An overview of EIC2019: Improving education outcomes in India needs access, equity and quality

Education Innovation Conference 2019 Bangalore

Nearly 300 attendees from across higher education and schools attended this year’s Education Innovation Conference in Bengaluru, to talk about where Indian education was heading in the coming decade. The EIC2019 brought together educators, technologists, public policy professionals and government, in a unique setting.

The discussion focused heavily on the changing role of educators, the transforming needs of students, the role education technology would play in the coming years and how this would relate to physical spaces for learning.

Dr. Rajkumar Khatri, Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Higher Education in the Government of Karnataka, explained how his perspective had evolved over time, as he pivoted from an engineering background to a medical career to becoming a high-ranking IAS officer. His international exposure, with studies in the UK and elsewhere, informed his comments on the introspection and reform the higher education sector in India needs.

In a panel on unlocking education for everyone chaired by Head of Edtech at Bosch in India Puneeth Chaithanya, panelists focused on access, equity and quality.

Vipul Redey from Khan Academy argued that to bring the next 200m children into the net of accessible, high-quality and equitable education, digital needed to be the centrepiece of India’s future strategy.  Shruti Lakshmi Saravanan, the Creative and Curriculum Director at Trileaves Group of Schools in Chennai said that this needed to be supplemented with improved physical spaces for learning.

Similar themes echoed in the parallel sessions on higher education, where panelists expressed concern that the ambitious gross enrolment targets India has are unachievable with the current infrastructure. Digital would be at the heart of this growth, especially for the underserved, whereas a focus on just building just elite institutions with in-person teaching could not address the scale of India’s requirement – as well as being significantly more expensive.

Arunabh Varma, Founder and CEO of Intercell, provided an overview of eLearning trends in the Indian market and what to expect going into 2020 and beyond. Swathi Komandur, Founder and CEO of Sixerclass, pointed out that tech growth and investors in other sectors is often driven by a “fear-of-missing-out”, educators are significantly more risk-averse and tech is seen as a back-office cost, not an essential enabler for deeper learning.

This was echoed by Rohan Mahimkar, Co-CEO of Prodigy Education and Shiva Prasad G, Director of India Operations at EON Reality, both of whom focused on the value technology such as gamification and AR/VR, can bring to the student experience. It increases engagement, improves education outcomes significantly, and evolves the role of the educationalist from teacher to the facilitator, mentor and enabler.

Technology can often be at the front end of delivery too, saving resources and freeing up time for educators to focus on what they love. Murali Krishna from LeadSquared highlighted their market-leading CRM solution which helps across the lifecycle on student acquisition. As the education market grows in India, solutions like these – that have reached ubiquity in global institutions – will be essential for India.

The centerpiece debate on higher education focused on whether the objectives of the education system by defined by the labour market. The panelists debated for over an hour on the topic, including Varadarajan Sridharan (Head of Technology, NTTF), Prof Dhirendra Deshpande (formerVice Chancellor, ISBM University, Raipur), Dr.Chikkanna Manohar(Education & Entrepreneurship Evangelist) and others. The audience vote that followed comprehensively concluded refuted the Motion.

Dr. Shradha Kanwar, Chief Learning Officer from iNurture Education Solutions followed on from some of Balasubramanyam’s themes to focus on lifelong learning and adapting your skills. iNurture has been at the forefront of employability-led learning in the country.

A particular highlight, and one of the highest rated sessions in the subsequent participant feedback, was a keynote by Manju Balasubramanyam, Principal of Delhi Public School Bangalore. She said “If teachers are growing and learning, they are far more likely to be effective – and thus happy. Happiness is a by-product of success.”

But education is not just about teaching, solely about learning or exclusively to do with building workplace skills. Students that move home to a new city build essential life skills, and their environment outside the classroom can be just as important in determining their academic success as the passion of their teachers and the interest in the subject matter. Srinivas Rao from Campus Students Communities talked about how they have pioneered student housing solutions to provide a homely environment for students across India.

The education market is unique in the heterogeneity of its stakeholders and customers. Successful education outcomes depend on the bringing together of students, parents, educators, regulators, government, technologists and investors. In India, this challenge is amplified, given the size of the market. EIC2019 continued a conversation that EPG has been driving, and we look forward to engaging with all our participants again in our future such conferences.