Because of the advancement in technology, and looking at the current view of covid-19 pandemic, a lot of Ed-tech companies have started offering courses, lectures, tutorials and coaching for competitive exams in an online mode.
India’s Education Ministry, issued an advisory on the Education technology [Ed- tech] platforms, on 23rd December, 2021. It advised citizens to be cautious against the Ed-tech companies which enables online learning. Some companies promise to offer free service, all these should be carefully evaluated, the Ministry of Education stated in the notification issued on Thursday.
It had come to the notice of the Department of School Education and Literacy that some of the Ed-tech companies were attracting parents in the name of offering free services and getting the Electronic Fund Transfer [EFT] mandate signed or activating the auto debt feature, especially targeting the vulnerable families. The Department of School Education and Literacy received a lot of complaints relating to such offers made by the Ed-tech companies.
What are the guidelines suggested by the Education Ministry?
The Education Ministry has asked all the students, parents and the stakeholders to be very careful while opting for online coaching.
The Ministry urged the citizens to read all the terms and conditions carefully before opting for any online coaching, program or learning software.
It also stated to avoid automatic debt option for the 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,” the education ministry said.
The Ministry also said to check the quality content of all these companies before subscribing to their services. Further, the advisory also mentioned that the parents should clarify all the questions regarding the subscription fee and content before signing up for any coaching for their 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,” the ministry noted.
There were many reports about people losing their money because of the auto debit feature in the apps. Recently, the Member of Parliament, Karti Chidambaram raised the issue of ed-tech firms using practices that harm parents and students and called for regulation of ed-tech platforms, in the winter session of the Parliament. He said these companies offer online lectures and courses which are not evaluated properly. He also wrote to the Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, asking him to take a look at the ‘predating marketing practices that often prey upon under privileged parents’ followed by ed tech firms.
Additionally, the Ministry also recommended that the user, who is signing up for the particular content, should read the students and parents review online about the particular ed-tech company before signing up for any content. It also advised the parents and students, to give their reviews and suggestions, which can help other users before opting for any coaching. It also advised parents to help their children to understand all the features and marketing strategies by education apps that are being used to encourage more spending.
The education ministry also advised the citizens to read carefully and understand the child safety guidelines mentioned in its PRAGYATA guidelines before using any ed- tech platform.
The advisory said, ‘Record the evidence of spam calls/ forced signup for any educational packages without complete consent for filing a grievance’.
The ‘success stories’ shared by all these ed-tech companies may be a trap to attract huge number of audiences, so it advised all the users to do a proper check before trusting all these success stories.
The ministry also warned users against adding all their personal data like phone numbers, emails, contact numbers, addresses, card details, etc online as all these personal data can be misused later by ed- tech companies, or also they can be sold.
The Education Ministry further advised parents not to blindly trust the advertisements of all these ed-tech companies, not to sign up for any loans which they are not fully aware of.
It also advised the parents that, for subscription of an app, they should avoid debit/credit card registration and place an upper limit on expenditure per transaction.
Avoid clicking on any pop-up screens or any attachments, as it could be a scam.
It also advised the users to ask for a tax invoice statement for the purchase of educational devices loaded with contents/ app purchase/ pen drive learning.
It also advised to activate parental controls and safety features on the device or browser or in the app.
In additions to all the recommendations provided by the Education Ministry Advisory. It also recommended citizens a list of practices before signing up for any online courses, lectures or contents. They are as follows –
a] The advertisements published by the ed-tech companies, do not blindly trust them.
b] Do not share your bank account details and OTP number. c] Do not share any of your personal data like contact number, email, addresses etc.
d] Do not click on any link, or pop-ups, or any attachments from sources you are not fully aware of. e] Do not subscribe to unverified courses.
f] Do not share any personal videos or photos. The child’s safety should be the utmost priority. Do not go on a video call on an unverified platform.
g] Do not install any mobile ed-tech applications without verifying everything.
Because of covid-19 pandemic, the schools and colleges were not physically active, and so all the learning were being held online. This has helped push online learning. The growth of all the ed-tech companies has expanded in India and around the world.
It further stated that the ed tech firms also have to comply with the general rules of Advertising Standards Council of India’s [ASCI] Code for Self- Regulation in advertising, in addition to other specific guidelines as mentioned.
Free e-learning contents, textbooks, digital labs for all classes are offered under the government initiatives that citizens can explore before purchasing any online content, recommendation by the Ministry of Education.
This article is written by Manasi Khadilkar, of Gopaldas Jhamatmal Advani Law College.