The fast-growing education technology (edtech) space, led by Bengaluru-based unicorns Byju’s and Unacademy, has a serious problem at hand. How do low-income families get access to quality education digitally? The pandemic-induced edtech boom in India—the sector is reported to have raised over $4 billion in venture capital over the last 18 months—has only widened the divide between the haves and have nots, as access to even one smartphone is a luxury for many Indian households.
“Yes there is absolutely a divide that is there—people being able to access these (edtech platforms),” says Mohan Lakhamraju, founder and CEO of edtech firm Great Learning, which was recently acquired by Byju’s for $600 million. Speaking exclusively to Fortune India, Lakhamraju says, “It is a significant societal problem that is there and we have to find out ways to solve it.”
But it was not as though there was no divide before, he counters. “How many people could access high quality education? I would argue now (via edtech) that the number of people who can access high quality education is in two orders of magnitude more,” he adds.
Founded in 2013, Great learning, which operates in the professional and higher-education space, has delivered over 60 million hours of learning to 1.5 million learners from over 170 countries. Byju’s has earmarked a further $400 million of investment into accelerating Great Learning’s growth.
“Only if you went to the top 100 educational institutions did you get a good education,” says Lakhamraju. “But India has 40,000 institutions. So most people were actually not getting a good quality education.” At schools, too, he says, most children were not getting access to quality education because India is starved for good teachers. “I would argue that now, because of technology—yes a family may have one device—they can access much better learning experiences,” he says, adding that Great Learning’s user base has grown 15 times since March last year. The edtech firm continues to operate as an independent unit under Byju’s.
“We are solving the problem of: once somebody has access, how do they get the best learning experience. How can there be a level playing field in terms of having quality? That is the problem we are solving,” says Lakhamraju. He believes that the “societal issue” of access will hopefully get resolved when prices of electronic devices come down. Further, the new digital-led business models like Jio would further bridge the digital divide.