“IT/ICT will be a significant game changer in education”

EdCIL’s CMD Diptiman Das talks about the PSUs future plans and the potential of educational market in India

pragya

Praggya Guptaa | December 11, 2017 | New Delhi


#Education   #Diptiman Das   #EdCIL   #PSU  
(Photo: Arun Kumar)
(Photo: Arun Kumar)

Ending an extended period of stagnation, public sector enterprise Educational Consultants of India Limited (EdCIL) doubled its turnover in 2015-16 and has maintained it for 2016-17. In conversation with Praggya Guptaa, EdCIL’s CMD Diptiman Das talks about the PSUs future plans and the potential of educational market in India.

Bill Gates recently expressed his disappointment over India’s education system. Do you think it can be transformed with ICT intervention?

India has challenges on three accounts. One is access – that is the number of people inside the education institution both in higher and school education. Education at primary level has somewhat been addressed with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and RTE [Right to Education]. However, gross enrolment ratio [GER] in higher education is just 24 percent. There are more significant issues of quality. In school education, there is a quality disparity. Some reports and studies say that students cannot do numerical maths or problem-solving abilities. Employability or making our students future ready is the third challege  faced.

Quality and access can be addressed to a large extent through technology. We believe that IT/ICT will be a significant game changer in education and has a vast potential. In school education, we could have smart classrooms, MIS and biometric teachers’ attendance. We could also go for virtual classrooms, large-scale content development and MOOCs.

Similarly, in higher education the country lacks large-scale content development and virtual classrooms where students from average colleges can have access to lectures from the academicians from top universities.

The third area that needs  improvement is efficient campus management, which can be done through campus management systems.

EdCIL works in all these areas as these solutions have the potential to transform education in the next decade. Recently, we bagged a $12 million project to supply e-tablets to class 1 and class 2 in schools in Mauritius.

Similarly, EdCIL is equipping smart classrooms in 1,438 government schools in Arunachal Pradesh. We have done this in Maharashtra too. The response was good. The critical issue to be addressed is teacher training and change adaptation, and that is how this project can be a success.

How can online examination be made foolproof?

Online recruitment can introduce both security and efficiency into the syetem. Now we have many things to safeguard the tests. Technologies such as CCTV, biometric attendance, jammers, encryption and decrypting data in the exam hall can make examinations safer. Then we also have the option of reshuffling questions and answers.

What are your plans to tap the online examination market?

We want EdCIL to collaborate with the ministry of human resource development [MHRD] to build its own IT platform [infrastructure]. The MHRD is coming up with an organisation called National Testing Agency for academic exams. We want more and more research to take place in terms of content development which fits the client and candidate requirement. For example, a nurse’s job requires sympathetical nature so it is insufficient to test the candidate only on the basis of her domain knowledge. For government jobs skill tests are conducted but there are no interviews. We should incorporate these elements in testing.

Every year about four lakh Indian students go abroad for studies. However, only 50,000 students from other countries come to study here. What is EdCIL doing to increase this number?

We run an initiative to attract international students to India. Under this, we go with 20 NAAC ‘A’ accredited institution from India to 20 high potential destinations in the SAARC and African countries. At present, India gets 40-50,000 students. It has a high potential and the number can be raised up to two lakh. We are submitting the proposal to the government  to drive this and expecting it to be launched soon.

Why is the inflow of international students low despite good institutions in India?

There are multiple challenges such as our visa rules, which are stringent. The FRRO [Foreigner regional registration office] rule that demands clearance from a foreign student within 14 days of his/her arrival is also a hindrance. There are other restrictive rules too. Mutual recognition challenges under which they [foreign countries] do not recognise some Indian courses and we do not recognise some of their courses are also a challenge. There is a challenge of foreign students friendly infrastructure in certain institutions.

However, we feel the time is right to partner with top institutions, public or private, to launch a mega generic campaign to study in India. We had a productive discussion with the ministry in this regard and soon we will take it forward. This will have several components including event management and the bedrock of the campaign will be a web portal powered by social media, channel management, collaboration management and debottlenecking strategy. It will have an accreditation strategy. We have accreditation from NIRF and NAAC. But we do not have international friendliness accreditation. Around these areas the campaign can be launched. We have studied the best practices adopted by Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, and a common thread in them is an implementing agency which does the integration. Edcil wamts to be that agency. We would also like to have steering bodies and committees which would be multi-departmental in nature. This collaboration requires integration between ministries like those of home affairs, external affairs, commerce, HRD and tourism. We would like to have a high-powered task force to monitor this so that debottlenecking happens. We want to rope in 30-40 campuses, which are international student-friendly. We have noticed that private institutions are more aggressive in attracting international students than the government. There is 15 percent supernumerary quota to register them. If you have 100 students you can add 15 in the class. This will bring diversity and make India a soft power and will give us revenue.

As per a KMPG-Google report, the online education market is expected to touch $1.96 billion by 2021. How do you plan to tap this opportunity? Also, do startups pose a big competition?

I think there is a space for all. IT is the most under-serviced sector. The edutech industry is Rs 10 lakh crore, and the centre spends Rs 84,000 crore on it, while states spend four times more, and the private sector contributes at least three-four times above than this. Numerically, 70 percent of the higher education sector is the private sector. However, quality is an issue. So the education sector is under-serviced. There are procurement needs, the infrastructure creation needs, optimisation needs, governance needs, content needs and quality needs that have not been addressed. And it is good that some startups are coming up with solutions in these areas. We can collaborate with them [startups] as being a public sector we can be synergised and we would leverage their presence.

We would be an effective link between the growing competence of the private sector and increasing needs of the government sector. Most of our central universities and state universities do not know where to go, for example, to install Wi-Fi in the campus. They face challenges in terms of technology, specification and myriad of rules, policy paralysis, tendering process, etc. We can become an effective link. We can become a system integrator to solve these challenges. We are planning to become a Rs 1,500-crore company by 2022.

Any plans for diversification?

The present focus is on consolidation. EdCIL started as a consulting firm, so the advisory part of us is valued. All the IITs, IIMs DPR [detailed project report] were made by EdCIL’s advisory wing. We prepare the DPR for all the institutes of national importance. We also work across several sectors including railways, defence, water resources and commerce creating large training institutions. We conduct impact studies, strategy studies, HR intervention studies and we would like this business to grow. Another area where we work is the infra and procurement services and we want this to grow as well. We are growing more design expertise. We would like the total cost of ownership [TCO] to come down in procurement which we service. We  overall want to become an advisory as well as project execution agency.

What is the government’s strategy on PSUs?

Apart from the aggressive disinvestment targets, the government also has a welcome strategy consolidating PSUs. We have a model example of China, which has consolidated its PSUs and many of these Chinese PSUs [known as state-owned units in China] figure in Fortune 500 companies. In fact, among the top 10 firms in China, more than 90 percent of the assets are held by PSUs. This means all the big firms of China are PSUs [in petroleum, infra, telecom and bank sectors]. So the consolidation will be good.

pragya@governancenow.com

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