The government should expand the scope of its online education and skill development programs in Budget 2023, actively involving private players and technology service providers in private-public partnership models, to accelerate India’s skill development and employability process
While 2022 threw many unexpected challenges to the start-up domain, the edtech sector punched above its weight, emerging stronger than ever. The lessons we learned have helped us reposition ourselves in a dynamic marketplace, revisit our propositions and double down on our core competencies.
In the post-pandemic world, we are witnessing a movement away from an online-only education model and ushering in a hybrid or phygital model. The underlying idea is the adoption of an omnichannel approach wherein students can make the most of the integration of technology with education—be it through offline or online classes.
The absence of robust digital infrastructure in tier 3 and tier 4 cities in India, slow internet speed and lack of digital devices and even electricity in some places are significant headwinds for edtech companies to expand their customer base. According to an Oxfam report, only 31 per cent of the rural population in India uses the internet.
There is also a stark disparity in access to digital services based on gender, caste and financial status. According to the same Oxfam report, while 61 per cent of men in India had a mobile phone, only 31 per cent of women owned one by the end of 2021.
A slowdown in funding has been yet another cause of concern for the start-up industry. However, some companies that chose to grow sustainably right from the start with focussed control on customer acquisition cost (CAC) were able to thrive even in a volatile environment while maintaining the long and healthy runway we’ve been known to have.
Budget 2022 laid much emphasis on online education and skilling programmes with the announcement of plans to launch a digital university to provide education in different Indian languages and formats, the launch of DESH-Stack e-portal, a digital ecosystem for skilling and livelihood, setting up of 75 skilling e-labs for simulated learning environments to promote critical thinking, amongst others.
Emphasis on improving the quality of education and its accessibility has put edtech in the limelight. Both parents and administrators have realised the importance of imparting crucial life skills to kids of today so that they become creators and facilitators of tomorrow.
This pushed them to think beyond traditional educational institutes and subjects when it comes to ‘educating’ their kids. Our interactions with over 2 million Indian parents in the last two years have revealed that more than 74 per cent of them want their kids to learn critical life skills beyond the confines of the classroom.
Parents are looking for avenues to teach their kids next-gen life skills like coding, robotics, AI, money management, public speaking and communications. This is where edtech start-ups come in with their technological and subject matter expertise. Governments have also partnered with edtechs to impart knowledge and skill training across states.
In this year’s Budget, the government should consider expanding the scope of its online education and skill development programs, actively involving private players and technology service providers in private-public partnership (PPP) models to accelerate the skill development and employability process in India. Government schools and universities tying up with industry experts can be a good starting point.
With technologies such as robotics and AI leading most developments currently, the finance ministry can make concerted efforts to double down on its effort to promote these technologies and integrate them with traditional systems of education as it seeks to promote multimodal learning as part of the New Education Policy (NEP).
The education ministry has taken some crucial steps in recognising the value of critical life skills such as financial literacy, digital literacy, tech knowledge, etc., with initiatives such as the New India Literacy Program, AI for All, and CBSE’s inclusion of AI within K12. But this practical life-skill learning movement can gain momentum only with the support of the Finance Ministry. I hope the 2023 budget comes with concrete provisions that financially empower schools and institutions to meaningfully access and include life skills into their long-term curriculum by subsidising the kinds of partnerships.
We have a valuable opportunity to learn from the US right now. In the wake of the pandemic, the US approved a historic $190 billion stimulus package to help the country’s education system recover from the loss of learning and come up to speed with the new learning needs (omnichannel) of a world that has forever changed. A similar provision in our Budget would go a long way in helping traditional educational systems seek partnerships that serve the learning needs of future generations.
The Budget has provisions to improve the digital infrastructure in the country and ensure that every kid in the country has access to affordable and quick internet connection and electronic devices. Moreover, lowering the GST slab for educational services and products from 18 per cent to the 5-12 per cent slab and providing tax benefits to parents who spend on educational products and services for their children will help the government meet its goals of making education more affordable and accessible for students from all walks of life.