen in the K-12 segment, according to Chennai-based Skill-Lync’s Co-founder Suryanarayanan Paneerselvam. “In the K-12, pre K1 and K2 segment, people were forced to study online. There was just no other option. This is where the major boost and growth in EdTech companies have happened. In this segment, the parents were the buyers and they wanted their children to do something instead of sitting idle,” says Suryanarayanan.
Upskilling and reskilling
A major impact of the pandemic has also been the major economic decline that has resulted in loss of jobs across multiple sectors. “The double disruption of technology-led automation and the pandemic is estimated to displace 85 million jobs by 2025. Among those set to remain in their roles, 50 per cent will need reskilling by 2025. This rate of change means that people will require education throughout their lifetimes, which hasn’t been the model for education traditionally,” says Coursera’s Managing Director for India and Asia Pacific, Raghav Gupta. The company added over 1.2 million new learners on its platform in the second quarter of 2021 alone.
Mumbai-based UpGrad’s Co-founder and MD Mayank Kumar agrees. “Upskilling has become imperative to face challenges in this highly volatile market induced by the pandemic. We strongly believe that the degree segment is the frontrunner in the education space and real growth will emerge from this segment once the pandemic settles,” says Kumar. UpGrad recorded a massive 100 per cent growth in 2020 and according to Kumar, the company plans to close the financial year with a revenue of half a billion dollars. Imagine that.
While it may not be a go to for people who are scrambling to save their jobs, these with foresight will definitely upskill along the way. “We foresee a huge rise in digital professional education, alongside formal online degrees and diplomas, offered by a wide array of top-tier academic institutions and EdTech firms. Digital learning has been a boon for working professionals who are keenly embracing disruptive technologies and tech-infused management education to reboot and reposition their careers. This is a very strong secular and sustainable trend and will remain so for the next decade,” says Santanu Paul, CEO and MD of Hyderbad-based TalentSprint.
The NEP boost
No one has a crystal ball and COVID has shown us that predictions can be pretty passé. And yet, a lot of EdTech companies believe that their growth will continue over the next few years owing to the Modi government's focus on the new National Education Policy (NEP) and its thrust to online and blended learning, especially in higher education. “With the government allowing online degrees online under the NEP, the degree market is going to be the next big thing and overtake the K-12 segment. Digital universities will be the way forward and that will pave a path for new opportunities,” says Kumar.
Gurugram-based Great Learning’s Co-founder Arjun Nair says that even as educational institutions resume physical classes, their belief and confidence in digital learning has grown substantially. “We are confident that this change in attitude along with the NEP that emphasises on online education as the delivery model to increase the reach of higher education will lead to even faster growth for the sector in the coming years.” He adds, “With the formal recognition of online degrees by UGC under the NEP, we are also now offering new-age degree programmes like MBA, MCA, BBA in collaboration with top Indian universities.” The paid online programmes offered by Great Learning grew by over 150 per cent over the last year.
Strategising for the future
So, who will remain relevant when the pandemic blows over? According to Suryanarayanan, all those who don’t provide quality will be weeded out. Only those who provide real quality will have sustained and even 'exaggerated' growth. A variety of educational content can also go a long way, according to Mohit. “From introducing courses in vernacular languages to launching more subjects, BYJU’s will continue to strengthen our offerings and penetrate further into India to address the learning needs. Given the current demand, we plan on accelerating several launches this year to revolutionise the after-school learning segment as well,” he says.
Which is what Coursera is also looking at. “We’re constantly expanding our content catalog, adding new degrees, courses, guided projects, specialisations and certificate programs in high-demand fields. We are also laying more emphasis on providing hands-on learning experiences and skill-based credentials that serve as pathways into both careers and degrees,” states Gupta.
The road ahead
If capital is the name of the game, then India's large EdTech players have plenty of skin in it. Kumar says UpGrad has recently raised a cumulative $160 million from Temasek and IFC. “The company plans to use the fresh capital to further strengthen their teams, scale global market operations, bolster technology and product capabilities, pursue mergers and acquisitions, expand graduate and post-graduate degree portfolios in India, and scale up operations,” he says.
On the other hand, TalentSprint is only focused on professional education. “We are on an accelerated growth path and are expected to be the most trusted and respected brand in DeepTech professional education by 2025. Instead of scattering our energies, we are laser-focused on imparting professional education in disruptive technologies and emerging domains to young and experienced knowledge workers,” says Paul.
Skill-Lync is hoping to add at least 50,000 more students on its platform over the next year and a half. “Over the next five to six quarters, we’ll easily see a seven or eight times increase in our revenues. We are a team of 500+ people right now and over the next five quarters, we will become an organisation of 2,500+ people,” says Suryanarayanan.
Which is not to say that they see physical learning as a threat in any way. “The importance of schools is uncontested. Online learning platforms like BYJU’s can enhance a child’s conceptual understanding, offer them a holistic, personalised, and self-paced learning experience. The future will see us leap from the traditional one-to-many approach to blended one-on-one learning experiences,” concludes Mohit.