With the Coronavirus outbreak gaining steam in India, governments around the country are shutting down schools and colleges to prevent mass gatherings. To prevent the educational year from breaking down, e-learning platforms are stepping in with their services. To be clear, the pandemic also gives the platforms a chance to market themselves and find prospective customers.
Coursera, one of the largest e-learning platforms in the world, has announced that its Coursera for Campus platform will be made available for free to any university so students can “continue to learn on the platform". The platform is free to universities till July 31 this year and Coursera plans to provide month-to-month extensions “depending on prevailing risk assessments" after that.
Similarly, homegrown Byju’s has announced that its complete app is going to be free for school students till the end of April. Another platform called Toppr has said its content is available to all students for free unconditionally.
“This is precautionary," said Zishaan Hayath, CEO and Founder of Toppr. “We haven’t seen the worst of it (the outbreak) right now, and you don’t want kids to get affected," he added. Hayath said that platforms like Toppr also have the technology to support learning from home in the event that the shutdowns continue for longer periods. However, he did mention that “the receiving side" (schools, colleges and students) may not have the means to use such platforms for the long term.
“We’ll get to reactionary things later on. If schools are shut down for six months, we’ll come up with solutions. I don’t think it will take time to come up with solutions then," he said.
But e-learning platforms often differ from schools or colleges with respect to the curriculum and content they provide. They are meant to complement what students learn in traditional institutions, at least in India. Raghav Gupta, Managing Director of Coursera India, said the company had already worked with colleges when it first launched this platform last year, making them a part of their curriculum.
“Our sense is that universities who sign up as part of this effort will probably be able to use Coursera content fairly closely aligned with their curriculum as well," he said.
According to Hayath, Toppr has created a curriculum that is matched with school boards in India. The curriculum is customisable to 25 different school boards and 60 different exams, and users can create combinations from these choices. People have created 120,000 such choices on the platform so far, he said.
Hayath said Toppr has nearly 1.1 crore users on the platform, while Coursera had 4.8 million users in India, according to an October 2019 report by Quartz. In a statement in May last year, Byju’s had said it has over 35 million registered users, 2.4 million of whom were paid subscribers. By offering their services for free, these platforms are also getting a chance to expose more users to their content, many of whom may continue to use the platforms once the outbreak has been controlled.
A report by the United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) earlier this month said that 290 million students across 13 countries could be affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The organisation said it is supporting distance learning programmes to help with this problem. “We are working with countries to assure the continuity of learning for all, especially disadvantaged children and youth who tend to be the hardest hit by school closures," said Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO.