India's education system has been infamous for its orientation toward rote learning. However, the Internet is poised to bring about a change in teaching methodologies and is proving to be a boon for India's academically-inclined students.
Several portals have popped up in recent months offering various educational support. Prominent amongst them are portals such as 24X7guru.com, extramarks.com, 100percentile.com, testcenter.indiatimes.com, tenaday.co.in and mteducare.com.
Some sites provide educational support to school-going children, such as 24X7guru, which is targeted at students between Standard 3 and 10 (aged nine to 16). Others such as testcenter.indiatimes.com, cater to school-going children as well as college students, and offer separate packages for those who wish to take competitive examinations.
"The Internet complements the learning students get in schools," Viraf Kalyaniwalla, head of operations at Learn Smart India, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview. Learn Smart India runs 24X7guru, an online assessment platform. "Our portal complements the efforts by the school teachers and parents in providing conceptually strong academic foundation to the younger generation," Kalyaniwalla added.
Sandeep Anand, CEO of Hundred Percentile Education (100Percentile), said in an e-mail interview: "Online education is the future of education." The education portal provides online assessment and performance analysis services to students of all levels.
According to Anand, online education is fast becoming an integral part of mainstream academics and is, in fact, the new face of education in India.
100Percentile specializes in training students for engineering examinations and was launched in November 2007 as a partnership with Vidyamandir Classes, which provides services to help students prepare for the Indian Institute of Technology Joint Entrance Examinations (IIT-JEE). The IIT-JEE is an annual entrance examination used by various colleges in India for admission into their undergraduate programs.
Although 100Percentile has not started marketing its services as yet, Anand said, it managed to build a membership base of over 50,000 students within four months of operation.
Old to new knowledge
Many of these portals aim to move away from the concept of rote-learning that has prevailed in India for many decades now. Kalyaniwalla explained: "The application fundamentally believes that once a student understands the concepts, he is less likely to forget them, as opposed to the method of merely memorizing the text.
"Through our application, students get a complete understanding of the fundamentals. Therefore, their foundation [for higher learning] is very strong," he said.
These educational portals hold more importance for smaller towns in India, where there are fewer coaching centers.
Many of these portals are cost-effective too. For instance, some packages offered at 24X7guru are priced at US$24.9 (1,000 rupee) for a year, which works out to just 3 rupee (less than 10 US cents) a day.
"We have students enrolled with us from all parts of the country," Kalyaniwalla of 24X7guru.com said. "Since the Internet penetration has gone beyond urban areas, many students situated in smaller towns and cities are also benefiting from our portal."
Anand said: "Nearly 75 percent of our students are from Delhi and other major cities of India. But we have still not begun marketing our products. Therefore, it is heartening to see that nearly 25 percent of our students belong to smaller cities and towns across India."
"With innovative e-learning and assessment services being created by 100Percentile and other such portals, we will soon see the benefits of e-learning percolating down to students from rural areas and small towns across the country," he added.
Does the Internet then hold the key to changing India's education system? According to Kalyaniwalla, it certainly does.
"Education will move beyond the three-hour examination structure and would focus on the conceptual clarity and knowledge of fundamentals," he said. "The mission of 24x7guru.com is to bring forth this change in the education system in the country."
However, low penetration of personal computers and broadband is proving to be a big impediment in delivering the real benefits of e-education to remote areas in India.
"But there are considerable efforts underway to augment the communication infrastructure in the country," Anand said.
According to a study by online research firm JuxtConsult, the overall Internet population in urban India grew by 28 percent between April 2006 and April 2007. The country's online user population stood at 30.3 million in April 2007.
Industry estimates suggest that Internet accessibility in India will grow to over 126 million users by 2010.
Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.