In Part 1 of the EdTech in India series, we looked at how the fast-growing Indian EdTech industry is generating employment and catering to the education needs that emerged during the pandemic. At the same time, it has adversely had an impact on lakhs of students, parents and teachers, which indicates the need for regulations to govern this sector.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 150 million students have entered the Indian EdTech market across the country and across cross-sections of society. Simultaneously, we also witnessed the changes that ‘home learning’ as a concept and practice underwent, which was largely associated with the replication and redesigning of the existing school education structure. This opened new doors of opportunities for educators and EdTech companies alike but one of them having extra resources at disposal to cater to the educational needs during the pandemic.
Over the years, services offered by EdTechs have increased manifold. The companies that initially started with the aim of providing ancillary support to the Indian school system have now taken a central role in recent years. EdTech companies have even expanded to facilitate learning for pre-school students by focusing on developing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning skills through augmented reality products. As the world tackles the changing realities, so do the EdTech companies.
How the EdTech is Creating a Market and Driving the Need
There has been a growing need for students to focus on extracurriculars and academics, rendering startups to target products on delivering learning kits. Concerted efforts have also been made to mirror a classroom environment in a digital space. One of the essential products that the EdTechs have created is the content they curate as part of the package. The approach includes taking information from the NCERT textbooks into modules using supporting tools. Facilitators then use the modules as part of their instructional design.
All content is based on the NCERT syllabus. The scripting is done in such a way that the content is retained but delivered in a different style and format that appeals to the students. For instance, in the offline mode of learning, students do not necessarily show interest in learning physics because of the vast concepts they need to understand. But what our teachers do is explain these concepts, which appear to be complex and hard to understand at times, through stories or infographics that impel students to think and explain better.
—Member, BYJU’s Content Team
It is important to note that it is not only EdTech companies who produce and offer blended learning [the educational practice of combining digital learning tools with more traditional classroom face to face teaching]. India’s state and Union education bodies such as NCERT and state education boards have an existing provision and platform for uploading e-books, interactive content, and textbook content. This is called the Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) where NCERT textbooks can be found reproduced in different formats such as YouTube videos, worksheets, and activities—similar to what BYJU’s and other EdTech companies are engaged in. The Bastion has previously reported on how the DIKSHA website is not the easiest to navigate through, raising a range of questions about the government’s role in promoting EdTech in the country.
So why is it then that the EdTech sector is doing better than the government initiated programmes to bolster education? The increasing popularity and demand for educational products offered by EdTech companies is a result of the favourable conditions created by the pandemic, but this is not the only reason. Other influencing factors include aggressive advertising for target consumers, creating perceptions of ‘better education’ through marketing campaigns, and leveraging the aspirations of Indian families to see their children flourish academically and professionally. These advertisements and marketing strategies often include celebrities as brand ambassadors, displaying toppers of the board exams and achievers of other competitive examinations.
The mindset shift of the Indian parents has gradually transitioned into believing the success stories projected by the booming EdTech industry. What we see today, is key stakeholders—the students, parents, and teachers—falling for such rigorous business practices and taking decisions based on these perceptions. Could better and timely regulations address the issues that plague the EdTech sector and its stakeholders?
The Current State of India’s EdTech Regulations
It is widely known that EdTech companies are operating at the intersection of various sectors such as e-commerce, education, consumer products and services, advertising and marketing, and the digital sector. These sectors are often involved in issues that range from privacy to data protection and targeted advertisements to misleading or fake promotions. What makes the EdTech sector even tougher to navigate are various stakeholders—students and their parents, teachers and other employees. At present, even after over two years of the pandemic induced switch to online education, there are no regulations or laws specifically for the Indian EdTech sector that protect the interests of stakeholders and lay down a framework to operate.
In December 2021, various fraudulent incidents and practices by companies came to light that adversely impacted the students and parents. The Indian Government had then issued an advisory to the citizens asking them to exercise caution while engaging with EdTech companies and availing their services. The advisory included various dos and don’ts for citizens to follow and stated that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that such EdTech companies may be considered e-commerce entities. And so, laws and regulations governing an e-commerce company in relation to its consumer actions, advertising and marketing strategies shall be adhered to by such companies.
Various ministers have also raised these issues in the parliament, questioning the liability and governance of activities undertaken by the EdTech sector, which are primarily seen as entities working in the education sector. Earlier this year, in January 2022, the Ministry of Education mentioned that they are planning to work with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to devise a common policy governing the EdTech sector. This is a much needed welcome step in safeguarding the interests of the key stakeholders and providing support to the thriving EdTech sector. However, since then, no official announcement or progress has been made in this direction.
Regulating the EdTech Sector to Secure a Better Future
Just like the insurance, banking, telecom, and aviation sectors, we are in need of having sector-focused regulations and a regulator for Edtech. This will require overseeing the complexity of the EdTech sector in its operations while fostering faith in the education sector’s revolution through technological and digital development. While regulations to govern the marketing, advertising, data protection, grievance redressal mechanisms and operations of the EdTech companies are timely, there is also a pressing need to develop mechanisms to protect and regulate areas that concern students and teachers. It is vital to develop mechanisms to overview and regulate the qualification of teachers and employees, the hiring and training of the teachers, and the content and pedagogy used for digital learning by educators. On the other hand, it is imperative to draw up a policy which safeguards and protects the interests of teachers as employees of EdTech service providers.
In 2020, the Central Government introduced the New Education Policy (NEP 2020) to promote inclusive, quality based education, learning and development of the Indian education sector. It is necessary to bring the EdTech companies within the NEP framework and hold them accountable and responsible for their execution.
Towards that end, it is prudent to peek into what countries like the USA, the UK and some Nordic countries are doing. To begin with, these countries have created means to support the beneficiaries of the bustling EdTech industry. In the USA, the EdTech policy is updated on a regular basis and delineates guidelines for mass implementation. The policy includes major topics such as student assessment, the content of courses and instructional design.
For India, a centralised regulatory policy framework should focus on the product that is under review and a close examination of how it interacts with the consumers. Although quality education is a priority for parents, the cost incurred by them requires close and careful attention. Students and parents are integral to the education sector. A comprehensive policy needs to be formulated to safeguard students and parents, who are key to sustaining the Indian education market. Such a policy will need to deep-dive into issues of student learning, course materials, methodologies, and pedagogies among other important components.
So far, we have seen most regulatory policy is informed by a top-down approach. However, this has now changed with the birth of the India EdTech Consortium to self-regulate the work of EdTech companies and their services. Companies like BYJU’s, Careers360, Great Learning, Harappa, Times Edutech & Events Ltd, Scalar, Simplilearn, Toppr, Unacademy, upGrad, Vedantu and WhiteHat Jr are a part of this consortium and have initiated the creation of a common code of conduct. This move to self-regulate also indicated the EdTech sector’s interest in ensuring access to quality education and creating a mechanism for grievance redressal to dispense transparency in their business dealings. Only time can tell to what extent the consortium is successful in easing the existing bottlenecks and creating a sustainable platform in the sector.
The expansion of the EdTech sector in the coming years is inevitable and a much-needed change. The current scenario has now transcended the digital space and wriggled into the hybrid world as part of the post-pandemic adjustments. As companies like BYJUs, Unacademy and Lead open learning centres, tuition hubs and self-operated schools, it will be interesting to witness how the regulatory framework could be designed to accommodate the shifts in this dynamic and emerging sector.
Featured image by Fotokannan, Wikimedia Commons