In a recent conference, I heard this interesting anecdote from a veteran in the Indian education ecosystem. In the thick of the pandemic, a higher education institute extended its reach well beyond the physical boundaries of a 25-acre campus, enrolment of 2,000 odd students and a 150-member strong faculty. They opened up some of their most highly ranked classes to the public, and learners varying from 18–70-year-olds, hailing from different corners of the world tuned into these classes, some of which were also co-led by with faculties from leading international universities. This institution saw first-hand how technology and partnerships could help deliver education at scale. If we want to future proof education, there can be no turning back from such a scenario – 21st century models of learning are here to stay.

But should we reinvent the wheel or is it possible to enable the education of tomorrow without breaking the model that we have built till now? Let's look at five key trends that will shape the Indian education sector in 2022 and beyond.

1) Learners lead the way but teachers remain important

The future of education will be led by learners. No-one-size-fits-all approach and hyper personalisation, enabled by data analytics and artificial intelligence, to meet the unique needs of every learner will drive fresher innovations. In the Education 4.0 era, edtech entrepreneurs will continue to invest in developing different tools and solutions for learners and educators across the education spectrum. Home to more than 9,000 education technology start-ups, India is already the second largest e-learning market globally after the U.S. The market that was estimated at $750 million in 2020 is expected to grow explosively to approximately $4 billion by 2025.

Even with greater harnessing of digital tools, the role of the teacher will not diminish as blended models of learning come into play. Technology will enable the rise of a more intuitive teacher who has access to tools to create a more conducive learning environment for each student. Technology will help both the teacher and the taught.

2) Content remains king

Personalised, immersive and engaging content holds the key for a robust education system. Whether it is the emergence of a multidisciplinary system of education or increasing focus on life skills and well-being of learners, great content will be critical to future-proof education. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 proposal of free-flowing crossovers between subjects, courses, and streams has already laid the building blocks to cultivating a cohesive, well-rounded education system. Through this, learners will have more freedom to explore multiple disciplines ranging from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to liberal arts and social sciences, even as they focus on a particular specialisation. At the same time, learners will be able to develop life skills such as analytical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, expanding their prospects to explore 21st century career paths. What is very exciting are the ways that this content will be consumed by learners, especially with the emergence of AR/VR technologies. It is not difficult to imagine education and learning in the Metaverse.

3) More collaboration versus competition

During the pandemic, several higher-ed institutes in India partnered with MOOC platforms to offer varied skill-based online programmes to students. Such collaborations are bound to increase as traditional education providers and the growing base of relevant education companies locate the sweet spot of matching content with technological agility to reach out to millions of students.

There will also be greater participation of organisations from different industries in the sector as they look to invest in building customised courses to help develop industry-specific technical skills and expertise. Case in point, companies like Amazon are increasingly launching courses in fields like computer science, AI, etc. with the aim of offering quality education and help create better career opportunities for learners. It is the era of massive partnerships for the education ecosystem in India.

4) National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 — a potential game changer

From developing tech-savvy faculty and content that is both immersive and innovative to imparting quality, sustainable education to all, the principles of our NEP are committed to establishing strong collaboration within the ecosystem to create a robust learning network. Indeed, having seen how imperative technology has become as an educational tool to ensure that learning never stops, it is even more vital that all the stakeholders in the education sector — the government, regulatory bodies, schools, and educational institutions, and the education companies, among others, work collaboratively towards removing the digital divide — a constraint in making education available across the length and breadth of the country. This would truly usher in a new era of education and a lifetime of sustainable learning in India. The age-old debate of access of education in India might get addressed.

5) India at the cusp of a new transformational era in education

Digital/online learning is what will enable affordable reach, but it will not totally disrupt or replace the classroom. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it's the reinforced importance of face-to-face learning and peer interaction. But much like the printed book made learning possible when the teacher was not present, digital will expand learning to mass levels. The transformations that we have seen over the past two years merely represent the tip of the iceberg. From bringing global universities into the homes of students residing in tier 3 or 4 cities and towns to making learning a lifelong journey with new and innovative programmes that offer continuous flow of knowledge to learners, education in India is at the cusp of a new era – an era where knowledge, medium, learners, and educators come together in synergy and harmony. May the 21st century be our Century of Education.

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