The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning globally and in India. Parents and students, who witnessed the benefits of personalised one-on-one online classes as per a student's learning needs and abilities, lauded the sector for its greater engagement and retention. They also appreciated the hands-on learning, focus on skill training and elevated learning outcomes.
2020 and 2021 were the golden years for edtech companies. 2022, however, had a slightly different tale to tell.
Amidst the blazing growth, news of some edtech companies engaging in unethical and unfair trade practices began making the rounds. While this is disconcerting for all of us, as the founder of a global learning platform and the father of a young boy, I can assure you that not all edtech start-ups are bad.
Most founders genuinely care about delivering great student experiences and ensuring excellent outcomes within their spheres. I meet a lot of young folks in the industry, and I am confident that given the consciousness and global outlook with which they operate, the sector and the country is in good hands. Most parents and students I interact with are also thoroughly impressed with the service and experience Indian edtech players guarantee and deliver.
Frameworks That Support, Not Restrict
There need to be broad frameworks for the industry to operate within about advertising claims to safeguard the interests of parents, who are sometimes emotionally manipulated into buying products they don't need. This will protect the consumer's interests and reinstate their trust in the sector and ensure that they are delivered the highest quality of learning experiences and resources at affordable prices. It is most needed to have parents' trust in edtech as an industry and the services it provides.
If we were to dig a little deeper and learn from our counterparts, a study by the University of Chicago, which included an empirical analysis of students' SAT scores from 1987-1992—when states' intervention in education increased—found that strict rules and compliances may have, in fact, reduced efficiency and creativity in US district schools. It concluded that a myriad of strict federal, state and local regulations stifled teachers' creativity, which over time, also negatively impacted students' overall SAT scores.
Similarly, in China, strict government regulations forced teachers to resort to underground tutoring as they failed to pivot to comply with the new rules. Many thousands even lost their jobs. As a result, parents had to shell out a lot more to hire private teachers illegally.
Under these circumstances, edtech companies need to take it upon themselves to operate ethically and institute robust checks for their many functions so that the interests of parents and students are never compromised.
Case For Regulation
BrightChamps has already taken action in this regard. A few months ago, we established an independent, self-regulatory Global Curriculum Advisory Board to review our curriculum and classroom practices and help us create a blueprint for what 21st-century learning should look like across the coding, financial literacy, communications and robotics verticals. This initiative will also help us make all our coursework and classes more accessible and inclusive.
With the country's borders disappearing due to globalisation and digital revolution worldwide, learning and education, especially when it falls outside of traditional systems and degrees, is virtually impossible to regulate. While there can be a consensus between countries to come up with one code that is applied uniformly across the world, that process, even if it were to happen, would be so lengthy and possibly delayed that we cannot just sit and wait for that day before we take action.
Given the global nature of the sector, I cannot emphasise the importance of self-regulation and internal ombudsman, who are the voice of the customer and user for the various teams within the business enough. Edtech companies must ensure that all communication and advertising are transparent and true to the nature of the product or service being sold.
Before any agreement is signed, parents must be apprised of all costs, upfront payments, instalments, auto-debit features, refund policies and terms and conditions. Robust grievance redressal teams and processes must be instituted. And most importantly, the heart of any educational platform-its content and teachers-must go through careful quality control.
All kinds of self-serving tactics have a short shelf-life. Unethical behaviour presumes the ability to keep pulling the wool over parents' eyes.
But when it comes to their kids, no one in the world is as invested, concerned, and willing to go to any lengths as a parent. Sooner or later, as witnessed multiple times, only solid business models built on customer-first and truth-always approaches can scale and grow; others eventually come to their day of reckoning.
- Ravi Bhushan, founder and CEO of BrightCHAMPS