The Education Technology (EdTech) industry in India has witnessed exponential growth in recent years. With an expanding interest in various educational frameworks, numerous new players have entered the scene. These EdTech organisations are seizing the opportunities and capitalising on the demand for customised educational products, including self-learning materials, interactive educational content, online classes, personalised tutoring, student engagement tools, and test preparation services. While online education and EdTech companies have made learning more engaging and accessible, there is a growing concern surrounding how user data is collected, stored, processed, utilised, and potentially monetized.
The Growing Value of EdTech
India’s EdTech industry is on an upward trajectory and is set to reach a staggering $3.2 billion by 2022. Private equity and investment funding in EdTech have surged, with approximately $1.5 billion in funding recorded as of September 2020, marking a fourfold increase from the previous year. EdTech has enabled scalability and rapid expansion by adopting a direct-to-device model, eliminating geographical barriers and providing students with access to high-quality education from top institutions. In this changing landscape, educators have transformed into facilitators and curators, managing educational experiences from afar.
A Vast Educational Landscape
India boasts one of the largest K-12 educational systems globally, with over 1.4 million schools catering to more than 250 million students. According to the Indian Brand Equity Foundation’s (IBEF) Indian Education Sector Industry Report from August 2020, India stands as the second-largest market for e-learning, trailing only behind the United States. However, it’s essential to note that India ranks 115th in education on the Legatum Prosperity Index 2020, where Singapore and the United States hold the top spots.
Data Privacy Concerns in EdTech
The concerns related to data privacy in the EdTech sector extend beyond the content and platforms themselves. Urgent attention is needed to address critical challenges such as data security, privacy, social, and ethical issues. EdTech companies’ privacy policies often place the burden of consent and responsibility on users, even though many users lack the knowledge and legal capacity to make informed decisions. This disruption in the education sector raises ethical and social concerns, including biased content delivery, undue influence on career choices, insufficient historical data for effective data modeling and AI, leading to inaccurate student profiling, increased unemployment among traditional educators, and limited upskilling and reskilling opportunities for teachers. Additionally, content standardization and control without regulatory approval pose significant risks.
Data Protection Bill Compliance
Section 16(2) of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, stipulates that data handlers must verify the age of students and obtain parental consent before processing any personal data. It is the responsibility of EdTech companies to implement robust systems, structures, and protocols to proactively safeguard against cyberattacks, data breaches, and data infringements.
Effective Data Management in EdTech
To address these concerns effectively, there is a pressing need for education and awareness among end-users regarding the risks and challenges associated with app-based learning. Educational institutions and government education departments should conduct awareness campaigns, regular audits, and performance reviews of EdTech programs. Contact information for data protection and legal departments of EdTech firms should be readily available to end-users. Transparent processes and policies on data collection, storage, processing, analysis, and utilisation should be well-documented. Additionally, the appointment of nodal and complaint officers and rigorous content review and moderation are essential requirements. India currently lacks adequate regulatory bodies to address these concerns in the dynamic education sector, highlighting the urgent need for a clear regulatory framework to address ethical issues related to forced learning, data handling, content regulations, standards, and compliances.
The Way Forward
Given the delayed passage of data protection laws in India, the judiciary may need to step in and provide essential guidance to ensure that EdTech companies implement systems and procedures to address concerns and challenges adequately.
In conclusion, many countries are taking gradual steps toward data security and user data protection. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a prime example of a robust regulatory framework addressing citizens’ data privacy concerns. The pandemic has acted as a catalyst for change in education, with technology opening doors to enhanced learning experiences. However, it is crucial to explore how educational technology can navigate this new terrain while safeguarding students’ privacy. Moreover, we must await the passage of the Data Protection Bill to understand the additional compliance requirements it may impose on the EdTech sector. As the landscape of education continues to evolve, striking the right balance between innovation and data protection will be paramount for a brighter and more secure future of learning.