How India’s EdTech sector is poised to shine on a global scale

By Team YS|9th Sep 2020
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The Fourth Industrial Revolution put India on the global digital map and offered a boost to the startup economy. While sectors like health, finance, and logistics witnessed significant adoption, the EdTech sector also made strides offering a new way to learn. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown across the country suddenly forced students to move their entire learning online.


This has not only made schools pivot to meet this new way of learning, it has provided an opportunity for EdTech companies to meet the increasing demand for online learning. In fact, as of June 2020, the Ministry of Human Resource development estimated that EdTech expenditure would be at $10 trillion by 2030.


Other key factors that have contributed to the growth include the significantly lower costs for delivering education at scale online; increased internet and smartphone penetration and a large untapped consumer base.


To further understand the Edtech opportunity in India, PayPal and YourStory organised a virtual panel discussion Leveraging the e-learning opportunity with key players in the Indian edtech sector on August 27 between 4 pm and 5 pm. The discussion, moderated by Dr Madanmohan Rao, Director of Research, YourStory, featured Arjun Mohan, India-CEO, upGrad; Kashyap Dalal, Co-founder & Chief Business Officer, Simplilearn; Manan Khurma, Founder & CEO, Cuemath; Arjun Mohan, India-CEO, upGrad; and Ashish Singla, Director - Large Enterprise Growth, PayPal.

A growing demand

With the lockdown coming into effect, there was a seismic shift in learning, with everyone having to move online practically overnight.

“The first sign we saw was learning times skyrocketing. Learning times shot up 250 percent compared to the earlier norms. What we realised was that with people working from home, they were getting more time to themselves, which they spent in upskilling,” said Kashyap.

Manan believed that the increase in online education was because there was reduced scepticism about e-learning and that online education was here to stay. He said that people were choosing online education as it offers greater scope for customisation.


Arjun believes that fence-sitters who never really believed online would work suddenly have changed their viewpoint, which has resulted in a 5x- 6x jump in traffic.


“I don't think we should draw conclusions now. Whatever projections we made for the next five years are out the window. We should now see what happened yesterday to plan today. That's the situation we are in. The one thing that is clear is that we need to monetize all this traffic,” said Arjun.


The pandemic also impacted the way people are making payments. “In Q1, the pandemic was something that was happening in China. As a global organization, there was a “China impact” on revenues and we tried to see where we could make it up. Then things went global. After a brief standstill, things really skyrocketed. Payments started moving increasingly online and our Q2 results showed 21 million new users sign-ups globally. This was more than a 100 percent quarter-on-quarter jump,” said Ashish.

Customisation is key

Speaking about how technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), are offering customised experiences for individual learners, Arjun believes that technology has been key to building personalised journeys. “I've been in every domain of EdTech in India from K-12 to professional education. The issue is always with a one-size- fits-all solution. While ML and AI are buzzwords, what you're trying to do is tell every student that they are unique, and hence, what they will like and how they will learn will be unique, and that we will give them the content and experience they will like, “ he said.

Manan believes that to attain the best levels of engagement, learners have to be challenged appropriately.


“There is a concept in astronomy called the Goldilocks zone, which says that if a planet is too near or too far from the host star, life won't appear on it because it would be too hot or too cold. It has to be in a very narrow band of distance from the host star. Similarly, the learner has to always be challenged on a very narrow band of difficulty level, where the learning can’t be too difficult or too easy, or the learner will disengage. We have to ensure that every learner is always at the right level and learning outcomes will be exponentially faster. And to do that, smart AI and ML systems will be needed.”

Customisation is also key in tailoring learning experiences, so that students, whether in school or university, don’t get bored or find the material going over their head. “If a person feels left behind or is not scoring well, then suddenly his learning curve kind of flattens out. This kind of engagement is possible through AI. A slightly more future-focused project we are working on is how we can use AI in terms of visual detection to gauge attention span, and see if there can be some proactive intervention,” said Kashyap.


Technology was not the only enabler in the EdTech sector. Ashish said that with education moving online, there was a significant opportunity in India to reach out to the global market. “For PayPal, India itself presents a huge market, but at the same time, there is a huge international market. Organisations are increasingly realising that spending power is much higher abroad. What I personally feel is that this is a BPO-like opportunity for India,” he said. He added that PayPal was enabling organisations, whether they were startups or established players, to grow their international businesses.

Socialisation is key

A key aspect of offline education is when students meet, interact, and learn from each other. Online platforms are trying to create their own interactive environments.


“If you can tap into student-to-student interactions properly, it can have a huge impact on engagement. One of the features in our class is a leaderboard that keeps running and tracks students in real time in terms of how much work they have done. You have to implement this carefully so that it is not demotivating. But if you do it right, it can dramatically up the engagement quotient and the amount of work that kids are willing to put in because social is a huge driver of engagement. This is a big area of focus for us,” said Manan.


Arjun believes that social interaction is a very important aspect of learning and this is one area where online still lags behind offline modes of learning. “I think that a hybrid model will come into play over a period of time. At upGrad, we tried to participate in forums and discussions, with a Teaching Assistant in every class who fosters discussion between the students. But, a lot of things can easily go wrong, so you have to create a very fair and clear framework within which the students should interact.”


At Simplilearn, Kashyap says they try to create multicultural classrooms for a more enriching experience. “As a business, we get about 40 percent of our business from India and the rest is international. North America is a huge market for us. So for example, if there is a cohort getting into a data programme, then they will be people from India and from the US. A lot of the learning happens from the kind of questions that different people ask, so you end up having a very interesting cohort that is diverse in terms of geography and industry, which becomes a very enriching experience.”


Socialisation is also a key aspect in the payments space, and Ashish cites the example of P2P payments platform Venmo, which Paypal has acquired. It’s loved by millennials in the US. And the key aspect is that it adds a social element to the payments. People are adding emojis and comments to their money transfers and sharing details to a paywall for their friends’ circles to see. The engagement on the platform is tremendous. You would not have imagined that people would want to share this information, but it’s a funny world we live in,” he said.

Ready to launch globally

The session also included a presentation on India’s EdTech opportunity – Go Global with PayPal – Navin Mistry, Director, SMB, PayPal. Here are some of the key highlights:

  • Strong growth potential for EdTech sector in India
  • India's EdTech market will touch, $3.5 billion - $4 billion by 2022
  • K-12 and upskilling segment have seen a huge increase
  • Greater adoption by schools, colleges and tuition centres of tech-based solutions
  • Syllabus, language, pricing, pedagogy, offline support and teacher training will be key differentiators.

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