Igniting minds the Edtech way | OPINION

By Dr. Jaijit Bhattacharya

Our former President, Dr. Abdul Kalam, wrote his vision of India in his book Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power within India. Education is the fuel that will propel our country to greater prosperity. Unfortunately, we are still far away from universal education, without which, igniting minds is a distant dream, thereby dampening our national journey towards greater prosperity.

Clearly, to provide quality education to the roughly 200 million students that India has, which, by the way, is roughly the same population as that of Pakistan, we need to have a large army of very good teachers. Unfortunately, we do not have good teachers. But we do need good teachers urgently as otherwise, students will not receive a good quality education, making them less productive and hence less employable. And if we cannot provide good education in the next 20 years, India would have lost a demographic advantage, and instead will be saddled with an enormous, ill-trained and poorly educated manpower that will not fare well in the global skills marketplace.

Unfortunately, one cannot manufacture teachers in a factory. It takes an enormous amount of time and training to produce the teachers that we need. So are we doomed? What is the way out of this precarious situation? The answer, as most of us know, is technology, or more specifically, education technology, which is referred to as Edtech. Edtech allows us to scale up and deliver quality education at a population scale, riding on top of the layers of networks such as BharatNet, that strive to reach out to every single student.

To begin with, most Edtechs reach out to students below the age of 18 years and take a click-wrap-based consent. A click-wrap agreement is essentially an online agreement that the user enters into by clicking on a checkbox to give consent. However, under the Indian legal system, any agreement entered into with a minor (anyone below the age of 18), is null and void.
So, how can Edtech operate if their agreements themselves cannot be upheld in a court of law? How do we provide a regulatory moat for Edtechs so that they have protection from the Indian legal system? Clearly, there is a need to provide supporting clauses in the amendments to the IT Act 2000.
There are also players who take the entire fees upfront, thereby trapping the students and parents from not being able to move to another Edtech option, even if the Edtech being provided is not suitable or of poor quality. It also harms the student as it wastes their time which cannot be brought back. As and when consumers fall prey to some players in the Edtech space, their faith in the entire Edtech diminishes, thereby inhibiting the growth of Edtech as an industry. There is clearly a need for a light-touch regulation in Edtech, in order to weed out the bad players and help in the growth of the industry.

In fact, it would be very supportive of the industry if government schools and colleges procure Edtech to support the teachers in government educational institutions and improve the quality of education. It would lead to the integration of Edtech with regular classroom teaching in K-12 education. This is in fact already happening in college education, propelled by the Wuhan Covid pandemic. Such an initiative would improve human resources in the country while providing revenue for the Edtech sector that would help them grow and innovate, creating pedagogy that is digital first and relevant for the Indian ecosystem.

India needs to be on the cutting edge of Edtech. We need to use Web 3.0 technologies such as AR/ VR/ IoT etc to make education more efficient and fun. Perhaps we should look at creating life-like robots that can become teachers in a classroom and support human teachers. Perhaps we need something else. It is critical that we quickly innovate in Edtech to provide and consume education at a population scale.

This article first appeared in India Today, https://www.indiatoday.in/opinion-columns/story/igniting-minds-edtech-way-india-2002368-2022-09-20