Technology, IR4 and EdTech: The Future of Learning
The fear of technology disrupting labour markets has existed ever since steam-powered machines emerged during the first industrial revolution two-and-a-half centuries ago. Now, as the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4) gathers momentum, there are renewed concerns about technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and Robotics upending the traditional job landscape.
In October 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released an exhaustive report that documents these emerging changes. Titled The Future of Jobs, it is based on CXO views worldwide. According to the report,
- 43% of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration.
- By 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines.
- On average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling.
However – as the US National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress had noted in the 1960s – technology destroys jobs, not work. The WEF report seems to back this up. It predicted that 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the division of labour between humans, machines, and algorithms.
The importance of these predictions to India cannot be over-emphasized. While the Chinese and Japanese populations are rapidly ageing, India enjoys a huge demographic dividend. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines this as “the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, which happens when the share of the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age share of the population”. Around 90% of India’s 1.3 billion population is below 60, with 35% less than 19 years of age.
Historically, such a young population joining the workforce has led to massive economic growth in countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, and Singapore.
India, however, faces a huge hurdle in making the most of its demographic dividend because of the skills deficit of its educated youth. An estimated 15 million youngsters enter the workforce annually. Yet, according to employers and various studies, 65-75% of them are unemployable because they lack the basic skills needed in a rapidly-changing job market. Even the Union Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) concurs. While several factors are responsible, the primary one is the shortcomings in our educational system.
The macro-economic impact of this high unemployability quotient is huge. The International Labour Organization (ILO) believes that India is staring at a 29 million skill-deficit by 2030. Other projections say that the skill gap could cost the economy an estimated USD 2 trillion in foregone growth potential.
The New Education Policy announced by the Indian government last year – the first comprehensive policy in over three decades – rightly focuses on several measures to bridge this skills gap. But this is not a task for the publicly-funded education sector alone. The private sector will have a tremendous role to play.
The state education sector, necessarily, is slow moving. Its system of checks, balances, and approvals means that by the time new courses are crafted and the curriculum designed, they often become outdated. Private sector education providers are nimbler, forging closer links between the industry and academia. This allows them to spot skill gaps that the public system is unable to address, and design programmes accordingly. Equally importantly, it can do this in an affordable manner.
The role of the private sector education in facilitating industrial growth can be best illustrated through the development of the IT industry. Over three decades now, the IT/ITeS sector has been a shining star of the Indian economy. According to NASSCOM, IT sector revenues are expected to touch USD 194 billion this year, with exports pegged at USD 150 billion. The sector employs over 4.4 million people, apart from the hundreds of thousands employed in IT roles in other verticals like BFSI and manufacturing. Most of them have been trained by private sector education companies.
This relationship has turned symbiotic as technology now comes to the aid of education. EdTech – education powered by technology – has been the private sector’s latest innovation for industry needs. Education 4.0, as the new model is called, has revolutionised education, through cutting-edge communication technologies that make learning more democratic and affordable.
More importantly, it is personalised in terms of the learner’s goals, time, and resources. This personalisation, as a FICCI report put it, “focuses on addressing an individual’s goal by choosing from a variety of educational programs, instructional approaches, learning experiences, and academic support strategies that are aligned to the learner’s distinct needs, aspirations and interests”.
Studies indicate that the EdTech market in India is estimated to grow ten times, from about USD 3 billion in 2020 to over USD 30 billion by 2030. Such forecasts have resulted in India emerging as a top destination for venture capital funding in the sector, behind only USA and China.
While the K-12 (kindergarten to 12thgrade) EdTech segment has garnered much media attention, thanks to a profusion of VC-backed acquisitions in recent times, what has gone unnoticed is the potential of the post-K-12 market. This is exactly where India’s skills gap needs to be plugged. According to reports, the demand for higher education is estimated to be over 140 million students. The estimated market size is forecast to cross USD 17.6 billion by 2030. These are learners who will need constant support in terms of re-skilling, upgradation, certification and corporate training.
The Ed-Tech industry can be instrumental in bridging this gap, facilitating the re-skilling and up-skilling of professionals and aspirants. In the process, it can also play a critical role in shaping the adoption of technology by Indian businesses in IR4.
As Brian Tracy, Canadian-American motivational speaker and the author of more than 80 books said, “Continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field.” In an age of flux and rapid change, this statement is truer than ever before.
Disclaimer: Content Produced by Times Professional Learning (TPL)
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