India is a diverse country rich in its local language heritage. One would be surprised to know that English, which is perceived to be the language of the classes, is only spoken by ~10.35% of the total population of India. Having said, it is only ~2% of the population that can speak proper English (without any grammatical errors), the rest of the 8% may only understand English and may not speak or write the language properly.
Hindi remains the dominant language in the country with ~45% of the population who are fluent or understand the language. The rest of the country is diversely rich in other languages; their primary language is neither Hindi nor English (India has 22 languages and over 19,500 dialects). In the early stages of edtech, start-ups focussed on creating products/services catering to Tier1 cities, IB boards, and/or the English Medium schools, but with PM Modi’s vision of complete digitisation of education in India, it has become all the more relevant today that edtech start-ups think of language inclusivity in their diverse innovations. That and India’s majorly untapped talent pool, which is not English-speaking or English-educated, need to come up to speed to make India a front-line country and economy.
At the end of the British Raj, India’s literacy rate was a mere 12%. The country’s literacy rate has jumped leaps and bounds since then to a staggering 77.7% in the past 75 years of independence. With 254.8 million students in Class I to XII bracket, we are the largest school-going population in the entire world! Having said that, our school system is largely government-funded, with state education boards imparting education primarily throughthe local language. So far, edtech firms have been focusing on the creamy layer of English education and private schools but with government schools at a whopping ~ 11 lakhs outnumbering all others, there is a huge push in making firms to collaborate with states to provide language teaching on mobile apps and online.
According to the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) vision, 14,500+ schools around the country will be developed into PM Shri Schools, with upgraded infrastructure, innovative pedagogy and technology that would make them exemplar. These schools and many that would come under PM Shri’s fold are envisioning to create and nurture holistic and well-rounded individuals with 21st century skill sets. While these would be created as proofs of concept, it is understood that many state-government aided, funded, and run schools will soon follow suit. Some of the state boards are much bigger than the CBSE and since most of them teach in local languages, the inclusivity of regional language in edtech tools is soon becoming a necessity.
All of us deserve to access accurate information in the language of our choice. Many complex concepts are better understood in the native tongue. It is our natural language, and it has been proven that conceptual learning done in our mother tongue sets a solid foundation to the learning process. It has been observed, though not researched, that IT professionals from South India (which has a significant dominance in the country) prefer their native language as the primary learning medium. There are several YouTube channels with lakhs of followers that create detailed tutorials on AI, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Big Data, Cloud Computing, and more in regional language, and the presenter’s fun to watch as well! The multilingual approach has already been adopted for technical training, and gradually it is envisaged to integrate similarly with other streams of education. Also, a major chunk of online learners belongs to the non-metro’scities, where they may not have easy access to quality trainers or even modern learning tools. Democratization of education is a must and a dire need today. The country needs edtech tools that cut across geographical boundaries,bringing the best training modules and mentors to anyone who needs them.
There was a time when knowing English meant success. It still is an important language to learn, but the Indian internet population thinks otherwise. Consumers spend 50%-60% on Hindi video content followed by about 35%-43% on other languages and just 5%-7% on English video content; which means that there is an already growing regional language internet video content userbase which is already the medium of the present, and will probably become the medium of the future. Lastly, there’s the untapped power of Tier 2 cities and rural regions in India. These are the markets that are connected to the rest of the world through affordable 4G and smartphones and are the biggest receptors of brand correspondence.In fact, some of the fastest conversions happen here. Edtech tools therefore in the local language would be a sure shot and smart way to digitize education in these markets with early adopters.
In India, the number of young people in school and set to graduate is higher than ever. As per the ASER Report, India has the largest and the youngest workforce in the world. However, the skill gap is tremendous. With the world being hurtled towards a digital future, if the Indian workforce is digitally capable, there is no stopping of India’s growth as a frontline country and economy. Our government has launched its various missions to achieve these capabilities. The pursuit and success of these goals will largely depend on the availability and commitment of the talent pool that India will have for itself and for the world. It is here the role of inclusive digitalized education is most crucial.