Education is probably one of the few sectors in Bangladesh that is resistant to technological changes. Until the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, policymakers, educational institutions, teachers and parents in the country had been less open-minded about online education and education technology or EdTech.
The lockdown measure, imposed during the pandemic, required the country’s educational institutions to shift classes online, which made everybody realised how unprepared we were for the change.
As the lockdown measure closed the educational institutions, EdTech companies and education start-ups took the opportunity to bring their e-learning services such as free courses, online learning resources, and live classes in front students and professionals alike.
With online classes eradicating the face-to-face interaction, teachers need to adopt a different teaching approach to make learning engaging. As proper training regarding this approach is currently unavailable, teachers can take assistance from EdTech companies.
Globally, EdTech start-ups like Coursera, Udemy, EdX, Skillshare, and Indian companies like BYJU’s are changing the landscape of learning and skill development. Demand for e-learning services is growing exponentially.
According to a Global Online Education Market Forecast Report, the global online education market was $187.9 billion in 2019, with an estimated compound annual growth rate of 9.2% in 2020- 2025. While the US has the largest e-learning market, countries like India, China, and Malaysia are catching up too.
There are currently 3,500 EdTech start-ups in India. In 2018, the country raised a total of $700 million in investor funds. According to a pre-COVID estimate, the market size is projected to reach $2.0 billion in 2021. The major player of Indian EdTech is BYJU’S-The Learning App, which recently touched a valuation of $8.0 billion.
The primary reason for BYJU’s success is its video format. Its contents are delivered with captivating visual contexts and unique mix of animations, live-action, and in particular, gamification-- which makes the lessons highly engaging. Besides, BYJU’S provides each customer with a personalised learning experience by building and maintaining a learning profile for each student as the app memorises their learning pattern and tracks their weaknesses.
BYJU’S freemium business-to-consumer (B2C) business model is another reason that made it so popular. The app provides free access to basic contents with a subscription option for personalised learning. While BYJU’S no-compromise policy in case of content quality keeps the students hooked, their paid consultant advertisements reach it to the parents as well. As of now, BYJU’S has more than 50 million registered users with around 3.5 million premium customers.
Takeaway for Bangladesh
The EdTech industry in Bangladesh has many things to learn from India. Quality must be the first priority; revenue is its by-product.
Nirjhor Rahman, chief executive of Bangladesh Angels, shared that most of the EdTech start-ups in the country are being commoditised, mostly because they tend to outsource their technical part to companies that provide cookie-cutter solutions or, more accurately, give less attention to individual differences.
Mr Rahman believes that the value addition is still relatively low in these platforms due to their failure in offering personalised user experience. He suggested that partnering with universities can be hugely beneficial in this regard as they have established brands and physical space.
However, Bangladeshi start-ups like the 10 Minute School, Bohubrihi, EshoShikhi, Shikhbe Shobai, REPTO, Caretutors, e-Shikhon.com and Tech Academy have been active in this field for quite some time. Pandemic has given these EdTechs a boost. For example. Robi’s 10-minutes school's mobile app was downloaded by nearly 0.5 million new users during the lockdown period. A recent study by the LightCastle Partners revealed that about 56.0 per cent of the start-ups in the country have experienced at least a 50.0 per cent drop in revenue generation while EdTechs are seeing a steep growth.
‘No’ to conventional EdTech
With a rise in popularity, funding for innovative EdTech is also increasing rapidly. A Business Insider report revealed that funding for higher education learning technology has nearly doubled from 2018 to 2019 globally, reaching US$740.58 million. On the other hand, funding in conventional EdTech companies like PreK-12 has declined significantly. The report also suggested that over the last four years, a significant number of investors have lost their interest in conventional e-learning platforms and are focusing on companies with next-generation innovations, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), game-based learning, mobile learning and even physical and virtual educational bots.
To get ahead of this interest, an avenue worth exploring for the EdTechs in Bangladesh is VR technologies in education. Experts believe the integration of VR in education will lead the much-required shift from theoretical learning to more experiential mode of conceptual understanding.
VR technologies enable a student to roam around make-believe space to see the formation of stars, inspect human anatomy up close, and everything else in between.
Pandemic has made it the best time to think about and invest in EdTech. But this isn’t just about financial investment. Investment in creating strategy, setting the right policy in place, encouraging the right moves by universities and educational institutions are also equally important, much of what we have already in Bangladesh. What we need is EdTechs coming forward with creativity and innovation to bolster conceptual understanding.
Private universities in Bangladesh have been very flexible toward embracing new EdTechs with public universities following suit. If the EdTech start-ups step up and can meet the expectations, our future will be brighter than we think.
The writer is a research associate at Center for Enterprise and Society (CES), ULAB.