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Online education push reformative but policy lacks clarity, structure

  • Adoption of online courses is welcome, but a lot needs to be done
  • Only 60,000 of the 3.9 mn learners enrolled in 1,600 online courses as of 31 Dec. have completed the courses, according to official data

NEW DELHI: About three years into her job, software engineer Singdha Prakash realised that her work at a Bangalore technology firm has become boring and repetitive.

Unsure of her career path, Prakash took a 11-month-long online course in data science, offered jointly by the Indian Institute of Information Technology in Bangalore and ed-tech company upGrad.

“Following the course, I switched my job with a 48% jump in my salary," she claimed. “Though it’s not a full-fledged degree, yet it is industry relevant and helped me in my career growth," Prakash said. Several of her contemporaries are now looking at online courses without much inhibition, she said.

It is not just early-career employees, but also established professionals who seem ready to adopt online or any variant of this model of education. “Mid-to-late career skill-upgradation is a requirement for career growth and to engage with your clients better. A hybrid—online plus class contact—model of education helps you assess your relative acquisition of knowledge," said Nilanjan Chatterjee, a Hyderabad-based professional with more than 20 years of experience who has done a course in artificial intelligence from TalentSprint, an ed-tech player.

This perhaps is the reason behind the government bringing in an online education policy, a first of its kind in India. The human resource development ministry believes that the online push is reformative and expands the reach of quality education. It estimates that by 2022, 6.5 million people will be learning through online modes, up from 1 million in 2018. It will also help in the training of college teachers, authorities believe.

However, such courses lack clarity and structure and suffer from implementational hiccups in colleges and universities. Private ed-tech players such as upGrad, TalentSprint, and Learnapp, are bringing industry into the equation, the government policy does not seem to be very clear on this. The rules do not have clarity on whom they want to target—freshers or executives. It is not clear how professors will gain by offering such courses and how the quality assessment will happen.

Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint
Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint


“It lacks a defined purpose. Online education seems to be a revised form of distance learning but everyone knows that it suffers an image crisis and lacks quality. While online education seems a great catch for some executives and mid-career professionals, it is unclear how the institutions will pass on benefits to freshers," said RishiRaj Sharma, a management professor at Guru Nanak Dev University in Punjab.

“In a university system, there is very little awareness, motivation or even implementation. Professors don’t know what exactly it entails, or what incentive it will bring them," said a Delhi University professor who did not want to be named. Enrolment on the ‘Swayam’ platform is huge but the completion rate is low, she pointed out. Swayam is the online education platform created by the government.

Only 60,000 of the 3.9 million learners enrolled in 1,600 online courses as of 31 December have completed the courses, according to official data. This is a completion rate of less than 2%.

“Colleges and universities need to have an industry focus in any course and more so in an online course. The deliverables and programme goals have to be clearly defined in the online education space, else it may not serve the purpose," said Prateek Singh, founder of LearnApp, another online education player.

The online education policy is a good beginning, said Santanu Paul, chief executive of TalentSprint. “However, we believe a blended model of learning with enough contact and lab time is a must to achieve success as a learner and an education player," he said.

The other question is of cost. “We have kept the fees competitive. A course costs us between 5 crore and 10 crore to develop. It cannot be offered for free, So, we price it between 100,000 and 200,000," explained Mayank Kumar, co-founder of upGrad. Sectors that are facing a threat from automation are ready to invest and benefit, he said. “A lot of IT professionals are going online to learn, switch career and stay more market relevant," he said.

However, one has to remember that India is a late entrant in the online education space and the world has moved from pure online to a more blended model of education delivery

“Online courses cannot replace classrooms...Such courses are good to enhance knowledge but learners need handholding and mentorship...," said C.V. Tomy, a professor at IIT-Bombay.

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