PlanetSpark, a live online learning company that offers personalised classes on public speaking, creative writing, vlogging and other new age skills for children, aged four to 14, has witnessed 1,300 per cent growth in students in 2020.
Practically, an interactive digital learning start-up for students of grades 6-12 with a focus on STEM education, has enlisted over 300,000 students, 15,000 teachers and 150 schools across India and the Middle East in just seven months since launching its operations in May last year, while India’s most renowned edtech company, Byju, added 20 million new users to its platform in the first four months of coronavirus-induced lockdown.
These are not just isolated success stories. India’s edtech sector — with over 4,450 start-ups, according to resource centre DataLabs — reached new heights in the pandemic with record funding in 2020.
The ongoing health crisis may have put several business sectors through the wringer but it has spurred exponential boom in India’s education technology space after the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown closed schools and colleges, forcing thousands of children to embrace e-learning. As per a report by BARC India and Nielsen, there has been a 30 per cent increase in the time spent on education apps on smartphones since the lockdown.
“Edtech sector has seen tremendous uptake due to the crisis as the customer acquisition has accelerated, and that too at a very low cost,” Madhur Singhal, Managing Director, Praxis Global Alliance (PGA), which has published a report titled The Great ‘Un-Lockdown’: Indian EdTech last month, tells GN Focus.
“Edtech has the potential to be a $30 billion (Dh110.1 billion) market in India in the next five years, which before the pandemic was widely accepted as only half of this.”
Edtech sector has seen tremendous uptake due to the crisis as the customer acquisition has accelerated, and that too at a very low cost.
While the demand for learning tech has been strong even prior to 2020 due to rapid internet penetration and affordable data deals, the pandemic has accelerated edtech adoption in India. From tutoring apps and coding tools to digital skills development options for adults and enterprise solutions, the health crisis has been a major catalyst in driving demand for edtech at every level. According to a Google-KPMG survey, the online education market is expected grow to around 9.6 million users this year from just 1.6 million in 2016.
Blended learning to grow
“Last year will always be remembered as a milestone year for the education technology sector with the pandemic pushing students and parents to adopt e-learning as the most efficient way of learning. While we will overcome the pandemic sooner or later, e-learning will remain in a student’s life for times to come,” says Charu Noheria, Co-founder and COO, Practically, which uses technologies such as videos, artificial intelligence and 3D simulations to deliver experiential learning to students.
“Although classroom or face-to-face teaching will continue to be essential for learning, it is the blended model that will dominate in the future. Through this model, students, who are unable to attend physical classes, will have access to teachers and learning content online.”
Although classroom or face-to-face teaching will continue to be essential for learning, it is the blended model that will dominate in the future.
For the newly launched start-up PlanetSpark, 2020 was a very successful year. “Edtech has been a beneficiary of the Covid-19 crisis,” says its co-founder Maneesh Dhooper.
“After a dip in the number of customers in March, we started witnessing a steep curve from July onwards. Also, we saw that parents were more open to subscribing for longer-term programmes instead of short term fixes.”
After a dip in the number of customers in March, we started witnessing a steep curve from July onwards. Also, we saw that parents were more open to subscribing for longer-term programmes instead of short term fixes.
The India-based start-up also launched in the Middle East in June last year. “The biggest impact of Covid-19 on our organisation was having to hire, train and onboard employees without ever meeting them in person. We had to come up with new ways of working and making sure that we leverage technology to scale our growing start-up. Secondly, we found it hard to convince top school teachers that the impact of Covid-19 is permanent. But with some success stories, the teachers were able to see the impact that they could create.”
In a country with 390 million learners across age groups, innovation in education technology has proven to be a real game-changer in improving accessibility to quality teaching as well as breaking down many barriers to learning commonly experienced by students and educators.
“India is a supply constrained market — not just in terms of educational institutes but also teachers available. Moreover, more than half of the learners are outside the big cities and therefore, they do not have access to quality learning. Edtech has enabled everyone to access quality teachers, content and pedagogical approaches. Edtech players are also innovating to create bite-sized consumption models which will enhance the penetration even further,” says Singhal.
In this context, edtech startups are helping education institutions, learners, teachers and parents to adapt to new trends and evolve.
“K-12 tutoring and higher learning/upskilling start-ups have grown the fastest during the pandemic. Within this, live learning is becoming more popular than asynchronous learning,” says Singhal. “We have also seen growth in STEM education because of the availability of time. However, this could taper off as schools re-open. Digital classrooms and B2B edtech tools are also up-scaling rapidly.”
Uptick in investor interest
Investments in the edtech segment in recent years have also remained robust, allowing companies to leverage new opportunities in a big way and expand globally. According to PGA Lab, Indian edtech start-ups received a total investment of $2.22billion (Dh8.1 billion) in 2020 alone, jumping from $553million in 2019.
“There is a never seen before excitement about edtech among investors and there are certainly more funds available,” says Noheria from Practically. “We recently secured a Pre Series-B funding of $4million led by Siana Capital and we are looking to close our Series B round mid-2021.”
With the latest round of funding, Noheria expects to take Practically to the rest of the country by the end of this year. “We are also looking at adding over 2,000 employees by December.”
Building on its success in India, Practically has launched its services in the Middle East as well and started onboarding some prestigious schools as customers and regional partners. “The Middle East is turning out to be a great place for us to invest and scale our operations. We look forward to taking our product to more schools and students in the region in 2021, while our near-term plan is to expand into other English speaking countries globally.”
While the education technology sector received a strong push last year, buoyed by the trend for learning and working from home, experts expect the growth momentum to linger well into 2021 and beyond.
“Over 2021-25, we are expecting to see paradigm shifts in learner behaviour — from a focus on tuition fees, parents and students are going to take a holistic view on educational spending,” says Vaibhav Tamrakar, Vice President, PGA Labs.
Over 2021-25, we are expecting to see paradigm shifts in learner behaviour — from a focus on tuition fees, parents and students are going to take a holistic view on educational spending.
“From school-driven fixed curriculum, we will see an increased demand for continuous and self-paced learning through the ages, and from supply constraints, unrestricted and democratised access to educational aids and tools will form the backbone of education as much as the technology itself.”
Noheria also believes that technology adoption in the education sector is yet to see its peak.
“What started as a mad rush to adopt technology during the pandemic is likely to continue and sustain well beyond the pandemic years making products such as Practically a household name among students and teachers alike.” ●