Budget 2021: While there has been little to no silver lining in the dark clouds of the coronavirus pandemic, the sun shone brightly on the edtech industry. Following the shutting of classes and schools, the education sector vastly moved online. From day schools to tuitions to additional classes to hobby classes, learning in all its forms continued, albeit online. As the edtech industry witnesses momentous growth, it is up to the government to support its expansion.
Even as edtech penetrated almost all the sections of the society, it also faced certain challenges. With a vast population of India lacking resources, online education has not been a cakewalk for all. Shortage of devices in households where multiple members require them at the same time, patchy network coverage, electricity cuts, lack of training of teachers to conduct online classes are some of the obvious issues. The challenges also go a little deeper than that. Charu Noheria, Co-founder and COO, Practically said that the government should not only allocate funds but also work on strengthening digital infrastructure.
Here's what the edtech industry expects from FM Nirmala Sitharaman's Budget 2021:
GST rate cut: Industry believes that a GST rate cut could go a long way in encouraging learners to take up online education. Educational institutions and courses are taxed 18 per cent which the industry wants to reduce to 5 per cent. "Taxable supply implies an inventory of products or services or leviable to tax under GST. Likewise, the administrations given by an educational foundation to its aspirants, personnel, staff, or educational institutions are not needed to be burdened under GST. This may hamper career choices and opportunities and may affect the country majorly," said Sumeet Jain, co-founder of Yocket.
"Govt has been giving so much emphasis on the penetration of digital services and financial inclusion in the BFSI Segment. Still, as far as education is concerned, only conventional school education has been kept out of GST. Innovation and tinkering based edtech firms still have to pay GST at 18 per cent. There should be some provision wherein they need to pay Reduced GST at 5 per cent or so," said Rajeev Tiwari, founder of STEMROBO Technologies.
Anoop Gautam, CEO & Co-founder, Tinker Coders said, "The current taxation of 18 per cent on the EdTech sector can be reduced to a lower percentage so that accessible quality digital education becomes a viable option for students coming from all sections of society."
Development of digital courses: The government should join forces with edtech companies to provide technology updates and assist them in better online learning. "Government should set out a special fund for developing online courses. These courses can be provided to the larger public at subsidised rates. The courses can be of small duration, having full-time access to specific topics that can help students from smaller towns and cities. These courses should also be recorded and made available in regional languages so that the growth of different socio-backed children doesn't get hampered," said Jain.
Push for digital learning: Jain says that many schools and universities do not favour online courses and teacher and school authorities do not advise students on the same. "The government should step in and help in boosting the awareness of online learning courses and promote the online learning platforms making it sound credible for students and parents to accept. Also, the students face unprecedented challenges in understanding the digital infrastructure, so an awareness around the same should also be done to help society at large," he said.
"Given that there has been significant surge in eLearning, Government must support us by allocating sufficient funds and devise strategies to make digital education accessible by ensuring availability of internet connectivity, laptops, tablets, smartphones etc. either thought direct government programs or through Public Private Partnership (PPP) model," said Noheria.
Gautam said that when schools and colleges were shut, students and teachers had no other option but to go digital. "Even the school teachers and students demonstrated tremendous adaptability in adopting online learning methods. This opens new horizons for EdTech startups," he said.
Skill development of teachers: Noheria said that it was the need of the hour for the government to focus on reskilling the education fraternity and equip them to use new-age e-learning solutions.
"There is a shortage of millions of teachers in our education system. At the same time, there is a need to update and redesign current teachers' qualifications so that they can train their aspirants for the demands of the future. Budget 2021 should also include provisions and proposals for Teachers' Abilities, taking into account the digital sustainability, development, enhancement and acceleration of the study patterns," said Tiwari.
Resources to underprivileged: "In the Union Budget 2021, the education sector should be given more priority, so the effects of Covid-19 can be normalised. Underprivileged students shall be given more learning tools and opportunities to adapt to digital learning methods. More robust platforms should be developed and curated for students to learn with ease and discipline. Moreover, skills like problem-solving, creativity and computational thinking are crucial for the 21st-Century kids to face future adversities, just like the COVID-19 pandemic," said Gautam.