In September 2021, following regulatory action by the Chinese government against Edtech companies, a headline in The Diplomat magazine asked, “After government crackdown, what’s next for Chinese Edtech companies?
At the time, the beneficiaries of China’s education problems were India’s own Edtech players. But 11 months later, amid layoffs and concerns from the Indian government over alleged unfair trade practices, it is India’s Edtech sector that is faced with the question of what’s next.
An education in difficulty in the Indian subcontinent
The first sign that all was not well in India’s Edtech sector came in late June 2022, when Byju’s, India’s most recognized Edtech company and sponsor of the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, dismissed workers in one of its subsidiaries. The layoffs, 300 from Toppr, came the day after another 300 employees at Byju’s code teaching unit, WhiteHat Jr, were fired.
There have been some grumbles that Byju’s accent is now too global. In March 2022, Byju’s announced a partnership with QIA, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, to launch a new edtech company and state-of-the-art research center in Doha. It is not yet clear what effect a tightening economy will have on Byju’s IPO plans, which are expected in 2022 or early 2023.
In addition to Byju, other Indian Edtech companies that have laid off include Unacademy, Vedantu and Lido Learning. One start-up, Udayy, shut down completely, saying the business no longer made sense in the offline world and the cost of acquiring customers was too high.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has warned India’s education technology sector to end unfair business practices and misleading advertising or face tough new guidelines.
Although the global economic situation is hardly rosy, in Europe, the Edtech ecosystem has shown some resilience in terms of funding in these difficult times. A July 2022 Edtech funding report from Brighteye Ventures 2022 showed the sector secured $1.4 billion in funding so far in 2022, 40% more than a year earlier.
Is Edtech losing its luster?
In July 2022, a opinion published on the World Economic Forum’s website warned that Edtech and its companies have become bigger, but not necessarily more “educational”. He argued that if Edtech is going to work for children, rich and poor, Edtech needs a culture change.
Natalie Kucirkova, a professor of reading and child development at the UK’s Open University and the University of Stavanger, suggested that Edtech taps into two key educational myths perfectly. First, proponents of individual initiatives confuse learning engagement with learning gains. This has seen sponsors of school-wide rollouts of iPads or Chromebooks showcase examples of children’s enjoyment of use as examples of learning. But Kucirkova said teachers know that authentic learning is collaborative and stimulating. Although motivation precedes learning, it does not make learning last.
Second, she ventured, although one of the drivers of the global Edtech market is the idea that everyone should have access to education, the reality is that not all Edtech platforms are really educational. In fact, she says, very few actually are.
Impact of Metaverse on Edtech
In the meantime, the impact of the metaverse is looming on the horizon, particularly in higher education. According to Professor Esteve Almirall of Barcelona’s Esade Business School, speaking at Mobile World Congress in February, people train four times faster in the metaverse than in the classroom; they are 275% more confident to apply the skills learned after training, and four times more focused than their e-learning peers.
The Brooking Institution makes an additional point. When education lags, digital jumps in and technology rather than educators defines what counts as an educational opportunity. Much of this has happened with the introduction of “educational” apps designed for use on adult-oriented smartphones and tablets.
Today, with a metaverse infrastructure still under construction, researchers, educators, policy makers, and digital designers have a chance to lead the way rather than be caught in the backwash. They should seize the opportunity, while they can.