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MUMBAI : Ranjita L., a mathematics teacher at St Mary’s Convent School in Ghaziabad, is back in the classroom—the chalk-and-blackboard one.

Since she lost her job at the ed-tech platform Lido Learning in January, she has gone back to a long daily commute, longer working hours, and a smaller income—but that is a better option for now than the uncertainty of salary delays and layoffs.

“For me, online teaching was a good experience. Technology allowed me a lot of flexibility. I learnt many ways to make maths interesting. Now, I work 6-7 hours at the school, and a lot of time is lost commuting. Also, after coming home, it is difficult to manage the household work and give time to family," she said. Ranjita, who teaches Classes 6-8, has two children. The youngest is six.

Over a year ago, when the ed-tech sector was booming, Ranjita—like many other teachers—had taken the plunge and started teaching virtually. The pay was good, and work hours relatively shorter.

But a churn in the ed-tech space is changing that.

Amid a slowing economy, rising inflation, oil prices and interest rates, and a geopolitical crisis, investors have choked off the supply of easy money to startups. Startups have laid off at least 8,000 employees since January to cut costs. Recruiters expect another 5,000 to be fired over the next two quarters. Many well-funded edtech players like Unacademy, Vedantu and WhiteHat Jr have either fired or witnessed mass resignations of employees. Several of these are teachers who had left their conventional teaching mode for a better income and flexibility against the backdrop of the pandemic.

At Lido, for instance, Ranjita made 300-400 an hour and taught regular batches—it would take about 10 teaching hours to make what she earns as a regular teacher today, though she did face “delays in receiving salaries". With the recent crisis at Lido, she was asked to leave, though she was promised work in the future.

With schools reopening and many students keen on physical classes, the offline option is back on the table for many teachers. That’s also reflected in the decisions of ed-tech companies like Unacademy and Byju’s to hedge their bets —and foray into offline teaching to cater to the growing demand for physical classrooms and consultation centres.

For instance, in Kota’s numerous coaching centres, students have started trickling back, and hostels are open as well. “We have recruited 80 teachers in the last 15 days, and about 50% of them have come from online firms. They are ready to take a 15-20% pay cut but are wary of being associated with online-only education platforms," said Pramod Maheshwari, director of Career Point. The Kota-based coaching institute has 30 centres and offers both online and offline classes.

For some like 30-year-old Kailly Krishna, a chemistry teacher from Kota, the satisfaction of physical classes is much higher than teaching blank squares on a screen. Krishna worked in a hybrid education setup and moved to New Delhi in 2021. “I got a good salary raise and wanted to explore more options around teaching. The classes were mostly online," Krishna said. He learnt how to explain molecular chemistry to his students via diagrams and videos. But in March, as physical classes resumed, the senior faculty member decided to return to Kota. “Over a period of time, students could switch off their videos, and we had no way of knowing if they had understood the concepts. Now, although hybrid options are available everywhere, I will continue physical classes. Financially, too, it makes more sense to teach from my hometown," he said.

Another Kota-based faculty member who did not want to be named said he is seeing teachers join at 50% pay cuts.

However, it is financially unviable for many parents to pay a couple of lakhs for hostel and coaching fees, so the demand for online classes remains. Some coaching centres are, therefore, live-streaming lectures so that doubts can be cleared in real-time.

In Kota, coaching centres charge 40,000-60,000 annually for online coaching classes for joint entrance exams preparation, compared to 1.2-1.5 lakh for physical classes.

Meanwhile, Ranjita is resigned to the fact that the ed-tech windfall might not return soon, but she continues to occasionally teach at a smaller ed-tech platform to earn some extra money.

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