Edtech discover the virtues of offline teaching
It sounds rather ironical. For a long time, the Edtechs taught the world that education was changing from offline to online. Not surprisingly, the efforts of these Edtechs paid off during the pandemic aftermath. With classrooms shut, online learning was the only available option. The result was a massive surge in valuations of Edtechs. It almost looked like the delivery of education and training was changing irrevocably. Suddenly, the same Edtechs are discovering the virtues of offline teaching and tweaking their business accordingly.
The reasons are not far to seek. Edtechs are desperate for growth, for profits, for PE funding and for a new bid idea. Offline teaching appears to fit the bill in all possible ways. With six Edtech players in India become Unicorns since 2020, what could have changed suddenly. Parents were getting disillusioned by pure online and when offline classrooms started all over again, they just decided to go all out. For Edtechs, it is like, if you cannot beat them, then join them. Edtechs see a lot more merit in taking good things out of the offline model.
It is not just Byju’s, but even the other Indian edtech unicorns like Unacademy, Upgrad and Vedantu are all discovering that offline can be a big trigger for future growth. If the Edtechs offer a hybrid model of online and offline course delivery, there is no reason their aggression marketing would not be welcomed. Byju’s and other edtech players are now investing in bricks-and-mortar tutoring centres. After all, most of them are still flush with funds. It makes more sense to cut down on online and overplay the offline hybrid model.
Unicorns or plain vanilla Edtechs, they are all learning an important lesson. The relevance of digital education needs to be redefined and unless these Edtechs crack that physical story, it is going to be very difficult to grow in India in the Edtech space. For instance, Byju’s has opened more than 200 tutoring centres which cater to schoolchildren. It is planning to scale up this offline presence to 500 centres. Others like Unacademy, Vedantu and even PhysicsWallah are not too far behind and they too are betting big on offline and hybrids.
The Edtechs always competed with the cram schools and private tutors that help students prepare for intensely difficult competitive exams. Every student dreams of going to an Ivy League university and land plum jobs. For that coaching from an early age is absolutely essential. Now, the Edtechs will directly compete, and eventually even take over many of these offline coaching centres as logical extensions. Most children and parents believe the value addition in offline is tremendous, although it could be entirely psychological.
Most of these Edtechs came into the picture because the existing coaching and schooling structure was just not equipped to handle a billion aspirations, the only answer was to make them go online via Edtechs. With 26 crore school going students, the opportunity is still huge and temporary setbacks are the time for Edtechs to rethink their models. The idea of Edtechs was always to get people better prepared for the real world rather than a focus on rote learning which does not add much value to students from an application perspective.
The concerns have been over the aggressive cost cutting that Edtechs have been implementing. Byju’s, Unacademy, Upgrad and Vedantu have laid off hundreds of their staff and recently Lido Learning even filed for bankruptcy. Edtechs have been quick to realize their mistakes and now want to replicate a classroom type of experience. Hopefully, that would provide the Edtechs with much needed firepower to bridge the gaps in their current model. After all, when PE investors are getting choosy, you need to overdeliver.
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