In September 2021, in the wake of regulatory action by the Chinese government on Edtech companies, a headline in The Diplomat magazine asked, “After government crackdown, what’s next for China’s Edtech firms?”

At the time, the beneficiaries of China’s education problems were India’s own Edtech players. But 11 months later, amid layoffs and the Indian government’s concern about alleged unfair trade practices, it is India’s Edtech sector facing the question of what’s next.

Troubled education times in the Indian sub-continent

The first sign that all was not well in India’s Edtech sector came towards the end of June 2022, when Byju’s, India’s most recognized Edtech company and a sponsor of the forthcoming FIFA football World Cup in Qatar, laid off workers at one of its subsidiaries. The layoffs, 300 from Toppr, came the day after 300 more employees were made redundant at Byju’s code-teaching unit WhiteHat Jr.

There have been some grumbles that Byju’s focus is now too global. In March 2022, Byju’s announced a partnership with QIA, the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, to launch a new edtech business and state-of-the-art research center in Doha. It is not yet clear what effect a tightening economy will have on Byju’s plans for an IPO, which is expected sometime in 2022 or early 2023.

As well as Byju’s, other Indian Edtech companies that have made redundancies include Unacademy, Vedantu, and Lido Learning. One start-up, Udayy, shut down completely, saying the business no longer made sense in the offline world and the cost of acquiring customers was too expensive.

Meanwhile, the Indian Government has warned the Indian education technology sector to stop unfair trade practices and false advertising or face new, stringent guidelines.

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Although the economic picture worldwide is hardly rosy, in Europe, the Edtech ecosystem has shown some funding resilience in challenging times. An Edtech funding report in July 2022 from Brighteye Ventures 2022 showed that the sector has secured $1.4 billion in funding so far in 2022, 40% more than a year earlier.

Is Edtech losing its shine?

In July 2022, an opinion posted on the World Economic Forum website warned that Edtech and its companies have become bigger, but not necessarily more “educational.” It argued that if Edtech is going to work for children, rich and poor, Edtech needs a culture change.

Natalia Kucirkova, professor of Children’s Reading and Development at the UK’s Open University and the University of Stavanger, suggested that Edtech exploited two key educational myths to perfection. Firstly, advocates for one-to-one initiatives confused learning engagement with learning gains. That saw sponsors of whole-school deployments of iPads or Chromebooks holding up examples of children’s use enjoyment as examples of learning. But Kucirkova said that teachers know that genuine learning is collaborative and challenging. Although motivation precedes learning, it does not make the learning stick.

Secondly, she ventured, that although a driver of the global Edtech market is the idea that everyone should have access to education, the reality is that not all Edtech platforms are truly educational. In fact, she said, very few actually are.

Impact of the metaverse on Edtech

Meanwhile, on the horizon is the impact of the metaverse, especially in higher education. According to Professor Esteve Almirall from the Esade Business School in Barcelona, speaking at Mobile World Congress in February, people train four times faster in the metaverse than in the classroom; they are 275% more confident to apply skills learned after training, and four times more focused than their e-learning peers.

The Brooking Institution makes an additional point. When education lags behind, the digital leaps, and technology rather than educators defines what counts as an educational opportunity. This is largely what happened with the introduction of ‘educational’ apps designed to be used on smartphones and tablets meant for adults.

Today, with metaverse infrastructure still under construction, researchers, educators, policymakers, and digital designers have a chance to lead the way rather than get caught in the undertow. They should grab the opportunity, while they can.