Inspiring Prospects for Online Education in India

What does one call a growth of eight hundred percent in four years? Exponential? Phenomenal? Trailblazing? Adjectives aside, the fact is that online education in India, the world’s fastest growing economy among countries whose GDP exceeds $50 billion, is set for the kind of growth that could fit into any of the descriptions made above.

That online education in India is set for enormous numbers should ordinarily not surprise anyone. We have all that it takes to make something like this a success:

Huge population in the learning age: We all know that India has more than one-sixth of the world’s population (1.3 billion out of 7.6 billion). While this in itself is very notable and is something that will have marketers and investors drooling; what is more important is this: a whopping two fifths of the entire Indian population is under the age of 20. An amazingly high number of adolescents make up India’s population: In 2011, UNICEF India estimated that one in every five adolescents in the world is an Indian, which means that nearly a quarter of a billion people in the country is an adolescent, in the ripest learning age. This is a very huge focused market size by any stretch of imagination.

Adaption of technology: Another major advantage India brings is the prowess it has in technology. India’s IT strength is a major factor in the world of technology today, and we are being modest in saying this. As more and more people move into IT and adapt technologies with ease; the prospects of use of technology for a number of areas such as education are huge.

Huge online education resources: A supplementary factor in online education is that fact that India has an appetite for building up resources related to online education. An offshoot of the technologies at which Indians have shown a high degree of adaptability; the www is flooded with innumerable websites pertaining to online education in India. This makes access to any information related to online education a lot easier than through the traditional offline medium, hastening the push towards a decision about taking up online education courses.

The constraints:

But how do all these factors fare in relation to the constraints that are inherent in any market? Do these facts in themselves neutralize and override the many deficiencies and bottlenecks associated with online education?

What are these issues concerning online education in India? The biggest factor should be the emotional one, meaning the resistance among vast sections of the population to taking up online education. We come from a tradition in which the gurukula system was prevalent for centuries, till classroom training came to replace it. Have you come across a single fable from the hallowed legends of Indian mythology (and history, as well), where any person ever attended schools as we know them today?

While one may not really have a nostalgic longing for the gurukula system; we are still very comfortable with sending out children to schools. Will online education make such an impact that it will replace this system over time? I am no Nostradamus to say this, but it is sure to take many more years, or even decades, for that to happen. Plus, we also have to contend with other factors such as resistance to the thought that online education is not as effective as the traditional medium, the low penetration rate of the Internet in India, where till now, despite the high growth rate, only a quarter of the country is connected via the Internet, lack of academic recognition for online courses, the perception that online courses are not as demanding as classroom courses, among many other such related matters.

Yet, one cannot ignore huge growth rate numbers:

These reservations notwithstanding, the prospects for online education in India are beginning to take off. The figures just released by KPMG show a lot of promise, estimating that by 2021, our market for online education will jump eight-fold from the current figure of under $250 million to around a couple of billion dollars. Encouraging as these figures might be; let us be a little cautious when it comes to understanding what to make of these figures.

Hurdles need to be overcome. Policy needs to support online education in a big way. People need to change their mind-set. Plus, massive investment needs to go into the industry for sustained periods of time to take online education to its likely destination. One can surely say that the prospects are bright for now, and that is a great feeling to have. Taking the route to that destination is what matters.