Why does India need an education technology policy now? – The Leaflet

For ed-tech’s growth to be sustainable and equitable, India needs a robust ed-tech policy, followed by regulatory measures.
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IN January this year, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan announced that the Union Government is working on a policy to regulate education technology (Ed-Tech) platforms. This came in the wake of a strong shift towards EdTech driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, when online education became the bridge to provide flexible and quality education.
The EdTech market is expected to grow to USD 10 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 30 per cent (2020-2025). The National Education Policy, 2020 also provides a push towards the ed-tech sector by proposing to set up a National Education Technology Forum.
EdTech startups witnessed funding of over $4.7 billion in 2021 and $2.1 billion in 2020, as compared to $393 million in 2019. The EdTech market is expected to grow to USD 10 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of approximately 30 per cent (2020-2025). The National Education Policy, 2020 also provides a push towards the ed-tech sector by proposing to set up a National Education Technology Forum. But what we urgently need is a policy and regulatory framework to sustain the ed-tech bubble.
Also read: A Pandemic and a Policy: Contextualizing the National Education Policy 2020
In June, online ed-tech platform Physics Wallah became the latest entry to India’s ed-tech unicorn club; with this, India now has seven ed-tech unicorns. Since education is a strategic priority, India allows hundred per cent foreign direct investment in the sector through the direct route. Even philanthropic initiatives in ed-tech have been emerging to reduce learning losses that occurred due to school shut-downs during the pandemic.
Though ed-tech has the potential to make learning accessible and act as a bridge to classroom learning, the industry is still quite nascent. “There have been no efforts to see — if you do 30 minutes of a maths exercise every day in a particular format, what learning outcomes could it lead to?” says Prachi Jain Windlass, director of the global philanthropy Michael & Susan Dell Foundation in India.
 A comprehensive ed-tech policy is needed to address a few challenges that have emerged:
    (a) Standardization and Quality: Parents are usually drawn to the quality of course content when they enrol their child for an ed-tech service. However, in the absence of guidelines on how the content should be structured, consumed, evaluated, and analysed by students and teachers, there is no assurance on quality of service. Often, the decisions on design approach are taken by software engineers who focus on implementation effectiveness rather than the pedagogical significance of the approach.
   (b) Consumer Protection: False or misleading advertisement on curriculum content, payment structure, loan and other financials plagues the functioning of ed-tech firms, and raises issues under consumer protection laws. Recently, the Karnataka Consumer Forum imposed a hefty penalty on multinational ed-tech company Byju’s for deficient services.
    (c) Data Protection: To enable online learning, ed-tech firms collect massive amounts of personal and sensitive personal information, especially of children who are the end-users of the ed-tech services. These firms also rely on artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms  to analyze the data they collect, to refine their services and improve their reach. Often, ed-tech companies tie-up with other companies to carry out big-data analyses. This raises data privacy concerns, and questions as to how safe children are online.
Without a comprehensive data privacy law, ed-tech companies are prone to data breaches. Online learning platform EduReka in September 2020, online educational platform Unacademy in January 2020, and online tutoring platform Vedantu in September 2019 suffered data breaches, thus highlighting the need to address data protection concerns.
Also read: Companies go scot-free despite breach of customer data

   (d) Safety of Children: Children who are the primary consumers of ed-tech services are most susceptible to profiling and targeting for commercial purposes, cyber bullying, and other cyber-crimes.
Acknowledging the growth of the ed-tech industry during the pandemic, the government issued an advisory to citizens regarding the use of caution against ed-tech companies. This advisory requires citizens to assess financial features, quality of content, usage of data, and focus on child safety while opting for online content. However, the advisory is primarily targeted at the citizens, cautioning them to take measures, instead of regulating the ed-tech firms.
However, the advisory is primarily targeted at the citizens, cautioning them to take measures, instead of regulating the ed-tech firms.
Pursuant to the advisory, fifteen ed-tech firms came together to form the ‘India EdTech Consortium’ under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India to develop a self-regulatory code. While self-regulation is a positive step, there is a need for a policy to address the challenges posed by the ed-tech sector and set standards for its functioning.
A model policy should:
    (a) Lay down a clear demarcation of ‘ed-tech’ between the supplementary use of technology as an after-school tool versus as a substitute to education in classrooms.
   (b) Establish measures to assess quality of content and teaching delivered by ed-tech interventions.
    (c) Establish a grievance redressal mechanism for users to address issues expeditiously.
   (d) Establish modalities of ensuring equitable access to education to children with disability.
    (e) Establish measures to build a secure digital infrastructure and promote digital safety.
    (f) Regulate advertising and marketing standards considering the best interests of children, thereby protecting children from targeting or profiling for commercial purposes.
   (g) Provide guidance on maintenance of data on ed-tech platforms in India, promote research to measure the efficacy of technology-based teaching, and pave the path for innovation.
Also read: Digital Education and COVID19: Addressing the tragic state of students in the Indian Education System
With both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations leveraging ed-tech to improve India’s learning outcomes, ed-tech in India, which is currently utilized by 10 per cent of the student population is set to rise exponentially. For ed-tech’s growth to be sustainable and equitable, India needs a robust ed-tech policy, followed by regulatory measures.

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