Indian edTech has always been a tough battleground. It is getting tougher and more inexplicable by the day, and unless we, in edTech, take a stand, it will get far worse.
Here are some of the major forces shaping the industry.
The government has always had the lion’s share. They maintain the right of exclusion and maintain the right to make frequently silly decisions for the sector. Policy makers have not exhibited much understanding of edTech either, but have spent huge taxpayer money and time in demonstrating their deficiencies.
For the remaining, the private players are organized in an oligopolistic manner with the largest shares among private schools business being served by a handful of companies that are deeply entrenched. Large players have also indulged, in general, in several practices of corruption that accompany the oligopoly.
There are a large number of small players serving the market for a variety of needs. Very few of them have scaled. Those that have, are unable to scale further without knocking at the doors of the large traditional players.
There is also a pecking order in the schools themselves, starting with a small number of elite players and a vast majority of tier 2 and 3 schools. They have shown far greater acceptance and ability to experiment than the rest of the ecosystem, but large and prestigious schools are concerned more with their own progress than with developing the system itself.
For the longest time, control in the private school market has been wielded by regulatory bodies such as the educational boards. The direct control of the Central and State governments are always in evidence. There is a deep and abiding mistrust between public and private players, perhaps rightly so, because they have mostly conflicting ideals.
Whereas the B2B (and B2B2C) route is mostly preferred, the B2C market has not really taken off in a sustained manner. This is because those that could afford have already been sucked to the bone by the existing school system itself by way of fees and other allied expenses.
Venture capital in this scenario is weak, chasing exits with little domain expertise – at least in general. Everybody is floored by the prospect of scale, and very few understand that what the sector needs is sustained investment. A look at 2016 investments tell the story with one investment in an outdated model and very uncertain future getting the most traction.
And then government signals are very conflicting. The movement to common core type of curriculum, proposals for a single national board of education, quasi mandates on public textbooks, reversing the most important curricular innovation of this century and the last, cultural re-invention through books & media, focus on assessments across the grades in the name of minimum levels of learning, mandating SWAYAM as the learning exchange and the latest, setting up of a national teachers portal – all colored by a lens that can best be described as “nationalization” of education. The new buzzword seems to be to treat the education system as a nationalized public enterprise supported by well meaning technocrats.
But little do we realize that Indian edTech industry is now on the verge of extinction through these measures. Rather than building a pluralized & balanced ecosystem in which public and private initiatives are aligned, the government is over-reaching its role by imposing its own brands of content, pedagogy and technology. Even if it was to focus this only on it’s own schools and colleges, it will fail in its arrogance as the only thought leader in these areas – the only ones who really know how to create high quality digital content, innovate on pedagogical techniques and deliver technology for the millions.
Not having a diverse ecosystem with checks and balances will result in the death of innovation and creativity. Education will truly become a government department supported by large enterprises.
That is not who we are, the folks in edTech. We have an undying passion and commitment to education and yes, sustainable business practices – with complete integrity. We are people who have dedicated their lives to the mission of improving edTech in this country and continue to cherish the dream of a developed ecosystem for education where our children, teachers and administrators reap the rewards of edTech at scale. We are people not afraid to fail, to make mistakes – all to make sure we live in a better country. Our efforts are no less than that of the other stakeholders in the system.
And if certain myopic policies and biases serve against these goals, we have to speak out and be heard. Ours is not to remain silent. Not now.