Edtech has the potential to partially even out access among students
As the pandemic has accelerated society’s shift towards digitalisation, education has been forced to go online and seen interesting changes. One symptom of the important transition underway is the growing frequency of acquisitions among online education firms, or edtechs. The most recent instance is the acquisition of brick-and-mortar test preparation firm Aakash Educational Services by edtech major Byju’s, in a deal valued at nearly $1 billion. Such animal spirits underline new pathways for improving the quality of education.
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India’s edtech companies work around a hybrid model, one that combines offline and online methods of teaching. Schools remain irreplaceable in providing education in a comprehensive sense. Even India’s flourishing tuition market involves in-person lessons. What the advent of edtech may accomplish is to tailor lessons for a diverse universe of students. The diversity is not just on account of language, it also arises from sharp differences in educational quality across schools. The gap between students, which often arises on account of economic inequality, may partially be bridged through the use of technology.
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A common thread running through all schools in India is that they don’t prepare students for what follows. The highly competitive environment of entrance tests specifically spawned a coaching industry, with Kota in Rajasthan transforming into an epicenter. Now the pandemic has catalyzed an overlap between the offline and online worlds. Forced closures of physical centers have created a situation in which edtech firms tap into the available teaching resources in coaching centers. This trend is bound to accelerate in India’s hybrid edtech models. But while edtechs are a way to partially level sharp differences in the school system, significant overall uplift in learning outcomes can come only when the quality of brick-and-mortar schools everywhere improves. Technology is only an enabler, and only among students who have access to it.