Why has online education not taken off in India? India's success will depend on how the country manages to educate its young population.

By Sanjay Bansal

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India's education system is amongst the largest in the world and includes over 1.4 million schools, 700 universities, and 35,000 higher education institutes. Yet, it is an underserved market suffering with a low quality of education.

The demand for education is further magnified by the growth of middle class in India, which attaches great value to education and has the capacity to pay for it. The Indian middle class is expected to grow almost 10 times to over 500 million people in the next 10 years.

This demographic mix gives India a unique opportunity to generate benefits from the global demand-supply gap of talent. Yet, majority of the students that graduate from educational institutions in India are considered unemployable and need to be reskilled by their employers because of poor quality of education and lack of industry-relevant training they receive.

The dilemma…

India is expected to become the most populous country by 2030. The country's median age in 2030 will be 32 compared to 39 in US and 43 in China. India's share of working age population is set to rise. By 2020, US, China, Russia, Japan and UK will have a combined skilled labour shortage of 44 million, while India is expected to have a surplus of 47 million.

The success of India's potential as world's talent factory will depend on how the country manages to educate its young population to produce a skilled and employable workforce.

The brick and mortar education model, challenged by dearth of high-quality teachers and high cost of real estate is unlikely to be able to scale up to address this education and skilling gap in India. India is too populous and geographically extensive a country to leapfrog into a higher quality of universally accessible education for its children and youth.

Online education, with its ability to make available high-quality teachers to a much larger audience is a viable solution to bridge the demand-supply gap in the education sector in India. Yet, despite obvious benefits, online education has not taken off in India. The reasons are clear, and easily addressable.

3 key reasons for online education not taking off in India

Lack of good quality content

For students to benefit from online education and use it as a credible alternative to offline education, the quality of content has to be top notch and very high quality.

Current attempts at online education have largely been experiments, perhaps without the full commitment of educators and hence, the content remains basic and often repurposed from offline into digital formats.

Educators need to recognise that online education is a different medium, and requires a development of content specific to the medium and mere digitization of content is just not able to provide the experience that the medium requires.

Poor participation from accredited institutions

Mainly, new entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity have explored online education in India so far, and reputed, well-established educational institutions have been largely absent from the online education space.

Unless respected educational institutions get engaged in this medium, online education will lack credibility and the pace will be a slow march rather than the sprint that it needs to make it a scalable, game-changing model.

No mechanism for certification on online courses

Unless there is a mechanism to certify students taking online courses, there will be limited industry acceptance of online course outcomes, and hence, will have limited market value and subsequently, limited participation.

For online education to be a viable alternative to offline education, the government will have to create policies and mechanisms to recognise and certify online programmes.

Fortunately, all these three issues are easily addressable. The opportunity is large and real. Despite its potential and size, India is yet to produce a world-scale education institution.

And online education certainly offers an opportunity to entrepreneurs to build a world-scale; world-class education brand that can leverage technology and combine it with high-quality of teaching talent to create an institution that can service the demand-supply gap in India, as well as, address the education markets across the globe.

Sanjay Bansal

Founder & Managing Partner, Aurum Equity Partners LLP

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