The Covid-19 pandemic has reaffirmed the significance of digital technologies to sustain the momentum of learning. The edtech sector has flourished, grown multi-fold in the past year at an accelerated rate, and has seen higher investments across the spectrum.
Industry experts say that the Budget 2022 should consider edtech as a potent tool that can multiply the reach of education, and suggest measures that can help it grow more.
Scaling up allocation to the edtech sector
“It should prioritise scaling up allocation to the edtech sector by 7-8% from 2021. In addition, rationalising 18% GST in online education services would go a long way in making e-learning more affordable and realising its benefits,” says Akshay Munjal, founder and CEO of Hero Vired, an edtech company for higher education aspirants and professionals.
Moreover, there should be a tax rebate on expenses incurred on online learning programmes.
“This is especially important in India as we face a unique 'employability paradox'. Against the backdrop of conducive policies such as the National Education Policy (NEP), strengthening infrastructure, ahead of the 5G rollout, will ensure equitable access to the highest-quality education to all learners. While NEP 2020 holds a lot of promise, much will hinge on its implementation this year," he adds.
Need for improved digital infrastructure
India is currently home to the highest number of study abroad aspirants in the world with an estimated 1.3 to 1.4 million students appearing for competitive exams like IELTS and TOEFL every year.
Vaibhav Singh, co-Founder of overseas study abroad platform Leap Scholar, says this figure will increase exponentially this year as more and more students aspire for global education and careers.
"The 2022 budget is expected to have a higher focus on the edtech sector as a whole, with significant investments to enhance greater access to robust and improved digital infrastructure. The GST for educational services is expected to be brought down to 5% from the existing 18%, to increase accessibility and feasibility for students from lower and middle-class families. With greater internet penetration, the upcoming budget is expected to announce various initiatives to accelerate digital innovation in the edtech sector,” he said.
“We would really hope and expect the government to step up investments and focus on digital infrastructure especially in the rural and semi-urban areas of India. A larger focus and stepped-up investments will help fast track the digital skilling of rural and semi-urban populations in India, thereby solving multiple issues of unemployment, massive upcoming gap in demand and supply of future jobs, making India a global hub for digital investments,” adds Ratan Deep Singh, India CEO, SkillUp Online.
Additionally, to promote and encourage digital skilling in India, Singh says the GST rates could be reduced to 5% given that pricing is definitely a concern specially for students, unemployed and under privileged communities. “Moreover, we would welcome and appreciate any GOI initiatives and subsidies to promote digital learning for learners and edtech companies working in this space,” he says.
Making 'digital' accessible
Prateek Shukla, co- founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based Masai School, says there is a growing need to address the elephant in the room.
“Online learning is not possible if you don't have access to high-speed internet connection. We are not talking about 20mps connections. But without a 2mbps connection with unlimited data, it is not possible to do online classes. Add to the fact that our teaching methods have not evolved to suit the digital medium. I don't think that writing on a black board on a small mobile screen is the best way for our young minds to learn. We need to enable them with the internet and develop resources for teachers to take classes on the phone efficiently,” he says.
Ease of doing business to education startups
Shukla also says the government should make certain policy amendments towards providing ease of doing business to education startups like revisions in taxation schemes, simplified loan approval process, etc.
Moreover, the government can introduce initiatives to support edtech MSMEs and higher education startups in building the necessary infrastructure and commission funds for unique skill development initiatives.
“Over the last three years, more students and working professionals have moved from metros to their hometowns and continue to engage in virtual learning. Giving a boost to the outcome driven education ecosystem would help the innovative startups flourish, bridging the skills gap and upskill more than 360 million learners across age groups,” he adds.
Tighter control on edtech
This is something that needs to come out as government policy and not just in the budget, seeing the predatory practices taking place in the education tech space in India.
“The insight they are exploiting is simple; Indians spend unconditionally on healthcare and education. More and more customers are going in with big bucks to take certifications which have little or no value in the marketplace. We are seeing courses being turned into trends, with people buying courses out of FOMO. This needs to be flagged and addressed,” says Shukla
Reduced tax on the education sector
The current tax on the education sector of 18% percent can be reduced so that accessible quality education becomes more viable for students and working professionals, suggests Shukla.
"Low taxes can revolutionise the outcome driven education industry leading to help mitigate the problem of educated unemployment, thereby effectively driving India's economic revival in this decade,” he says.
Secondly, prioritising education budget and commissioning initiatives to normalise the impact of Covid-19 is necessary.
“Many students from specific socio-economic backgrounds don't have the required tools to reap online learning benefits. Supporting the students in overcoming the e-learning challenges will equip them for the job market with critical technology skills like coding, UI/UX, data analytics, etc. Additionally, rolling out nation-wide initiatives that enable students to acquire emerging technology skills as part of the ‘Skill India’ initiative will create the workforce of tomorrow,” he adds.