Rohin Kapoor, co-founder of edtech firm Myedge, says 2021 was a year of growth and introspection. While his firm’s revenue grew 475 percent, the bigger realisation was that Myedge and the sector need to work harder and do more to plug the learning loss faced by students due to closure of schools and colleges brought on by the pandemic.
Beyond the news around funding and firms turning unicorns, what the edtech sector got was acceptance. They got mainstreamed and became part of the core education sector that ranges from teaching-learning to assessment, from tutoring to upskilling, from offering learning management systems to carrying out remote proctoring, catering to millions of learners from the primary to tertiary levels in the process.
“The products and services we are building have to become more focused and customised…because students are facing a learning challenge due to school closures. The expectation is, we have to make up for the studies lost at educational institutions. You will see more innovations in this space,” said Kapoor, whose tutoring and mentoring service is now available outside India as well.
Sumeet Mehta, co-founder of LEAD, another edtech firm, said that with schools shut for more than 20 months “the pandemic has adversely affected students' mental, social and academic capabilities… In 2022 we need to focus our efforts on solving the core education problem at schools through school edtech.”
While schools in the metros took to online education as an alternative, students from small towns suffered due to poor infrastructure and lack of access to resources. While investment in the edtech sector grew multi-fold during the pandemic, the focus was mainly on supplemental education, he said. The long delay in school reopening added to students’ challenges.
The World Bank recently highlighted the massive learning loss in low- and middle-income countries. It stressed that the learning loss due to prolonged closure of schools, “will have lasting impacts on future earnings, poverty alleviation, and reducing inequality. According to latest estimates, this generation of students now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings.”
While 2020 was the year of adaptation, 2021 was the year of innovation, agility and growth, said Mayank Kumar, co-founder and managing director of upGrad, an edtech unicorn in the higher-education space.
“In 2021, we witnessed significant capital inflow in the edtech sector, which resulted in market concentration by further driving up consolidation. Massive capital infusion coupled with the growing acceptance for online education among all major stakeholders that online learning will play a vital role in the future gave rise to world-class talent armed with the skills for the dynamic job market,” said Kumar.
“From upGrad’s lens, in 2021 we were focused on strengthening our teams, scaling up global operations, bolstering our product capabilities and university partnerships to strengthen our brand presence and course portfolio,” he added.
The acceleration of digitisation, extended periods of work from home and suspension of in-person teaching have democratised online learning, believes Akshay Munjal, founder of Hero Vired, the Munjal family-backed Hero Group’s edtech startup.
“Technology has emerged as an enabler to ensure access to quality education with user engagement at the core. At Hero Vired, we aim to reimagine education by bridging the gaps in conventional learning through new-age programmes delivered in hybrid mode,” Munjal added.
Krishna Kumar, founder and CEO of Simplilearn, said the continued impact of the pandemic accelerated adoption of online learning and witnessed more aspirants looking to upskill themselves with the latest and most relevant industry skills, irrespective of their jobs.
“This significant increase in interest brought more learners to Simplilearn's platform, increasing our learner base, allowing us to help create a digitally forward, job-ready workforce. Despite the pandemic, our capabilities to deliver with timeliness and quality were not impacted. We crossed 3 million learners worldwide, and Blackstone Private Equity invested $250 million in Simplilearn in 2021,” Kumar added.
At the policy level, both the Union and state governments were seen accepting edtech as an enabler. Education regulators like University Grants Commission and All India Council for Technical Education allowed institutions to depend more on technology in terms of both education delivery and assessment.
A large number of Indian universities also went online to establish their presence in the online education space, with both short-term and long-term courses offered independently as well as in partnership with edtech firms.
Despite a growth in options, both university and school education took a beating due to closure of campuses and limited access to required infrastructure to avail of the digital disruptions.
Even as edtech boomed, however, the Union education ministry cautioned the student community to be on guard amid growing chatter of poor delivery despite lofty promises.“Do not blindly trust the advertisements of the edtech companies. Do not sign up for any loans of which you are not aware. Do not install any mobile edtech application without verifying the authenticity,” said a recent advisory from the government.