Formation Of a Self-regulatory Body In the Edtech Space Is Inevitable

Top leaders are evaluating how to collect and use student data as they seek to understand and comply with global privacy regulations that are designed to safeguard student information

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Indian edtech industry is growing at a very fast pace and is expected to reach $4 billion by 2025, as per an IBEF report. India has become the world's second-largest e-learning market after the US. This growth opportunity has given rise to the emergence of scores of edtech companies vying for the mindshare of the Indian youth.

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In the traditional education setup, education was delivered by large institutions enabled by their physical presence. This infrastructure provided the much-needed trust to parents and students in the old learning style. In the new-age world everything is online which makes a student more vulnerable and creates trust deficit among students and parents. Further, as privacy concerns increase globally, there will be an upsurge in issues relating to student data privacy in India as well. Top leaders are evaluating how to collect and use student data as they seek to understand and comply with global privacy regulations that are designed to safeguard student information.

The trust deficit stems from four broad reasons listed below:

Unethical sales: Some edtech companies have been selling big dreams to students and parents, charging lot of money. There is a disconnect between what is told and what is sold. This leaves them with a difficult choice: whether to continue the course after paying high fees or to withdraw from the course.

False advertisement: Some edtech companies often make false claims about meritorious students with high rankings having leveraged their services to learn and prepare, thereby creating a sense of urgency among other parents who want to ride the wave and provide their children with the same learning opportunities. Edtech companies make students and parents believe that their services can enable exceptional outcomes but when the reality hits, they get disillusioned.

Forced loans: Edtech companies lure students by promising free courses and later, get students to sign loan ECS mandate. Parents who are not economically privileged get stuck between continuing education for their wards, or losing the money spent already. They are often harassed by loan recovery agents.

Spam calls: Edtech companies indulge in "spam-calling' parents and lure them for forced sign-ups. This results in parents taking up courses for their kids which they never intended to sign-up for in the first place.

The need for regulation in the edtech sector is evident from the points listed above. The Indian government is planning to create a framework for edtech companies to prevent monopoly and exploitation of students. Owing to this, edtech players are proactively trying to address these issues through self-regulation.

Self-regulation will put pressure on all stakeholders to be transparent and clear in their communications and dealings. The formation of a self-regulatory body is an important step towards protecting learners as more and more students adopt new-age technology to learn new concepts through edtech companies. Following are the recommended solutions for self-regulation in the Indian edtech space:

  • Edtech companies should transparently make their customers aware of all financial arrangements including loans, financing, payment terms, and refunds. It is recommended that the players adopt payment processing standards relating to refunds, trial periods and money-back guarantees; prominently display refund and cancellation policies on the platform; provide FAQs with illustrations and maintain authenticated records of financing-related documents for every learner.
  • Edtech companies should also conduct regular trainings for sales force, have disincentives and penalties for mis-selling, and internal standard operating procedures to prevent mis-selling.
  • Advertising that targets minors, or marketing that introduces minor-related products to parents must comply with truth-in-advertising standards. Suggested practices should use legally defined qualifications, such as MBA, only when they meet University Grants

Commission or All India Council for Technical guidelines and ensure that students are not falsely led into believing they are earning a formal qualification by taking up the services of these EdTech companies.

The traditional education set up is largely regulated in India. So it's time now that regulation in some form is applied to Edtech companies too. This will go a long way in strengthening the Education sector and making India the "Teaching capital of the world".

While business growth is critical, so is consumer protection as this will allow students and parents to make more informed decisions about the future of their child. Also, the EdTech companies in India must not forget the five pillars of NEP 2020 - Affordability, Accessibility, Quality, Equity, and Accountability, and that their true success is in ensuring that they provide the masses options for accessible and affordable education.