Globally, around 1.2 billion learners have been affected so far by the Covid-19 pandemic, including the 320 million students in India. Nation-wide lockdown and other risk-controlling measures by governments sent a large number of students out of classrooms. But there have been many positive fallouts such as adoption of online learning and innovative learning methods to fill one of the biggest voids created in our education system so far.
The surprising innovations in the past few weeks highlight some of the long-term shifts that the education sector is undergoing. In a way, the Covid-19 pandemic has permanently changed education for a whole generation of children. The sudden uptick in technology-enabled learning tools and methods has been unprecedented.
Even in the pre-covid-19 world, technology has been a key enabler of some of the biggest transformations in the education sector namely remote learning, distance education and online learning. The global online education market is estimated to touch $350 billion by 2025, with Indian online education market showing a remarkable growth since 2017 (ResearchAndMarkets.com). Many recent market estimates however have not factored the Covid disruption in. This means that the actual potential of the overall digital learning space is probably way more than our estimates.
EdTech sector shows the way
Education technology has already been a high-growth sector before the pandemic. However, Covid-19 has provided a major impetus to the sector. In response to the lockdown measures, the last couple of months saw a spike in the usage of digital learning platforms, video conferencing tools and cloud-based online learning modules etc.
India’s edtech major BYJU’S witnessed a 200 percent increase in the number of new students, post its announcement of free access to its learning app. In what is termed as the largest ‘online movement’ in the history of education, around 730,000 students in Wuhan attended online classes via Tencent Online Classroom. Many Edtech startups have been crucial in ensuring that learning continued during the Covid-19 pandemic. Exams and assignments moved online, and remote learning became mainstream, while teachers, students and institutions tried to quickly adapt to the new normal.
In future, we will likely see increased usage of augmented reality-based learning and AI-driven platforms as physical distancing norms continue. Even the brick-and-mortar classrooms, once they resume, will probably look different and will become more technology-enabled. Very clearly, our education sector is preparing for a massive digital wave. Flexible learning technologies will continue to appeal to all classes of learners in the post-Covid world.
Edtech investments, which touched a whopping $18.66 billion in 2019, has seen upsurge since the lockdown.
Minding the security gap
The sudden shift to distance learning has not been one without challenges. To start with, there was little time for preparation and training, which made the transition tough and user experience poor. But the bigger question is– how secure is distance and online learning?
In a considerably short span of time, device usage went up drastically. Students and educators were accessing critical data remotely, while institutions hardly had the time to ensure a secure learning environment.
Endpoint security is turning out to be a unique challenge in this context. Many of the devices which are used for distance learning are often unprotected and unpatched, making them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. As many as 72 percent of devices are running old OS versions (2+ versions behind) across Windows 10, MacOS and Chrome OS, according to a recent study by Absolute. An alarming number of Windows 10 devices were not being patched. Out-of-date devices are exposed to malicious activity and potential breaches—the study warns.
There hasn’t been a more relevant time for us to focus on aspects like endpoint security and data leakage prevention. Learn-from-home is set to be a new paradigm in the world of education. Security is going to be paramount in ensuring the sustainability of this emerging model. It is perhaps as critical as bridging the ‘digital divide’ to ensure access and right to education in the coming days.