The COVID-19 pandemic has forced major changes in education at every level – from early learning to higher education to career development. It has accelerated the adoption of digital technology at an unprecedented scale.
Lockdowns to contain the spread of the pandemic gave rise to a new wave of innovations and experiments in education. Teachers have moved online, and schools, colleges, universities, and other learning centers have transitioned to e-learning. Children and students had to rely on their own resources to continue learning. This sudden transition has brought several challenges and inconveniences to educational community globally. However, while lamentable, the disruption to education systems has also offered valuable lessons and provided a unique opportunity for the stakeholders to reimagine education. The disruption has opened up numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators in the education technology space. It gave rise to many new business models, and many existing EdTech startups have seen an exponential growth both in terms of number of users and revenues over the past few months.
In this piece, we take a look at what COVID-19 mean for education and edtech startups, and what changes the pandemic has brought about in the above two sectors. But before we dive deep into the topic, it is worth taking a look back at the education before COVID hit the world.
Before the pandemic, students used to go to schools at fixed times and get access to proper classroom training and learning. Teachers, administrators, and all others used to come to schools and perform their respective duties. The use of technology in the education sector was evident but not at scale as we see today. Teachers and students have been dependent on technology for numerous educational needs, but technology as a medium for education was just being explored. But, look where we are today.
So what does COVID-19 mean for education?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most governments around the world to impose lockdowns to contain the spread of the deadly virus, resulting in closures of schools, universities, and other learning institutions. According to a UN report, the crisis has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries – about 94% of the world’s student population and up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries.
But as learning can’t be put on hold indefinitely, it has led the education community to look for alternative ways to continue teaching and learning, and this gave rise to a new wave of innovations and experiments in education. Transforming the educational experience is not easy and it takes time, however, the global pandemic has brought about massive change in the education sector. Some of the major changes include:
Heavy reliance on technology
As both teachers and students shifted online to continue teaching and learning, and even administrations to carry out day-to-day operations, there has been heavy dependence on technology and technological devices such as mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Dependence on the internet has also skyrocketed. A huge number of students also turned to television and other modes of education.
Rise in online education
With physical classrooms forced to remain close, many schools, coaching centres and higher education institutions have opted to use technology and take their courses online, offering students online classes and learning experiences as a substitute for the school time. However, many schools and institutions struggled and lacked the experience or infrastructure they needed to get into new ways to impart teaching and assignments. And this led to the rise in demand for online teaching tools and video conferencing apps to continue teaching and learning. Online instructional resources have become widely used by schools and institutions worldwide.
Remote learning was just a term then, but it has become a reality, that too at an unprecedented scale. Teachers had to adapt to new pedagogical concepts and modes of delivery of teaching, and students had to rely on their own resources to continue learning remotely through the internet, television or radio. Government has launched various methods like television, radio, and likewise to let children continue their education. Certain television channels have been dedicated for educational purposes.
While we cannot say that remote learning is the future of education, many experts have opined that blended learning – a mix of digital and face-to-face learning – will become an integral component of education.
Rise in the use of online teaching tools
With closures of schools and institutions, the use of online teaching tools, animations, and educational games has risen. Online teaching is significantly different from conventional teaching and to fill the gap, it is necessary to use such tools like games and language apps and visual aids to keep the students interested and engaged in the learning process. While this is a shift that would have happened anyway, the pandemic has speeded things up.
While the above are some major changes that have been caused by the pandemic, the crisis has also exposed the many inadequacies and inequalities in the education systems – from access to the basic technologies and facilities such as the broadband and computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones needed for online education, and the supportive environments needed to focus on learning, up to the misalignment between resources and needs. It has once again exposed the huge disparity between the haves and the have nots in the society. While students from privileged backgrounds could find their way past closed school doors to alternative learning opportunities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds or marginalized groups, who don’t have access to digital learning resources or lack the ability to learn on their own, have been shut out when their schools shut down. The world has a massive task to address this.
What does COVID-19 mean for edtech startups?
A blessing in disguise, COVID-19 has been a watershed moment for EdTech sector worldwide. While all other industries have been hit hard – many witnessing widespread layoffs, pay cuts across the board, and in many cases, the shuttering of entire businesses – EdTech sector worldwide witnessed exponential growth during the pandemic, as more and more people turn to digital education and solutions. While the concept of e-learning has been around for decades and there was already high growth and adoption in education technology even before COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated the trend at an exponential rate. Whether it is school curriculum, language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.
EdTech companies and startups from across the world – especially countries like China, India, US, UK, Canada, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Singapore – have reported rapid adoption of online learning solutions and witnessed massive growth in terms of number of users, revenues and funding during the pandemic months. According to a Holon IQ report, global EdTech sector has already seen a record $8.3 billion of VC investment through the first three quarters of 2020 and said it will likely see more than $10 billion this year. Among all countries, China (with EdTech giants such as Yuanfudao, Zuoyebang, Zhangmen, VIPThink, etc. raising hundreds of million dollars this year) is topping the chart, with India and the US taking the second and third spot respectively. According to the report, these three markets alone make up 90% of total global EdTech investment.
In India, according to a survey by NASSCOM, nine in 10 startups have registered a decline in revenues and over a third has either halted operations temporarily or permanently due to business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, EdTech sector has beaten the odds and emerged stronger than ever before. A report by Omidyar Network India and RedSeer has revealed that India’s EdTech user base – both paid and free users – in K-12 and post K-12 segments has doubled from 45 million to 90 million during the pandemic.
According to a recent report by Indian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (IVCA) and PGA Labs, Indian EdTech startups have seen a total investment of $2.22 billion in 2020 as compared to $553 million in 2019. The report, ‘The Great Un-Lockdown: Indian EdTech’, stated that 92 players received funding in 2020, out of which 61 received seed funding.
Earlier, Omidyar and RedSeer’s report further pointed out that the online education offerings across classes 1 to 12 in India are projected to increase 6.3 times by 2022 to create a 1.7 billion dollar market, and the post K12 market to grow 3.7 times to touch 1.8 billion. In total, the report added, EdTech is expected to be a whopping 3.5 billion market by 2022. All this means that it will create meaningful opportunities for incumbent players and space for multiple new startups.
According to a report by Research and Markets, the global EdTech and smart classroom market, which was valued at $75.24 billion in 2019, is projected to reach $234.41 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 15.3% from 2020 to 2027.
While lamentable, for causing learning disruptions and prolonged school closures, the crisis has provided a unique opportunity for the education community to reimagine education. Thanks to the pandemic, we will see some inevitable changes in the ways we’ve been imparting education to children until now.