Significant advancements are being made in online education in India as a result of its exponentially developing technology. With a population of over 1.3 billion and the availability of high-speed internet and smartphones, India has a massive base of technologically-driven consumers as the educational landscape shifts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The low-cost data revolution and the government’s digital push have made access to internet more diverse and inclusive. India now has more rural internet users than urban internet users. For the first time in 2019, rural users outnumbered those in urban areas (227 million and 205 million, respectively). 1Of those rural internet users, 58 percent fell within the ages of 16-292 in the first quarter of 2019, indicating a prime demographic for access to online education.
Although there are already more internet users in rural areas than in urban areas, even more, significant rural growth is possible. Internet density continues to increase across the board, but over 70 percent of the rural population still lacks access to the internet3. While 66 percent of India’s population is rural, internet density only accounts for 25 percent of that segment. This is in stark contrast to the urban portion of the population, where internet density is nearly 98 percent. This will further contribute to an increase in the overall internet population over the next few years as more people gain access. India’s explosive internet growth in rural and urban areas is a driving force behind the rise of online education.
The online education market in India was worth $247 million USD in 2016 and is expected to reach approximately $1.96 billion USD by 2021.4 Concurrently, it is estimated that the number of paid online education users will grow to 9.5 million by 20215.These figures don’t account for the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is entirely possible that the projected estimates will fall short of reality as more and more education is pushed online.
Drivers for Online Education in India
Internet Penetration: India has an internet penetration of 50 percent6. It is predicted that by 2021, there will be nearly 735 million internet users in India7, which will lead to an increase in traffic for online education providers.
Government Initiatives: Recent government initiatives are expected to strengthen the infrastructure needed by students to pursue education online. Information on some of these initiatives, including the YUKTI portal, SWAYAM Prabha, eBasta, and e-VIDYA, can be found in the related section below.
Affordability: Online courses taken at UG or PG level are much more affordable than traditional programmes: students save on tuition, accommodation cost, and travel expenses as they have the luxury to complete the course from home and in many cases at their pace. Many credential courses are free of cost and providers like Udemy have their prices as low as $11.99 USD.
Demographic: Nearly 46 percent of India’s population falls within the ages 15-408. This younger demographic is a perfect target market for online education as online formats are generally more acceptable to this age range than older age groups and the lower cost is appealing to a price-sensitive market.
Emerging Trends in the Online Higher Education System in India
The desire for upskilling and reskilling is leading to a demand for certification courses. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of students pursuing online education increased six-fold9. Over 70 percent of these students turned to online education for the purpose of learning a new skill or expanding their employment opportunities. Online models are an attractive option for current employees, as they provide the flexibility to obtain these skills without interrupting work schedules.
Starting in 2018, the University Grants Commission (UGC) began to actively support online education models, allowing some institutions to offer a small percentage of their courses online10.
In 2019, the UGC expanded upon this, allowing qualified institutions to offer more courses and certificate programmes online and creating a standard framework for them. The UGC regulations mean these online programmes can be recognized as equivalent to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. This backing will help ensure the quality of online programmes and consequently reduce skepticism regarding their efficacy.
This momentum was reinforced when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed everything online at a dizzying rate. In the effort to provide continued education while social distancing, institutions and governments have created a massive surge of support for online learning. More institutions are offering online courses and a multitude of resources are emerging to improve the online model and make it a viable substitute for a traditional classroom. Further information on these initiatives is included below.
Adoption of MOOCs in India
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer the flexibility to take select courses online without enrolling in or paying for an entire degree programme. Many students are using MOOCs to supplement traditional higher education: nearly 40 percent of Indian MOOC students are also enrolled in a traditional degree programme11.
Of these students, there is a fairly even split between those enrolled in undergraduate programmes and those enrolled in graduate programmes. MOOCs may augment or broaden students’ course options, help them prepare for exams, or just allow them to pursue an additional area of interest.
Most Indian MOOC students are taking courses to develop useful skills for their current job or learn new skills to obtain a new job. More and more, these courses are being used for professional training or to fill in educational gaps12. The wide variety of courses available and the limited time investment required makes them well-suited for these niche knowledge areas.
COVID-19 Education Initiatives and the Rise of the EdTech Industry
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) launched the ‘Bharat Padhe Online’ (India Study Online) campaign to crowdsource ideas for improving the online education system in India. The campaign ran for a week in April 2020 and garnered over 3,700 suggestions via Twitter and email13.
The MHRD has formally launched the YUKTI portal, which is aimed at helping institutions to record and monitor academic, research, and social initiatives dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and the related well-being of students.14
The MHRD is expanding the SWAYAM Prabha, an initiative that provides 32 high-quality educational channels via DTH throughout India during the day. Twelve new channels are being added to bolster educational programming and support those without internet access.15
Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) announced that in the wake of the nation-wide lockdowns of schools and colleges it is offering access to the TCS iON Digital Glass Room, a virtual learning platform, free of charge to educational institutes across the country16. Using this versatile resource, educators and students can connect in a secure virtual environment, moving lessons from traditional classrooms to interactive online rooms.
Part of the Digital India initiative, eBasta provides a platform for students to access e-books. 17It is possible for teachers and students to provide publishers with feedback regarding the platform’s contents, meaning updates and improvements can be made faster as curriculum evolves.
‘Pradhan Mantri’ e-VIDYA was launched in May 2020 to allow 100 top universities to offer online courses18.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left numerous industries helpless and adversely affected the economy, but EdTech-based companies are thriving. In India, the EdTech industry is projected to create 3,000 fresh jobs19. This industry is working to deliver efficient online solutions for learning and development, and private EdTech companies are benefiting from the sudden mass adoption of online learning.
With 935 universities20, India is an ideal nexus for EdTech companies and educational institutions to compile their resources and construct these online classes.
Investors are stepping up their interest in this industry, recognizing its potential as the pandemic pushes education online. On a global scale, investments in the EdTech sector amounted to $18.66 billion USD in 201921. EdTech companies in India raised around $1.09 billion USD in investments during the same year22,approximately six percent of global investments. In the first three months of 2020, EdTech ventures in India have already brought in over $686 million USD23.
Future of Online Education
Based on current trends, the online higher education market has a positive outlook and can be expected to have considerable growth in the coming years. Not everyone believes online education is an equal substitute for traditional learning, however, so a hybrid model may gain traction in the future. Virtual classrooms may also become more popular, as they offer the convenience of an online method with the engagement of traditional classroom experience. Both hybrid models and virtual classrooms may allow a more practical component to be introduced to online education, as many of the current offerings are theoretical in nature.
The EdTech market is already predicted to grow exponentially in the coming years due to various policy initiatives and evolving consumer preferences. COVID-19 may be an additional catalyst for the growth of this industry and further support adoption of online education models moving forward.
These emerging changes in the educational sector may become permanent. The longer the coronavirus pandemic lasts, the bigger its effect will be and there is a strong possibility that online learning may become mainstream rather than a temporary measure. Once educators and students gain access to the remote technology they need to adapt to online methods, there may not be a compelling reason to transition back to traditional educational settings.
Contributors: Brittany Lippincott and Nishant Hyanki