E-learning: India’s education system needs to get online


India’s education system — be it primary, secondary or higher levels — is fraught with quality and quantity challenges: There is a shortage of quality teachers, an enabling environment for students and infrastructure, just to point out a few.

These hurdles are not going to go away soon even though there is a surge in the number of students at all levels and an increasing demand for quality education. There is also a corresponding demand from industry for skilled human resource.

But this thirst and demand for quality education and trained personnel will not be easy to quench because it takes time, funds and quality human resource to set up good institutions.

Then there is the rule book: Starting a school or a college in India needs magical levels of energy and perseverance.

In such a scenario, online education could be a boon for those who do not have access to quality education or are keen to reskill.

The e-learning market in India is estimated to be around $3 billion and it is growing. Take, for example, the massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera.

With one million users, India ties with China as its biggest source of online learners after its home base, the US. That the market expectations from this business model are robust can be gauged from the fact that the firm has raised $49.5 million, coinciding with the US-based firm’s plans to tap the Indian market to increase its user base.

The UTV Group is in talks with top institutions such as IIMs, IITs and even globally to start these courses. A few months ago, IIT-Bombay launched three MOOCs. The world of online learning is attractive not only because learning is no longer tethered to a classroom and timetables, but also because software programmes can “seamlessly integrate social media, making it possible to create online communities that are course specific”.

Along with the traditional textbooks, blogs, tweets, podcasts, webcasts, online chats, discussion boards, virtual study jams ensure that learning becomes multidimensional. Online courses can also help all those who are already in jobs to reskill and remain competitive without taking time off from their careers.

There is evidence that a majority of those registering for these courses have an undergraduate degree or higher and the courses are not being accessed by those who could benefit from education — women, the less educated and the poor.

India’s challenge, say experts, will be to make these facilities reach these social groups. India truly cannot afford to miss this bus.