India claims to be the world’s second-largest e-learning market after the US and has 3,500 EdTech startups. In this background, the Union Ministry of Education has issued an advisory on do’s and don’ts that the parent, students, and stakeholders of the education ecosystem in the country may follow. The advisory from the government stated that it has come to the notice of the Department of School Education and Literacy that some ed-tech companies are luring parents in the garb of offering free services and getting the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) mandate signed or activating the Auto-debit feature, especially targeting the vulnerable families.
The advisory further stated that the parents, students and all stakeholders in school education have to be careful while deciding on opting for online content and coaching being offered by a host of Ed-tech companies.
“The decision has to be well considered with several Do’s and Don’ts. Most importantly, the offer of free services that are promised by some companies has to be carefully evaluated,” the advisory read.
- Avoid Automatic debit option for payment of subscription fee: Some ed-tech companies may offer the Free-Premium business model where a lot of their services might seem to be free at first glance but to gain continuous learning access, students have to opt for a paid subscription. Activation of auto-debit may result in a child accessing the paid features without realizing that he/she is no longer accessing the free services offered by the ed-tech company.
- Do read the terms and conditions before acknowledging the acceptance of learning software/device as your IP address and/or personal data may be tracked.
- Ask for a tax invoice statement for the purchase of educational devices loaded with contents/app purchase/Pendrive learning.
- Do a detailed background check of the ed-tech company that you want to subscribe to.
- Do verify the quality of the content provided by the ed-tech companies and make sure that it is in line with the syllabus and your scope of study and is easily comprehensible by your child.
- Do clarify all your doubts/questions regarding the payment and content before investing any amount for your child’s learning in any ed-tech company.
- Activate parental controls and safety features on the device or in the app or browser as it helps restrict access to certain content and limit spending on app purchases.
- Do not blindly trust the advertisements of the ed-tech companies.
- Do not sign up for any loans of which you are not aware.
- Do not install any mobile ed-tech applications without verifying the authenticity.
- Avoid credit/debit cards registration on apps for subscriptions. Place an upper limit on expenditure per transaction.
- Avoid adding your data like emails, contact numbers, card details, addresses etc. online as the data may be sold or used for later scam attacks.
- Do not share any personal videos and photos. Use caution against turning on the video feature or getting on video calls on an unverified platform. Keep your child’s safety at the utmost priority.
- Do not subscribe to unverified courses because of their false promises.
- Do not trust the “Success stories” shared by the ed-tech companies without proper check as they might be a trap to gather more audience.
- Do not allow purchases without parental consent. To avoid in-app purchases; OTP based payment methods may be adopted as per RBI’s guidelines.
- Do not share your bank account details and OTP number with any marketing personnel. Beware of cyber fraudulent.
- Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
The latest advisory from the Ministry of Educations points fingers at EdTech firms in the country against whom complaints are emerging on the consumer forums and social media platforms for the violation of terms and conditions, delay in refunds, and more.
In the second week of December 2021, as per media reports, the District Consumer Grievances Redressal Forum in Pune has directed the educational App company- BYJU’s The Learning App, to refund the amount along with interest paid by the Pune based consumer towards the fees, as the company failed the fulfil the terms and conditions of the agreement that was mentioned to be provided to the students.
The reports also stated that in response to the Pune based consumer’s complaint, the consumer forum criticized three directors and the official representatives of “BYJU’s The Learning App” and “Think and Learn Company” and the brand Ambassador Shahrukh Khan and directed the company to refund the fee of Rs 15000 along with interest of 9 % per annum from August 14, 2018, onwards till date, to the consumer.
This is just not an isolated case; social media is littered with similar complaints about Edtech companies.
An elaborated investigation by BBC based on interviews with former employees and customers has exposed several grave allegations against a majorEdtechcompany. As per the BBC report, in at least 3 different cases, the consumer courts in the country have been directed to pay damages to customers in disputes related to refunds and inadequacy of services. The allegations by the parents stated that they were misled by the app’s sales agent and were decoyed to enter into contracts with the company. Reportedly, many of the calls by the customers regarding the services or refunds were left unanswered.
As per Edtech-focused VC firm BLinC Invest report, The online education market in India is expected to be valued over more than $3.5 billion by 2022. The Edtechofferings across grades 1–12 are expected to increase 6.4X to create a $1.7 billion market by the end of next year, the post-K12 market is set to grow 3.7X to record$1.8 billion.
“It is very much evident that the Ed-tech companies which may be considered e-commerce entities have to comply with the Rules to prevent any untoward liability in the future and need to establish a dedicated mechanism in place to check for compliance with the law. No e-commerce entity shall adopt any unfair trade (marketing) practice, whether in the course of business on its platform or otherwise,” the advisory from the Ministry stated.
The advertisements of Educational Institutions including the Ed-tech companies and Programs shall comply with the following guidelines:
- The advertisement shall not state or lead the public to believe that an institution or course or program is official, recognized, authorized, accredited, approved, registered, affiliated, endorsed or has a legally defined situation unless the advertiser can substantiate with evidence.
- The advertisement shall not state or lead the public to believe that enrolment in the institution or program or preparation course or coaching classes will provide the student with a temporary or permanent job, admissions to institutions, job promotions, salary increase etc. unless the advertiser can submit substantiation to such claim. In addition, the advertisement must carry a disclaimer stating ‘past record is no guarantee of future job prospects.’ The font size of the disclaimer should not be less than the size of the claim being made in the advertisements.
- (a) Advertisement shall not make claims regarding extent of the passing batch placed, the highest or average compensation of the students placed, enrolment of students, admissions of students to renowned educational institutes, marks and ranking of students passed out, testimonial of topper students, institution’s or its program’s competitive ranking, size and qualification of its faculty, affiliation with a foreign institution, Institute’s infrastructure, etc. unless they are of the latest completed academic year and substantiated with evidence.
(b) Advertisement stating competitive rank of the institution or its program shall also provide full name and date of the publication or medium which released the rankings.
(c) Visual infrastructure of the Institution shown in the advertisement shall be real and exist at the time of the advertisement’s release.
(d) Testimonial of toppers in an advertisement shall be from students who have participated in the testimony program, exams or subject only from the advertising institute.
(e) An advertisement stating the number of passing out students placed for jobs shall also state the total number of students passing out from the placed class.
The mushrooming of Edtech companies in the country has left the competitors to pull out all the stops to lure the customers to their platforms, which has resulted in predatory marketing practices by the brands. In this prevailing context, the advisory by the Union government of Education is a welcoming move which provides the education ecosystem including parents and students a clarity on the points needs to be carefully evaluated before signing up with the platforms.