Jitin Sethi is a partner and member of L.E.K. Consulting’s Global Education practice, where he works with leading investors and entrepreneurs in the edtech sector. He spoke to The PIE about education and the role that technology is likely to play in the coming years.
"The non-formal education sector did get dramatically impacted during the pandemic"
The PIE: Tell me a bit about yourself and L.E.K. Consulting.
Jitin Sethi: My name is Jitin Sethi and I’m a partner in the global education practice at LEK and a seasoned consultant. I’ve been a consultant for almost two decades now, of which for the last 10 years, I’ve been focusing on the education sector. LEK is a top tier strategy firm with over 20 offices globally, we have more than 1,400 consultants on our payroll and about 150 partners.
“We are seeing the role of technology evolve from a backbone on digital content into much, much more adaptive learning in classroom delivery”
LEK is a specialist strategy house that tends to work across multiple verticals. One of the verticals that we specialise in is education. Most of the education work is done out of the global education practice, which I’m a part of. The global education practice has seven partners and 75 consultants focusing on the education sector from pre-K to higher education and ancillary services such as publishing or supplementary education. This team tends to work across the globe from Brazil to China. We have experience of working across 75 plus countries.
The PIE: During your consulting work how have you seen technological advances affect the global education industry?
JS: So the way we think about the education sector and the role of technology is in phases – let me just describe the phases to you. Phase one of the adoption of technology in the education sector was when the technology backbone started becoming a little bit more prevalent in school systems and university systems. As a result of that automation products made it into universities and schools. These are basically things like student ledgers or financial ledgers and the automation of some of the backbone of schools and universities. A lot of developing countries are still at this stage of adoption of technology.
Phase two, as the internet became more and more prevalent and teachers, students and parents had better access to high quality internet, we started seeing some amount of digitisation of content which started playing a role in education delivery within the classroom and outside the classroom. So some of the traditional books became a little bit more digitised, assessment areas started developing and being adopted by schools and universities.
Phase three is really when that implementation or the technology backbone has now started becoming more and more prevalent, not only at the back end, but also within the classroom. What we’re seeing more and more – especially in the developed part of the world, for example, in the US, Australia and the UK – is that almost every child in the classroom now has access to a device and almost every teacher in the classroom has access to a device.
Hence we are seeing the role of technology evolve from a backbone on digital content into much, much more adaptive learning in classroom delivery and becoming a day to day part of the delivery being used by teachers and students. This is where a lot of the developed markets are now heading towards. This is, of course, going to give rise to what we have been hearing a lot of with AI in delivery – a lot of individualised learning, self-based learning and also talking a little bit about better quality outcomes. It’s exciting times for the role of technology.
The PIE: What are some of the trends you expect to see as tech continues to develop in the education space?
“We expect to see more individualised learning in classroom delivery”
JS: Historically, adoption of technology in schools and in universities has been a slow process, and that’s largely because of the way technology in schools and universities has evolved. As a result of that, it was almost a chicken and egg problem. The technology wasn’t there at that stage yet, but also the kind of products that were coming out, were not as sophisticated as some of the other sectors.
But some of the recent advances that have been made in building up infrastructure in schools and universities alongside the recent Covid-19 context, where a lot of teachers and a lot of parents and students have had to go online and adopt technological solutions in order to switch from the classroom based mode of delivery, means that it is the right time for technology to play a much more important role.
We expect to see more individualised learning in classroom delivery, using technology, using heuristics to be able to improve outcomes. That also, of course, includes blended learning. So classroom and online delivery being blended in order to provide an optimal mix for students and all of the other stakeholders.
We also expect products to evolve. It’s very common for schools and universities to have student information systems and learning management systems etc implemented. But there are areas, for example, better parent and student communication, that need to improve.
“All schools and universities need to do much better with their content repositories or management systems online”
All schools and universities need to do much better with their content repositories or management systems online in order to standardise their websites, but also standardise the content that these providers have. Since every child now has access to a device, there will be developments in device monitoring and student safeguarding. These are some of the areas that we expect to become more and more prevalent as we think about technology within the classroom in both higher education and schools.
The PIE: What are some of the risks for the sector in relation to technology and business models?
JS: So firstly, traditional formal education, which is the traditional brick and mortar institutions like schools and universities, for them we believe that technology is not really a risk, but an opportunity. It’s not like tomorrow an online school is going to open and all the physical infrastructure that we have is going to be closed down.
Due to various reasons, which I think most of us understand, it’s very important for that level of community and inter-student communication to happen. But it’s an opportunity because they can improve their operational processes and they can improve the overall quality of delivery. They can reach a wider range of students that they could not have reached earlier.
But the risk there is if they do not adopt technology at the right place and time, some of their competitors could get ahead of them in adoption and improving their product and hence be more competitive in the future. So overall, technology is definitely an opportunity for the traditional formal education sector.
For the non-formal education sector, such as supplementary, in after-school tutoring or English language or some of the up-skilling kind of programs, those segments did get dramatically impacted during the pandemic and were replaced partially by online models. There’s definitely some amount of business model risk to those kinds of programs.
The PIE: What about security risks associated with the adoption of technology in the industry?
JS: In terms of security, I think education is no different than any of the other sectors, like health care or the financial sectors – the same risks exist. There are questions about how they keep their stakeholders’ information secure. That’s one of the basic levels of security that they need to plan for and implement.
“In terms of security, I think education is no different than any of the other sectors”
But of course, when you’re talking about educating young students and young minds, there’s always a risk of them gaining access to information that is not appropriate for them. For example, Zoom calls getting hacked or them being solicited by unknown people on the internet or getting access to materials that they should not have access to.
That’s definitely a big risk and there’s a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of education institutions to ensure that they can build a safe environment. During the pandemic they didn’t really have to focus on that as much because online was really taking off. But as the usage of technology matures, this is going to be a key concern.
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