RAHUL SHARMA

Edtech in India | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rahul Sharma, President of AWS (Amazon Web Services) India and South Asia, WWPS, about edtech opportunities, a changing education sector, and plans for 2021.

What role does the Indian market, and edtech in particular, play for AWS within the context of its global growth strategy?

AWS is a global organization, and India is a key market. We launched the AWS Asia Pacific (Mumbai) Region in 2016 and have been consistently making investments in India since then. We recently announced the second region for AWS in India that will be operational in mid-2022, and this reiterates the strategic nature of India to global AWS business. In 2017, we became the first multinational cloud provider to be compliant with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology's (MeitY) requirements for global cloud service providers. In terms of our India strategy for the public sector, our mission is to make a positive impact on the lives of every citizen of India through an AWS engagement. We want to be able to do this by using technology and frontier technologies such as machine learning, AI, IoT, and blockchain. We see a great deal of resonance with the government, which is also adopting technology in a significant way. This is a great opportunity for us to work closely with the government, edtechs, and non-profit customers in India to help them move to better outcomes using the cloud. In terms of edtechs specifically, this is a vibrant sector not just within India, but also the Indian edtech sector services global customers as well. AWS has had heavy focus on edtechs from an early stage, and the pandemic has significantly accelerated the move to online education. AWS is extremely bullish about the edtech sector given the developments. There has been a multifold increase in online presence, and as much as possible we are trying to ensure that children do not get left behind due to the digital divide.

What are your views on the evolving relationship between the public sector and the private edtech sector? What opportunities do you see here, both for AWS and in general?

If we look at the Ministry of Education studies released in the last few years, the number of people to be skilled and reskilled in India is estimated to be over 400 million. Therefore, something fundamentally different needs to be done to address that kind of scale, and this is where PPPs become key. As an example, we work closely with NASSCOM FutureSkills, which focuses on nine technologies that the government believes are required for technology reskilling. That becomes a great imperative for us to work with NASSCOM FutureSkills to help that platform scale. There is tremendous opportunity for the public sector and private institutions to come together, as they have already been doing in the past. When we look at Common Services Centres (CSC) as an example, India has over 400,000 centers being used for citizen services. CSC has a digital literacy program called PMGDisha that aims to bring digital literacy to 60 million citizens, and AWS is helping with the training these citizens require. That is a good example of a PPP. Outside of that, there is so much assistance needed for students in rural areas. One example is that of what Learning Matters, an edtech, is doing in a village near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. They have developed an interactive app called Tara focusing on the basics of spoken English. This AI-enabled natural language voice recognition tool is powered by Amazon Alexa, and augments what the teachers are doing and helps teach English and other subjects to children. Students in schools with poor teacher-student ratios and teachers who do not have the right qualification to teach English now have a digital teacher who can converse with them, repeat lessons, and provide feedback. This is one way we can really work with edtechs to provide an impact and skills. There is so much to talk about in this space when talking about K to 12 education.

AWS has been active in promoting India's edtech start-up scene though programs such as AWS Edstart. What is your vision for the future of Edstart and its impact on the start-up environment in India?

AWS Edstart was launched in 2018 and is focused on early-stage start-ups, where we provide them with the resources needed to get them started quickly and on AWS. We provide them with promotional credits, training, marketing opportunities, mentorships, and technical support. It has been an extremely successful program for us, and we are now working with different state governments that are interested in using this program within their own incubators as well. That is a brilliant natural progression for Edstart as a program. We have already seen some very good examples come out of the Edstart program, such as Eckovation which is a great social learning platform that works from the top to the bottom of the education pyramid. The larger opportunity ahead of us is the key. The next natural progression is making sure we scale up the higher education ecosystem in India. The New Education Policy (NEP) that has come through is a move to more experience-based learning rather than rote learning, which is where this can really come together, scale, and take the edtech community in India to the next level. That is the next big opportunity for Edstart to see how we can dovetail it to NEP and take the entire digital change that is happening, make it sustainable, and move to the next generation and paradigm of education in India.

What is your outlook for the sector in 2021 and your priorities for AWS during this year?

We are extremely enthusiastic about all sectors for 2021. The move to the new digital innovation paradigm is no longer up for debate; the move is already happening. We are just scratching the surface when it comes to cloud today across the world. In India, when we look at all the work being done across the government space and by edtechs, enterprise customers, and digital natives, there is more and more cloud adoption. In 2021, from a government and education perspective, AWS wants to be a part of some of the national platforms the government is creating right now. We are already playing a key and integral part in the way skilling and education is changing in India and how the country is setting up its new NEP. We want to continue working closely with our government stakeholders and customers to help them adopt and absorb this technology as we go forward, so we can help the citizens and consumers of India, who are the ultimate customers for all of us. We want to give them better services and expand the overall reach.