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Coronavirus and Beyond: Rise of Technology in Education In the first virtual conference on Edtech by the Indian Education Congress, several stakeholders from within the industry came together to discuss and dissect the finer nuances of what the crisis has changed for both enterprises and consumers, and why things would never be the same again.

By Debroop Roy

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The Coronavirus outbreak continues to wreak havoc across the world, with lives affected directly as well as several business sectors facing the heat of extended lockdowns. Amid the gloom and doom, however, there are some who have been able to find their watershed moment. Among those select few is online education, or education technology to be precise, that has found several new takers now that children and adults alike have had to stay home.

In the first virtual conference on Edtech by the Indian Education Congress, several stakeholders from within the industry came together to discuss and dissect the finer nuances of what the crisis has changed for both enterprises and consumers, and why things would never be the same again.

The Investors' Lens

Anirudh Damani, Managing Partner, Artha Ventures

"The current crisis has obviously been detrimental to a bunch of sectors but there are a few sectors that I believe are already taking off because you've almost had a forced change in consumer behavior; the sort of thing you had expected would happen over the next 7-10 years are happening right away," said Damani.

Calling edtech the biggest beneficiary of this change, he said the most important part of this change would be for educators and teachers invariably having to learn how to impart education online.

Damani said he has invested in a lot of edtech start-ups as an angel investor and many of them had failed because educators were taking too long to switch to tech-enabled, online education.

Radhika Agarwal, Investment Team, Blume Ventures

Agarwal, who covers consumer-focused investments at Blume, said the well-funded part of edtech such as K12, test prep and upskilling would see more funds flowing due to this disruption.

"On the other side, there is a lot of digitization of stakeholders that were not earlier digitized - a lot of tuition centers, schools, how homework is given, how schools are managed internally, sectors that were earlier untouched by big players, even something like daycare or preschools," she said.

She gave the example of Wuhan in China, where there had been reports of schools and institutions working closely with start-ups, and that she expected something similar in India as well.

Padmaja Ruparel, Co-Founder, Indian Angel Network

"I think what we will see in terms of start-ups that would be interesting is that both students and teachers will go through a huge behavioral change, and that is going to be the new paradigm," said Ruparel, referring to the different operational challenges that are likely to come.

She said that educational content as one knows is going to change, from the way it is created to the way it is delivered. With online becoming the primary line of distribution, it would fundamentally change, she said.

"Education itself has not been a revenue model for many, many streams of education; so the interesting thing that would now emanate is how are all these going to flow into a revenue generating/profitable model which makes it interesting for investors," she added.

Namita Dalmia, Director of Investments, Omidyar Network India

Dalmia, who has led investments in several edtech start-ups at Omidyar, said the areas that were erstwhile seemingly not focused on, such as bringing change to schools or the government adopting technology, that too has started to change now.

"As an investor, I am starting to see whether this is something we have not been so bullish about, in terms of B2B edtech" she said, giving examples of how certain governments had already started using tech and innovation to deliver education to students.

Abhishek Mitra Gupta, Managing Partner, TVentures

"Last few weeks, especially with edtech companies and live teaching, it has been phenomenal; we have seen the engagement grow fairly fast," said Mitra Gupta, referring to some of the edtech companies in his portfolio.

While being optimistic about the positive changes seen for edtech during the lockdown, he cautioned that whether all of this engagement would turn into transactional value is still a question that was up for discussion.

From the Facilitators

Sahil Sheth, Founder, Lido Learning

"As students get older, there is more intrinsic motivation, so the very older grades can have a one to many broadcast model works very well but for younger kids, because the intrinsic motivation isn't too high, you need a smaller group. The tutor plays a much larger role in engaging them," said Sheth, responding to how different age groups needed to be focused on when it comes to online learning.

On B2B edtech, Sheth believes that selling to institutions would still be a difficult task in India, because the buyer and end consumers are two different people, which leads to very long sales cycles.

Ashutosh Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder, Testbook

Testbook, which helps students prepare for government exams, too has seen a tremendous response for the free product that they launched after the crisis began.

"If they don't convert now, we can definitely convert them three months down the line," said Kumar, referring to how aspirants were interested in checking the different products at the moment, with most competitive exams in a state of flux.

Akshay Chaturvedi, Founder and CEO, Leverage Edu

While most edtech players have seen engagement numbers growing, Leverage Edu, which largely focuses on admissions, had seen higher traffic translate into higher revenue as well, said Chaturvedi.

The company grabbed an opportunity it saw emerging and launched a platform where over 43 universities participated, helping digitize the whole experience of education fairs that couldn't be done physically due to the crisis. "I hope this is the new normal and hope we try out some more innovations in the coming months," he said.

Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.

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