Coaching classes were my fondest memories while growing up. I remember stopping by to eat street food after the classes, solving doubts in groups, huddling by the teachers when I was stuck. More than the education per se, coaching classes are also a part of self directed learning and a maturity that arrives while working with a peer group. A sort of community led competitive spirit that keeps up the tempo.
The New Normal
This year has been different. Students are no longer trooping to coaching classes. With the pandemic in full swing, coaching classes have taken a severe hit. As most coaching classes operate in small per square feet setups, it makes it even harder to implement Social distancing, while keeping student safety in mind.
When the pandemic started, all coaching classes had shut down as a temporary solution. However, as the virus persisted, it slowly, but surely took on a more permanent form, which required a more permanent solution. Hence, coaching institutions tried to prepare for what seemed to be the future looming ahead of them. But they are facing a number of challenges.
Over 4+ weeks, we spoke to 80+ coaching institutes across tier 2 & Tier 3 towns and a few themes started to emerge.
Technical hiccups & challenges
Moving from offline to online has proved to be a challenging task for many coaching classes. Having always conducted classes offline, most coaching classes did not have the setup to hold online classes. A few instructors even told us about the discomfort of being recorded and how it makes them uncomfortable.
Most of them had to establish online classes hurriedly, which meant they did not have the right infrastructure for it. Most of these institutes were using WhatsApp/Telegram groups to coordinate the schedules, allay fear of postponed exams with their students.
Financial implications and cancelled enrolments
Enrolments have reportedly decreased manifold. Since, parents are not comfortable paying full fees because of loss of learning outcomes, their own financial impact because of COVID, quality in teaching, coaching classes have been forced to decrease their fees to retain and attract students. Coaching classes are finding it difficult to continue to pay rent for their coaching spaces. Teachers’ salaries have decreased as well. Many teachers have reported a loss of 25% in their salaries or more.
For many places like Kota, traditional coaching neighbourhoods of Delhi known for IAS training, coaching classes are the driving forces of the economy. Hampering of coaching classes has meant these economies have also come to a standstill - right from XEROX shops, to fast food to PG setups to chai-walas.
Teachers’ teaching skills are also being tested as they transition from offline to online form of teaching. Many teachers have had a lot of self-learning to do in order to teach students confidently, since for many, this is the first time venturing into online teaching. Teachers, however, believe there is no proper discipline in online classes. It is also extremely exhausting for teachers to hold online Zoom/meets meetings, to assign and correct tests, send schedules etc. Teachers also find it difficult to manage the inattentive students online, while being held accountable to deliver the learning outcomes. Students usually fall off, play games during online classes, which is a worrying phenomenon both for the school & parents.
“It's draining for me to prepare slides for 2-3 hours and then recording is a hassle, and I get anxious in front of the camera.”
Many tier 2 & 3 cities in India do not have good internet connectivity and electricity - which accentuates the self discipline and breakages in learning. This degrades an overall learning experience, effectiveness.
Parents, rightfully worry about the live online as the sole medium of education, and are increasingly looking for a hybrid learning experience - that manages all classroom workflows, without the overwhelming feeling of too much content coming at this. This is especially important as most of the children do not have their personal devices, so a mobile first, shared device strategy comes handy.
Government and Parent Approval
As the country is slowly going into unlock mode, coaching institutes are looking at the government to allow offline classes. They promise to uphold safety precautions such as social distancing, reduced number of students in a class, etc.
Parents, however are scared to send their children to coaching classes for fear of being infected , and for good reason. In Andhra Pradesh, news surfaced of a couple who were running a coaching class even after they tested positive, which led to 14 students, along with their mothers testing positive as well.
Competition from Online Players
Amidst all this, the Coaching institutes are facing cutthroat competition from established online players like Byju’s, Vedantu, Unacademy, etc. Coaching institutes are fearful of losing their students to them with their seamless online experience.
However, coaching institutes think that while platforms are good for access, they do not get the students selected in competitive exams. But the online platforms are confident that once students get used to the experience on the platform, they would continue to stay as long term users.
Moreover the share of wallet goes from the same disposable household income, which is why product & services differentiation matters a lot in the space. As new demand patterns, content & service consumption patterns will be formed, first by a push based , aggressive marketing, later by an embracing for a better data led experience - the offline players need to proactively plan their own MOAT.
Digital strategy of Offline players ?
It is clear that the EdTech wave, along with COVID has made the online EdTech players a sizeable threat that you can't ignore as a part of the defensibility of offline coaching industry. Consider this, there was 4X the amount of capital infused in 2020 vs 2019 and this capital will be used to build products, service and customer discovery that will irreversibly change the demand patterns.
Many of the bigger players such as Akash has invested $150+ Mn to move 25% off its offline tutoring business online. While a few of these companies adopt the digital strategy, innovation in a traditional brick & mortar, specialized Tech know how & speed of execution will remain a challenge.
The offline players need to act now - and partner with a tech platform company that has no competing ground/conflict of interest in being in "content" business, and offers a pure play Tech platform. One with which , they can work on trust, and transparency and co-create a product roadmap with the customers it serves.