India’s Education Challenge – And How Technology Can Help

India’s Education Challenge – And How Technology Can Help

India’s Education Challenge – And How Technology Can Help

On a recent trip to India, Anant Agarwal, an entrepreneur who has founded several companies including Tilera Corporation which manufactures semiconductors, had an interesting experience. He was thanked by a person at the Bangalore airport for “saving” his life. Narrating this incident during a panel discussion at the Wharton India Economic Forum held earlier this year, Agarwal said that the man was talking about edX, a free online education provider where Agarwal is currently the chief executive. Founded in 2012 by Harvard and MIT, edX, offers courses from universities and institutions around the world.

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“EdX has about seven million students all over the world, and about 800,000 students in India alone,” said Agarwal. Unlike conventional universities, he explained, edX provides micro-credentials and programs that have skill-based outcomes, rather than coursework aimed at more theoretical specialties that rarely generate direct job opportunities. Students sign up online for edX courses of their choice, which they take at their own pace. After completing a program, if they want they can also receive a certificate from edX (for a small fee) verifying the student’s mastery of the coursework. This can be used to highlight the students’ skills on their resume or LinkedIn profile.

Huge Skills Gap

But despite the progress made by edX, and the thousands of students that it has qualified for professional positions, India still faces an educational crisis, noted Agarwal. “One of the things I kept hearing in India from companies, people and academics alike is a shocking statistic that 90% of the students who graduate are unemployed,” he said. “There is a huge skills gap between all the people who are graduating versus all those people who are graduating without the skills to get a job.” So the real challenge for India is to ensure that the country’s huge population of 1.25 billion people becomes a demographic dividend, rather than a demographic burden.

Agarwal felt that “there is a big opportunity” to make a major positive impact on India by providing skills for its youth population. “Many of these students can learn online during the period when they are looking for jobs, and they can learn from the best. They can learn digital marketing from Wharton. They can learn software-as-a-service from Berkeley. They can learn Chinese from Tsinghua University in China. All of this is completely free because edX is a non-profit. We see people getting jobs from learning online; that’s where the real opportunity exists.”

“We see people getting jobs from learning online; that’s where the real opportunity exists.” –Anant Agarwal

Amitabh Shah, founder and chief inspiration officer of YUVA (Youth) Unstoppable, a non-governmental organization in India, highlighted the lowering of quality in India’s education sector. “The idea of a Bachelor’s degree is supposed to signify some sort of general excellence; it gives you something that you can take to a job interview to show that you know how to do something. [But], despite the plethora of institutions popping up on every street corner in India, that [old-fashioned] notion of a degree has disappeared. Now you can have someone who comes to you with a Bachelor’s degree in English literature and you’re not even sure that they can speak English.”

Why are standards for so many training programs too low to produce reliably skilled workers? Shah noted that