Educational technology flourishes in countries with robust IT ecosystems and large populations eager to hone their skills.
The IT industry in India has seen an exponential growth since the 1980s, becoming virtually synonymous with India's services sector.
At the same time, India is home to some 250 million school children, just under 35 million university students, and millions of adults who want to acquire one skill or another to secure themselves a job in the constantly expanding economy of India.
All these groups can benefit from e-learning. Edtech solutions have proven to be more attractive than traditional tutoring, as they combine teaching with interactive activities and even games, to engage younger—as well as adult—learners.
Given this niche for edtech services and the large number of tech-savvy entrepreneurs in India, it is not surprising that over a five-year period (between 2014 and 2019) some 300 edtech investment deals and more than 4,450 startups were launched in India, raising up to USD1.8 billion.
In 2020, however, Indian edtech startups saw unprecedented growth with over USD2.22 billion raised in a single year.
Edtech platforms in India specialize in different areas of education, ranging from single-module courses—say in computer programming or foreign languages—to traditional K-12 school courses.
E-learning startups specializing in online test preparation courses targeting ambitious students have been particularly in-demand in recent years. Preparatory online courses make up 70-80% of the edtech market in the country.
In recent years, more and more students from India have been taking internationally-recognized standardized tests such as the famous—and much dreaded—Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), which are used as admission requirements for many undergraduate and postgraduate programs.
“The number of Indian students taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in India grew by nearly 20%, according to the latest figures released by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) that conducts the GRE," noted The Hindu back in 2015, and the trend has further accelerated since then.
Most test-takers who want to ace the aforementioned exams turn to edtech companies for preparation, and institutions such as Jamboree, Manya Group, and Abhyaas have combined internet-based training and mock-testing with traditional classes to guaranty the students' success in the SAT, GRE, and GMAT.
Edtech startups with different areas of focus are also beginning to emerge. The demand for online courses which offer verifiable certification to their graduates is particularly high.
UpGrad and its ever-growing popularity is a case in point. The Mumbai-based company has teamed up with respectable universities such as Duke and Liverpool John Moores to offer online degree programs in data science and business administration, among other areas of study.
UpGrad is confident that its graduates are just as competent as those holding degrees from traditional universities. The company's co-founder, Ronnie Screwvala, challenges anyone who doubts this: “I invite you to evaluate our learners for various roles at your organization and I am confident that with their new skill sets, our learners will be star performers at your company." Also of note is the business model which an increasing number of edtech companies employ: training interns on the job.
Awign, a Bangalore-based company, for instance, has “built a platform to take up on-the-ground work from businesses" and complete the job by its intern gig workforce. The company has an interesting business model: “gig workers apply on the task, get selected, get trained in the app and then go out to work in their city to complete the tasks in the app." This model has found favor with interns and employers alike because gig workers can earn money while learning their craft and the employers are charged only after the completion of the task with their desired quality.
India's edtech scene is not limited to startups; well-established market leaders such as BYJU and Unacademy have become household names in India and beyond. The two online tutoring giants are constantly on the lookout for promising startups to acquire. Unacademy recently bought six edtech startups including PrepLadder, Kretaryx, and Mastree.
Although BYJU acquired fewer startups by comparison, it succeeded in buying the startup WhiteHat Jr., which teaches programming to children.
The edtech sector in India not only generates profits for itself, but also enables people to upgrade their knowledge and skillset, while creating jobs for freelance educators who have something to teach to others but cannot find traditional employment.
Companies such as Classplus have created a platform on which “millions of teachers" can “kickstart their online teaching business," according to the company's cofounder, Mukul Rustagi. Edtech startups are, in short, revolutionizing the concept of education in less privileged parts of the subcontinent, while creating jobs for local educators and IT experts.
Although 2020 was a year of bad news, illness, and unstable markets, it was certainly a good year for edtech startups, which proved their merits to the world. As business activities pick up in 2021, people will remember the effective role that edtech played during the lockdowns, which will improve the image of online education in the coming years.