Content Side of Education: An Indian Opportunity

As I travel in India and meet with education providers, I come across this popular view that there is no business in educational content. So, the business models of private education providers are predicated on innovations in delivery, technology or financing, but content is by far the least popular. This is not surprising - this is indeed the view most financiers of education hold - but slightly puzzling particularly in the context of India, where most content is so poor.  

It seems that the argument is when so much free content is available, what is the point of making more content? And, secondly, the business model for content seems very difficult to crack. These are apparently valid points, but the 'content gap' in education in a country like India remains apparent, and some business model innovation is needed.

Indeed, there is some work happening already. There are companies adapting MOOC content for Engineering Education, in partnership with an Indian university. I have also seen distance learning programmes built around the TV programming done by Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). I have also seen extensive licensing from global publishers and translation efforts for text books. I would, however, think that there is a case of production of educational content, which seems to be neglected among the Indian providers.

The global content is an useful source, but given India's educational challenges and linguistic diversity, what's on offer is clearly inadequate. The MOOCs can only work so far. I have seen classes conducted with the imperfect YouTube generated subtitles, which are mostly wrong and lowers, rather than enhancing, understanding. Besides, these are clear cases of learning objectives fitting the content rather than the other way around. Khan Academy may do a world of good and can indeed enhance learning, but it is hardly able to cater to all the needs that a country like India may have.

In terms of production, I see some efforts from the broadcasters - I met several people talking about education focused programming for TV channels - but these discussions remain within its media context. The approach these providers want to take is to fill the time for their respective channels, rather than building an useful educational provision. The universities are so far behind in the game that they are not producers of content, but consumers themselves. All of this indicate an opportunity in educational content production, but a business model remains to be found.

I would presume the answer lies in Public-Private partnership of some kind, which can bring the scale to content production. The broadcasters' interests in educational content should be seized upon by the entrepreneurs, though they should think about combining different media and channels, and worthwhile educational objectives, to make standalone educational content business work. A good enterprise of suitable scale should also engage one or the other cash-strapped universities to join the effort.

The capabilities needed to produce educational content are already there in India, with some of the world's most successful companies in the space being Indian (Tata Interactive Services and NIIT/ Element K come to mind). But these capabilities have not been deployed to serve the Indian customers so far, with these players remaining mostly focused on outsourced opportunities. The big change perhaps is that with public money being poured into education and skills development, there is a clear opportunity emerging. My prediction would be that some very innovative and successful educational content companies will emerge in India serving the local consumers in the next few years.


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