The Digital India initiative is a shot in the arm for India’s budding e-learning industry and the trailer carries enough hints of a blockbuster story  -By Supriya Batra

Technology has changed the way we live and needless to say, it has changed the way we learn as well. E-learning or online learning is the newest form of using technology in education. India has become the largest market for e-learning after the US and the sector is expected to receive a boost from the government’s INR 1.13 trillion Digital India initiative, says a recent report of the UK-India Business Council.

It has been proven through multiple studies that when kids are exposed to multi-sensory and multimedia education, they absorb better and they are able to retain the learning content. One of the perennial problems with Indian education has been the huge dropout ratio because students in school do not find education relevant or contextual to their surroundings.

While the existing educational infrastructure is inadequate to meet the current and future needs of the country, the Digital India initiative will increase Internet access which in turn will help take quality education to large parts of the population that have been hitherto neglected, the report contends.

Using high quality digital materials will immediately ensure that every learner in the country will find it a joy to go school. This will immediately cut down the dropout rate. In the past, many proposals have reached the government regarding e-education and this could be an opportune time to take digital classroom and digital education to every corner of the country. The last few years have been marked by increased digitisation of education, mainly in elite private schools.

E-learning also has a role to play in providing the required skill sets to future job market entrants. By 2022, the country faces a potential shortage of 250 million skilled workers across various sectors. The report says that the tourism and hospitality sector are critical areas for skill development apart from manufacturing.

India has the world’s third largest number of Internet users, behind China and the US but it has only achieved 16 per cent Internet penetration as compared to 45 per cent in China and 84 per cent in the US, according to industry estimates.

E-learning has emerged as a boon for students preparing for engineering or medical entrance exams like JEE, AIPMT as well. It allows students to access the best teachers and is flexible because the students get to learn at their own pace. The flourishing e-learning sector in India has even caught the fancy of young entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in education start-ups. The sector has grown considerably with a sharp rise in smartphone penetration and the spread of high-speed Internet facilities across the country. According to Ken Research, an information services company, the e-learning market in India is estimated to be worth around $3 billion.

Only last month, Embibe, a Mumbai-based education start-up, acquired 100Marks, a student guidance platform for Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and medical entrance test preparations for an undisclosed sum. 100Marks was set up by some alumni of IIT-Delhi and Delhi College of Engineering. The acquisition was possible only because Embibe, which was founded in 2012, had managed to raise close to $4 million from two investors in a cash-plus-stock deal last year.

“Education is one of our most popular sectors, both in terms of applicants for our incubation programme as well as social entrepreneurs who we end up selecting to be our investees. Typically, about 25 per cent to 30 per cent applications in every application cycle are from the education sector. And about 30 per cent to 40 per cent of our active investers at any given point in time are from the same sector,” said Paroma Bhattacharya, associate, incubation support at UnltdIndia, one of the leading private incubators in India.

The current government has to plan for a whole generation of young people who are thirsting for access to quality education. The Indian education system has a great opportunity to go digital, thereby leapfrogging the progress in education that other countries have made. Many businesses in India are developing e-learning content for markets such as the US, Australia, the UK and Europe.

The time for incrementally relevant decisions is over, because we have simply run out of time. The time now is for radically big leaps. It is imperative, therefore, that the government acts with boldness, speed and vision and our new education policy reflects this. Only then can we hope to see visible impact in the short term, since we do not have the luxury of simply planning for the long term for our large, impatient young population with their pent up hopes and aspirations.