In an interesting article in Forbes India by Joshua Kim titled 3 Reasons why India will lead EdTech in the 21st Century, Joshua argues that the next big thing in Education is going to be India.
Josh believes that, firstly, “(T)he reason that the next technology revolution will occur in India is the degree to which the culture prizes learning and scholarship.” The statement does not necessarily hold true because merely having a “culture that prizes learning to a degree” is insufficient to predicate that the culture prizes learning through technology. Also, if other cultures also prize learning, then it automatically does not mean that they will encounter revolutions in technology. In India, it is a great leap of faith to even assume that people (“at every income level”) will pay for educational apps or platforms in any large way, or that there will be any large population that is able to access technology based education solutions like these in the near future. Furthermore, look at the entrepreneurial activity in EdTech – not much to talk about in terms of investment capital or ideas. Perhaps more damning is the realization (at least mine), that faced with lack of choice and awareness, students make choices based on brand, placements and costs, rather than on learning pedagogy or the institution’s use of EdTech. Paradoxically, our culture is also indicative of our democratic inertia and the ability for the vast majority to believe in Destiny.
Secondly, Josh believes there is incredible demand just given the demographics. The Indian projection of HE students is 40 mn by 2020 which will take the creation of 33,000 new colleges. I think we all know the low probability of that supply side infrastructure (physical or virtual) being in place by then or of ramping up in time. Add to that regulatory mechanisms for promoting use of EdTech is going to be severely limited in the near future because of systemic issues, and we simply do not have mechanisms to ensure the supply of critical resources (such as skilled teachers) in the chain. Even from the demand side, we are fast learning that ability of learners to pay is severely limited and the ability of the government to subsidize education at that scale is severely constrained. What will end up happening is that existing institutions will cut quality to accommodate additional capacity (actually that is happening even as I write this), low quality and higher cost private and public-private institutional alternatives will start emerging and that the progression will be ad-hoc and skewed to meet only a subset of needs.
Thirdly, Josh believes that mobility will drive the vision of classrooms of the future. This presupposes that content exists in 28+ national languages, across all (or major parts) of the curriculum, with skilled facilitators/teachers manning the endpoints, and among other things (not even looking at the abilities of these ubiquitous devices, most of the 850 million are plain text based low cost and low end phones – IBEF estimated smartphones to be 6% of the total in 2011), and degree granting capabilities of institutions leveraging these mobile technologies. This is not even considering that the pedagogical practices based on mobile technologies are, even now, in infancy.
Given all that, and I don’t mean to be pessimistic about the vision of India being an EdTech leader (which I would perhaps like to see happen more than anyone else in India), I think the three reasons why India will NOT live up to that vision are:
1. India has no concerted strategy to build capability, all its focus is on capacity
This is a showstopper for all EdTech in India. We do not have enough resources (or plan to develop enough resources) that are skilled in building that vision for India, far less for executing any of it. We have very little research in EdTech and very little awareness of what is happening worldwide (particularly in experiences of countries like Africa, who are next in line to gear up to face the impending young, working population boom). We do not have any consolidation of existing EdTech expertise and platforms. Somewhere along the line, I think we are saying (at the Policy maker level) that we have thought enough, and that it is time to execute.
2. We are not leveraging our scale to meet the equally large scale of the challenge
All our approaches are more or less centralized and policy driven with little or no thought given to how we can turn scale to our advantage. In a country of over a billion people, we have just a few million teachers, very few really skilled educational administrators or planners and no online educational infrastructure worth talking about. There are simple ways to enable local level participation, to decentralize and to even achieve higher quality outcomes.
3. The Leadership DNA is missing
We don’t have it in the education space. It starts with Policy makers and planners, then with educational administrators, then with academics and goes all the way to the students themselves. The DNA that creates the necessary ecosystems for innovation, invention and implementation is almost absent.
While these three reasons may seem pretty damning, the solutions are equally obvious and straightforward. They are also easy to implement and will enable us to meet our challenges and fulfil Josh’s shared vision. We have to build capability, decentralize & democratize the education system and create an ecosystem that enable us to take the leadership position. We have that potential to be the leader. It just remains to be seen if we shall be able to exploit that.