Towns and cities in India known for their coaching centres could be deserted for longer as students grapple with post COVID-19 world.
Aakash Chaudhry, Director and CEO of Aakash Educational Services Limited (AESL) told Moneycontrol, "One thing is clear, students may choose to stay back in their home locations to pursue coaching, rather than going to coaching hub."
He said, it will take at least six to nine months for students and parents to be fully comfortable with offline classrooms, adding, “Students and parents want to know how will safety be maintained in the classrooms and how will the cleanliness levels be amidst the virus concerns."
Kota — known as the coaching capital of India — is ready to welcome back students, candidates and their parents are not willing to come back. The reason? Safety concerns and fear of not being able to return.
Coaching centres for higher education is a massive business in India and is estimated to be worth Rs 75,000 crore. This includes offline, online players and unorganised private tutors. Test preparation courses make up for almost 70 percent of the total revenue of this sector.
Moving offline classes online
Even though AESL is one of the few players in India already with a presence in online tutoring space, Chaudhry admitted to 'glitches' even as the company successfully moved more classes online post COVID-19 outbreak in mid-March.
Interestingly, Chaudhry also said that students are more attentive in the online classrooms especially since their parents are around.
“This has given a new thought to munch. We are looking to see if such online programmes could be continued even after the lockdown is lifted,” he added.
Harvard University, too, has decided, all course instructions for both graduate and undergraduate courses will continue to be fully online, regardless of whether the student is residing inside the campus.
For AESL, all classes are now online. From being just five percent of the total business in FY20, Chaudhry said that online revenue has seen a jump, without disclosing the numbers.
Death-knell for offline classes?
On July 1, AESL announced that it has set up a wholly-owned subsidiary, Aakash Edutech (AEPL) for the digital education business. The new entity will offer an online platform for students to access live test preparation classes and live tuition with self-study materials.
The press statement said AEPL will comprise of Aakash Digital and Meritnation businesses. While Aakash Digital that offers online coaching for competitive exams was started seven years ago, 11-year old Meritnation which offers live classes to school students was acquired by AESL in January 2020.
So, will this pave way for classroom lessons to completely move online?
Chaudhry disagrees. He said that there will still be a value addition that is only possible in a physical classroom setting.
“Once the board examination results are announced by July 15, we will start seeing new enrollments. Our interactions with stakeholders have shown that students are eager to come back,” he added.
Especially when it comes to test preparations for entrance examinations like JEE (engineering) and NEET (undergraduate medical), Chaudhry added that one-on-one interactions, peer comparisons and peer learning in physical classes which may not be replicated in online mode.
“There will continue to be demand for regular in-person coaching classes and hopefully depending on the pandemic situation, students should start coming back to the classrooms over the next two to three months,” he added.
To help students choose courses depending on their financial conditions, Chaudhry said that AESL has offered a wide bucket with different price points.
For instance, the Aakash Digital website has courses ranging from Rs 1,359 as a rank-booster test series for NEET 2020 to Rs 19,900 for live online crash course for NEET 2020. Similarly, a live online crash course for JEE Main 2020 is also being offered at a 24.7 percent discounted price of Rs 15,039.With both NEET and JEE Main postponed to September 2020, students also have a longer period to prepare for these tests.