With E-Vidya, the Indian government is planning a digital overhaul of higher education and university courses
Higher education platforms need to ensure availability of quality content over 2G and 3G services, says upGrad CEO Mayank Kumar
With massive power cuts, internet disruption and lack of infrastructure, conducting online exams have been difficult as well
With the coronavirus pandemic forcing people into changing their buying and consumption behaviour, the Indian government has been ensuring that there is an undisrupted supply of all essential services and products. Among these is online learning as the government expands its official edtech programmes with the launch of E-Vidya for multi-mode access to online education. Knowing the challenges in the government’s great edtech dream, several startups like Toppr, upGrad and Goprep have also offered their technology support to colleges and universities, to go beyond the crowded K-12 segment.
While E-Vidya focusses on both K-12 and higher educational needs, given the number of K-12 platforms in India, the bigger priority will be higher education and university courses. As per finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement last week, the Indian government has also allowed top 100 universities in India to automatically start online courses by Mar 20, 2020.
With India crossing 1.18 Lakh confirmed Covid-19 cases (May 22, 2020), the e-Vidya portal has come as a much-needed relief measure, but its potential is limited by the number of universities being targeted. According to 2018-2019 All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE), India is home to 993 universities, 39,931 colleges, and 10,922 standalone institutions listed on its web portal. Overall, there are over 37.4 Mn students enrolled in these colleges. The report notes that almost 60.53% of the colleges are located in rural areas.
Besides an extensive student population, India also faces an internet crisis with the highest number of internet disruptions, which lasted more than 36 weeks in the second half of 2019. On the other hand, all-India average duration of power cuts was 5 hours and 28 minutes in May last year.
But traditional Indian educational institutions have been taking their offline setups online even before the Indian government had stepped in. These institutions have either been partnering with edtech startups or leveraging on free services offered by the video conferencing platforms.
Even Delhi University, which started its digital initiative from March 16, has been relying on video conferencing options like Google Suit, Zoom and more to offer online classes to its students. However the process has not been as smooth as expected. Internet connectivity and bandwidth has been an issue, highlighted a professor from the university.
They also added that several students do not have access to proper internet connectivity and cannot afford to spend on higher bandwidth.
Another professor from a prominent IIT highlighted that a significant number of students in their college don’t have access to decent internet at home and thus, a typical online course offering is not possible. “We have uploaded contents online so that they can download and learn offline at their own pace,” the professor added on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Jaipur-based IIHMR University has also been looking to expand their teaching module through the digital segment and also formed partnerships for the same. Amity Group has also been offering online degree programmes, after the University Grants Commission of 2018 that allows universities to offer lectures that are recorded or delivered through video-conferencing.
In order to effectively deal with such challenges, education providers, including higher education institutions, and online platforms must make educational quality content available on 2G and 3G data speed to ensure accessibility across Tier II and III cities and develop robust tech to ensure content streaming can happen using lesser bandwidth, said Mayank Kumar, cofounder and MD of upGrad.
For universities that have managed to start their digital venture despite the challenges, conducting online exams has been another problem. IIM Kashipur held its trimester exams for first year students digitally, which registered only 60% student turnout.
Keeping this in mind, Delhi University has decided to conduct a 2-hour-long open book exam, with an additional 1 hour for scanning and submission. Back in December 2019 during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had opted for a similar approach to conduct exams. However, the students had decided to boycott it due to several other reasons.
Meanwhile, the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) has partnered with Mumbai-based mUni Campus to effectively conduct online exams for students in certain courses.
Speaking about the challenges in moving offline education setup online, Kumar added, “To deliver classes online, a regular video conferencing tool or a camera in front of a teacher is not enough. One needs to have a robust tech platform that can support the large volume of students, allow classroom-like interaction, measure session analytics and offer a seamless experience to both teachers and students.”
How Have Startups Pitched In?
This is where increasing dependability on the startups has been coming in handy for Indian institutes. The Indian tech startups have already invested heavily on building their tech platform, bringing teachers on board and managing a larger number of students to interact, learn and attend classes seamlessly.
In terms of bringing K12 section online, test prep platform Vedantu has been partnering with schools to take their classes online. Whereas other edtech startups like BYJU’S, Unacademy, Toppr, and Lido Learning are offering courses for K12 and test prep.
Meanwhile, startups like Coursera and upGrad have been focusing on higher education and helping them take their traditional setup online. For instance, upGrad Live is offering free services to all schools, colleges, educational institutions, NGO’s and Government Bodies in mid-March itself. So far, the company has been hosting more than 50 institutions to conduct their classes seamlessly and have over 45,000 students registered.
Some of the other renowned institutions include Nagpur University, Lovely Professional University, Jamia Hamdard University, Sinhgad Group of Institution, ABES Engineering College, along with several other colleges from Tripura.
Coursera has been allowing universities to provide their students with access to over 3,800 courses and 400 specialisations from the universities already listed on the platform. So far, it has received more than 6K requests, of which more than 2770 programs have been activated across hundreds of campuses like Symbiosis Institute of Technology, World University of Design, BML Munjal University, National Rail and Transportation Institute, and NMAM Institute of Technology, etc.