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TMCNet:  E-learning clicks with Indian schools, but a long way to go [Financial Express (India)]

[September 19, 2012]

E-learning clicks with Indian schools, but a long way to go [Financial Express (India)]

(Financial Express (India) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) With the government encouraging adoption of advanced teaching technologies, such as digital learning and interactive classroom modules, education service providers are sensing immense potential in the country's evolving e-learning market, which is not just restricted to private schools anymore. Industry players say that, in the next few years, greater investments are expected in digital education, with increased government allocation and scope for public-private partnerships, to source IT infrastructure and training across public schools. The 11th Five-Year Plan had allocated R5,000 crore to be spent on information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in schools, including labs for computer-aided learning and edusat centres for distance-learning programmes.


However, the current ICT adoption rate in India is still at its nascent stage. Of the 1 lakh schools across the country, only 15% have been covered. The ICT market within the education sector is estimated to be about $200 million.

According to Kaizen Education Report, the country's ICT market is expected to grow 10 times by 2015. Kaizen Private Equity is one of India's PE funds that focuses on education. The ICT market, one of the fastest growing segments in education, is highly fragmented with a clear dominance of unorganised players. The organised segment, with a host of regional players, forms roughly 2% of the total market. According to reports, the market for digital classrooms in the country was estimated at about R3,000 crore last year.

"There is a proposal by the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) to bring in digital classrooms in the Navodayas and Kendriya Vidyalayas. Also, there is a plan to bring in digital classrooms in one school per district in government schools. These are steps in the right direction," says Meena Ganesh, MD & CEO, Pearson Education Services, which includes brands like TutorVista, an online tutoring company, and Edurite, a digital content provider.

Pearson's digital classroom solution is currently being used across 3,000 schools in the country. It has also partnered with state governments to provide multimedia modules, train teachers and coordinators. In Rajasthan, it provided ICT solution to over 450 remote schools in Jodhpur and Kota and set up computer labs.

Experts say in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab, the acceptance for digital classrooms is also high. Among the major players in the organised sector are Educomp Solutions, NIIT, Everonn Systems, CompuCom, Classteacher Learning Systems, Tata Interactive Systems (TIS) and Birla Shloka Edutech.

However, some believe that the digital classroom concept has still not caught up. "We are yet to see more outcomes. It is not in the hands of vendors who offer the service but in the hands of teachers. Only 10% of teachers have accepted the model yet," says Rohit Pande, CEO, Classteacher Learning Systems. "There is a lot of capital involved in this business. And you get the money back in the next 30-40 months as there is no upfront payment from schools. But we don't follow this model; in our case, we charge an upfront amount of R1.4 lakh per classroom and R25,000 per month for software, services and teachers training. Typically a contract is for about five years. The school has the option to take a relook at the contract after three years," he says.

On an average, companies charge R4,500-5,000 per room per month for about 60 months. "To make the model click, it has to be more capital light and find larger acceptance among teachers," says Pande. Bangalore-based Classteacher Learning Systems currently offers services across 900 schools in the country, including smart-class solutions, assessment services and English language classes. Last year, Fidelity Growth Partners India (FGPI) invested $15 million in the company that provides content for K-12 education.

Praveen Bhadada, director, market expansion advisory, Zinnov, feels education industry can be transformed using ICT platforms, more specifically cloud solutions. "India currently spends $400 per student compared to $10,000 per student in the US. We spend around 4% of the GDP on education services, which is significantly lower than some of the more developed nations. With the right to education Bill, there will be a lot of pressure on the government to increase the expenditure on education." He adds: "The current model of physical school buildings, and teacher capacity will soon become cost prohibitive. There are tremendous opportunities for IT in education in India in terms of online education, teacher training and school management. A few companies are starting to work on some of these areas and have already started to see success." Global semiconductor major Texas Instruments (TI) last year launched 'Nspired Learning' in India, a math and science learning solution for schools. TI is also exploring opportunities to introduce TI Nspire CAS learning solutions for higher education. The company is working on developing math and science classroom technology, training programs and digital content that connect classroom teaching with practical applications.

Experts say a lot will depend on the policy framework, hardware costs, accessibility and development costs for content. "Currently, the government has primarily focused on providing computer labs in schools. These labs provide basic computer education to students. However, they do not really harness the power of technology to teach core subjects," says Ganesh of Pearson Education, adding that there is also a need for a central body to regulate digital classrooms. "The approach could be similar to the way publishers of school books work. The NCERT sets out a syllabus and the publishers have to ensure that their books conform to this syllabus. A similar approach would make sense for digital content too," says Ganesh.

Copyright 2012 The Indian Express Online Media Pvt. Ltd., distributed by Contify.com Credit: Debojyoti Ghosh (c) 2012 The Indian Express Online Media Pvt. Ltd., distributed by Contify.com

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