Education is the starting point from which a nation charts and shapes its growth trajectory. Economic development of a nation cannot be inclusive and holistic unless majority of its population has access to educational resources. However, in spite of acknowledging the importance of education in national development, countries have been unable to build institutional frameworks and systems to ensure equal and uninterrupted access to educational resources. The immense opportunities generated by the unmet educational demands have elicited unprecedented private sector interest. This has translated into massive investments, especially in emerging economies where student population is expanding at a breathtaking speed, leading to the introduction of modern technological tools and giving rise to a market for a concept known as “Smart Education”. According to Fortune Business Insights™, the global smart education and learning market size stood at USD 166.30 billion in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 665.12 billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR of 19.5% during the forecast period.
Smart Education: Understanding the Term
Smart education, also known as e-learning, is the delivery of learning resources using virtual technologies. Digital classrooms best exemplify the concept of e-learning, with students sitting in different locations and being able to gain knowledge from their teachers. The most noteworthy aspect of smart education tools is that they are breaking down social, cultural, economic, and geographical barriers that have traditionally halted or inhibited education from reaching the remotest sections and regions around the world. In developing nations, the educational technology (edtech) sector has witnessed a meteoric rise in the past few years, best reflected in the proliferation of edtech start-ups in these countries. Let us take a look at some of the activities that these companies are undertaking in India, a developing economy with a huge pool of students and working population.
Unacademy Acquires PrepLadder for USD 50 Million
Unacademy, an ed-tech start-up backed by Facebook and Sequoia, acquired PrepLadder, a medical entrance preparation platform, for an estimated value of USD 50 million in July 2020. PrepLadder was launched to cater to the growing demand from NEET postgraduate aspirants, and has been expanding to cover a wider spectrum of medical students. With this acquisition, Unacademy has further strengthened its portfolio of government exams preparation educational services. Besides PrepLadder, the company has previously purchased Kreatryx, a coaching platform for GATE preparation and CodeChef, a competitive programming site.
Vedantu Strategically Invests in Instasolv
In June 2020, Vedantu, a speedily expanding educational start-up in India, announced that it will be investing USD 2 million in Instasolv, a doubt-clearing app developed for students from Class 6 to 12. Vedantu’s decision to invest in this novel platform is intended to broaden the start-up’s presence in Tier 3 and 4 cities across the country. Moreover, the agreement will also deepen its footprint in the doubt-solving domain, especially for highly competitive exams such as NEET and IIT-JEE.
Byju’s Becomes One of India’s Most Valued Start-Ups
Byju’s, one of India’s most renowned smart education platform, has been growing prolifically since its inception. In June 2020, the company secured a new round of investment of around USD 100 million from Bond, a fund established by the Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker. Hitting a valuation of USD 10.5 billion with this investment, Byju’s has now become India’s second most valued privately-held tech start-up after Paytm. The new capital infusion will also enable the company to strengthen its presence in the burgeoning edtech market in India.
COVID-19 is Stoking the Adoption of Smart Learning Platforms Worldwide
While the edtech sector in India is flourishing, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of the global smart education industry. The UNESCO stated that school closures and nationwide lockdowns forced by the coronavirus have affected over 1.2 billion children in 186 countries, as of April 2020. As a result, countries rapidly adopted smart education platforms to ensure continuation of learning among children and young adults. In China, for example, Tencent classrooms have been widely used since February as the Chinese government ordered nearly 250 million full-time students to resume their studies. In the UK, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) launched its virtual learning portal called ‘Bitesize Daily’ in April 2020, which offered curriculum-based learning for children across the country. The coronavirus, therefore, has proved to be a blessing for the edtech sector, with companies in this field raking in investments in millions.
Can E-Education Fully Replace Face-to-Face Learning?
The success stories cited above paint a very promising picture of smart education, and its benefits certainly cannot be ignored. But a bigger question that arises is: can smart learning models adequately replace conventional learning mechanisms? Furthermore, once the pandemic is over, will people still adopt e-learning platforms as enthusiastically as they are now? Will parents prefer keeping their child safely ensconced in their home and attend virtual classrooms or will they instead opt for a comprehensive learning experience provided in schools, an experience that is critical during the formative years of a child? Satisfactory answers to these pressing questions are obviously not available presently. But it will be worth everyone’s while to actively search for them.