Reading Digital: Catching The Edtech Fever

The last one year has seen an unprecedented shift in terms of lifestyle, financial planning, and most importantly, learning

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Gauging the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on industries and households alike has kept experts, statisticians, health care professionals, and authorities not just busy but also in a mode of uncertainty.

The last one year has seen an unprecedented shift in terms of lifestyle, financial planning, and most importantly, learning. Though many companies, both small and big, are hanging by the thread and many are going bankrupt, the pandemic has brought a huge opportunity for the education technology or ed-tech sector.

Staying indoor has compelled students and professionals to change their medium of learning. It is this wave that has seen cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar picks up a minority stake in Unacademy, and Byju’s launch its billion-dollar bid to acquire Aakash Institute.

A 2019-2020 report by Omidyar Network-Redseer had projected ed-tech offerings from grade 1-12 to record a 6.3xjumpby 2022, resulting in a $1.7-billion market, and the above-grade-12 market to grow 3.7x to a $1.8-billion opportunity.

In addition, the report also forecasts the number of students in the ed-tech sector to touch 110.5 million (11.05 crore) in 2022, a huge jump from a mere 25 million (2.5 crore) in 2019.

These numbers look encouraging for the industry, and signal a paradigm shift in the preferences of customers.

A key factor to note here is that the increasing jump towards digital learning, which, according to the report cited above, brought in private investment in excess of $1.6 billion between 2014 and the first half of2019, coincides with and is much dependent on the adoption of smartphones and speedier internet connections.

The ever-evolving telecom infrastructure and dreams of 5G testing have shaped the direction of the digital revolution in India, which has driven consumption of data not just in urban but also in the hinterland.

Nokia’s Mobile Broadband India Traffic Index (MBiT) 2021 — a report on the performance of mobile broadband in the country during 2020 — shows a 60x growth in usage in five years, among the highest across the globe.  The report adds that in the year gone by, data traffic grew 36% on a year-on-year basis, primarily on account of the increasing consumption of 4G data.

This could be explained by the fact that 4G subscribers surpassed the 700-million mark, with 100 million new additions during the year. Not only that, 4G —on a stand-alone basis — constituted close to 99% of the total data traffic consumed across the country, adds the Nokia report.

However, with all the optimism surrounding the ever-increasing penetration of smartphones and data in the country — which acts as a catalyst to the rising adoption of digital as a learning medium — the next big question surrounds sustenance of the trend, as well as the impact.

Will this rising trend carry on in the post-Covid era, once the world resumes to normalcy, or is it here to stay? Further, drawing a parallel of robots replacing humans in the world of artificial intelligence along with its perils, will a device replace the physical interaction between teachers and students?

Though one could argue that teachers have not been replaced, but merely the medium of teaching, can the psychological aspect of physical presence of a teacher be replicated via use of a device?

Significance of a teacher not just clearing academic concepts but also assuming the role of a ‘coach’ or ‘mentor’ — to fulfill psychological needs of a student that includes boosting confidence, providing personal feedback, one-on-one sessions in person to address weak points and giving recommendations — is under threat of losing relevance.

While nothing would deter a teacher from fulfilling the role virtually, there is bound to be some compromise in quality of such coaching sessions, and a student will never truly have the psychological satisfaction of able guidance, given the lack of human touch. The process is likely to remain largely transactional, and could impact the way lessons are learnt and processed.

In addition, the presence of peers in a classroom creates an atmosphere of healthy competition and, at the same time, an environment of knowledge-sharing, a feature that cannot be easily replicated in a virtual conference.

Presentations before an audience, which work towards building confidence and improving communication skills, besides aiding in tackling ‘stage fear’, are also a key feature of classroom learning.

The significance of these aspects, all of which constitute soft skills, could get undermined and learning as we know could shift towards being more technical, compared to being holistic and personality-driven.

Not just that, it could make students, in general, more dependent on their devices for any form of learning, and could drive them away from holding conversations with their peers during the process of learning.

Consequently, while the ed-tech industry is on the cusp of revolutionizing the academic sector and bringing a new dimension to learning, the psychological aspects of learning, most of which have to do with personality development, could well take a backseat.

While many would argue that this is unlikely to impact the effectiveness in learning or shaping the thought process of a student, these are not aspects that should be taken lightly, especially during an era in which people have woken up to the importance of talking about mental health and attaching importance to the same at par with physical health.

Digital learning is, no doubt, an effective and necessary medium to ensure students’ academic calendars are not disrupted, but as they say in sports, too much technology could ruin the game.

(The writer is the founder of Edvizo).