By Mr. Ramananda SG
Vice President, Sales & Marketing – Pearson India
As we are hit by yet another wave of the pandemic, our resilience and adaptation to the new normal keep growing stronger. The education sector is possibly the best example of this. According to UNESCO, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the education of 1.26 billion children worldwide, with over 300 million children from India. However, students, teachers and educational institutions have quickly learned to adapt to online, remote or distance learning, in the absence of physical classrooms.
EdTech companies have been instrumental in this transformational journey, helping the education sector to integrate technology into the curriculum seamlessly, with new and innovative teaching pedagogy. This includes blended learning and experiential learning, using new-age technology like artificial intelligence (AI), 3D, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), Big Data and learning analytics which appeals to the younger generation who are digital natives.
Hybrid learning, which combines online and physical learning has also turned out to be a big boon for Indian students wanting to study abroad. Offering convenience, flexibility, personalisation, inclusivity, reduced cost and greater reach, hybrid learning not only brings more students into the learning fold but also provides more options for higher education with a diverse set of courses to choose from. It also provides students with access to globally recognized universities, courses and top academicians, as well as a diversified online student community.
How digital learning has aided upskilling
This switch to digital learning has meant the introduction of more technology and technical training into the university syllabus with a focus on analytical skill-building, keeping in mind the current workforce requirements. These skill sets will go a long way in providing students with greater employment options and opportunities as they can be more easily absorbed into the system.
With an aim to bridge the gap between education and employability and to provide students with broader skill sets to prepare them for the ever-competitive workplace, the National Education Policy (NEP) has given a boost to digital transformation in the education sector, with a focus on making online education available for students throughout the length and breadth of the country. Unquestionably, technology will play a major role in fostering diversity and inclusion in the education sector.
Higher education has never assumed more importance than during this pandemic when job losses are at an all-time high and those with better skill sets are preferred.
The push towards higher education in India
Currently, around 25% of students graduating from high school in India go on to pursue higher education. The Indian government envisions that figure to reach 50% by 2035 – or double the country’s current college and university enrolment base of around 35 million students. The Budget announcement of 15,000 schools being qualitatively strengthened under the NEP to become exemplar schools that can then mentor other schools will give a further impetus to higher education, while the implementation of the Higher Education Commission of India will encourage vocational and professional skills training for the youth with a mixture of e-learning and skill-building.
Moreover, public-private sector collaboration in terms of infrastructural allotments; both physical as well as digital infrastructure and more favorable government policies for technical and higher education institutions, including more government-funded scholarships and funding to government-aided and private institutions for digitization of course curriculum, without differentiation between the public and private educational institutions, will go a long way in providing increased access to higher education and skill-building training to more youth, thus making them more employable. This may also help to overcome current challenges faced by the Indian higher education sector including the quality of research, matching education with market demands, lack of funding alternatives, and attracting and retaining high-quality faculty.
The link between higher education and improved job prospects
With India likely to have the youngest working population by 2030, it is imperative to ensure they have the right skill sets to enter the workforce. This is only possible with higher education that provides hands-on training and equips youth with a technical edge. This is another reason why the NEP has given added impetus to K-12 with a focus on technical and non-technical skilling, vocational training and upskilling. The post-K12 sector which includes higher education, technical skilling and test preparation for government and other professions, is expected to grow six times to reach $1.7 billion by 2022, as per a 2019 industry report.
Yet another outcome of the pandemic has been increased financial pressure on industries, forcing them to cut non-essential jobs and replacing them with automation and AI. This not only means that employees have to keep updating their skill sets in order to remain relevant and close existing skill gaps, but it also means there is a lot more competition for the younger generation, which needs to be armed with differentiated skill sets to stand out.
Keeping this in mind, more students are now opting for courses related to STEM, robotics, blockchain programming, data science, AI and automation, among others, given the huge uptake of new-age technologies across sectors. Universities are also adding practical elements like problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and entrepreneurial abilities into the curriculum to align learning with specific industry demands.
Towards a brighter future for youth
With multiple options in terms of e-learning available to youth today, there is no better time than now to invest in higher education for better employment prospects. With the Indian government allowing international universities to offer fully online degrees, the base has also widened for students wishing to pursue higher education at a foreign university of their choice.
Moreover, the Budget 2021 announcements in the education sector towards a focus on training youth in internationally competitive skills through the NEP, NDEAR, National Apprenticeship Act, partnerships with Japan and the UAE and increased funding to the NRF will also go a long way in making Indian youth more employable.