E-Learning in India – Numbers Tell a Story

Located in New Delhi, Sabakuch is India’s first social networking portal with a trio of music, images, and e-learning as its extensions. Built to seamlessly connect users to friends, family and business professionals under one roof, the company has made great strides in a short period of time.

A slate and a piece of chalk have been symbolic of our education system for centuries. It begins with adolescents who grow up as young men and women and yet write in schools and colleges, with a bigger piece of chalk on a bigger slate, i.e. blackboard. With the growth of social networking in India, a new phenomenon has emerged known as ‘’e-learning’’. How well does it fare among the traditional education sector in India? And what sort of implications does it hold? Read further to find out.

Beyond the Definition

The word ‘e-learning’ is often dismissed as a gimmick of modern day social media. But the roots of it go back to the 80s when distance education and video cassettes had just started growing. The internet merely gave it a new medium; a faster and swifter one albeit, to reach out to the public. E-learning is beyond a meek definition of ‘online education’ or ‘virtual learning’ and includes not just the course material for a student’s knowledge, but also the practices involved to disseminate the knowledge. This may include audio notes, video lectures, mock test papers, etc. It is a tool to promote the inclusive growth of students who might not get a chance to polish their talent in a traditional learning environment.

The Reach of Education

The reach of online education can be assessed from the fact that many students who are enrolled in distance learning (about 30 million in higher education) depend on e-learning sites for preparation during their exams. It reaches the target audience through four different modes; namely, private sector, government, traditional method, and directly through the web.

E-learning makes knowledge universally affordable. Most people who study online cannot think of a reason to go back and pay heavy fees for college. Nowadays, people are finding it easier to share their e-mock paper results with their peers on many popular social networking sites in India. E-Learning also has the potential to make undergraduate education out-of-date. This is because:

  1. Most of the free educational content available online in India is targeted at higher secondary and college entry-level educational material, and
  2. The demographics suggest that 18-30 is the right age when students start making career choices

Talking in Numbers

A new report suggests that almost 50% of children drop out after primary school in India and nearly 75% after secondary school. Together they form a student base of about 250 million. This is a great time for the education industry to keep an eye on the developments of GST (Goods & Services Tax) which gives the education sector several exemptions and the present government can be expected to raise GDP share of education above the current figure of 3%.

According to recent data available, the online education sector is expected to have an eight-fold growth and reach $1.96 billion by 2021. The student base of primary and secondary school children will be 770 million by 2021. This information is particularly useful for Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities which have fewer accesses to offline coaching and have been adding a major chunk of the online learning growth story over the last 2 years. In these figures, is hidden the key to revenue model as the paid user base from Tier 1 cities is expected to increase six times from 1.6 million (2016) users to 9.5 million users (2021).

The Challenges

Firstly, many people believe that it is not wise to completely remove humans out of the picture. A live teacher is a communicator as well and communicates in a non-verbal manner reacting according to the needs of the student. Similarly, it is not possible for an interactive video teacher to encourage a student by giving him/her ‘’a pat on the back’’ which only can be done with the presence of a physically present teacher.

Secondly, online education needs to learn from distance learning model in India which has about 5 million students, but due to lack of professional guidance and skills, they eventually end up unemployed. Innovators in online education need to take into account the support for regional languages to improve the longevity and acceptance in the country. And lastly, e-learning needs to move ahead of just watching videos online. Websites need to offer a criterion to gauge performance, understanding of concepts, give proper assessment and personalised feedback.

The Future

A recent report in 2016 estimated India’s digital learning market at about 128 crore rupees. The need of the hour is to capitalise on growing internet users (more than 450 million users with yearly increase of around 7%) Based on this data, the e-learning market needs to introduce cutting-edge technology through computers and mobile apps. There is also the potential for companies to partner with some key government policies and contributing to nation building exercise. For instance, in order to give a push to Digital India initiative, the government has already begun pilot tests for its SWAYAM project, partnering with private sector. Similarly, the Skill India Mission could use e-learning to re-skill and up-skill employees in different areas.

There is little doubt that the numbers show the ability for the e-learning to bridge the digital divide for students who have not experienced the digital revolution. The data also presents some great economic opportunities to carry a two-pronged approach of improving the Indian education system and helping the government realise the targeted 6% GDP spending in this sector.

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