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The rise of the platform economy and access to educational resources

  • IASbaba
  • December 14, 2021
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(ORF: India Matters)


Dec 13- The rise of the platform economy and access to educational resources – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/the-rise-of-the-platform-economy-and-access-to-educational-resources/ 

TOPIC:

  • GS-2 – Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • GS-2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education.

The rise of the platform economy and access to educational resources

Context: The COVID pandemic has jump-started a new trend—the use of digital platforms to access learning materials. A new study points out, India’s online education market for classes 1-12 is poised to grow more than six-fold to become a US $1.7-billion market by 2030, while higher education is likely to grow almost four-fold to become a US $1.8-billion market in the same period.

The rise of a platform economy in India 

It has been a key driver of the surge in online learning. In the sphere of online education, a digital platform translates into a network that brings together educational publishers and content providers on the one hand, and learners on the other, facilitating transactions between them such that the value of the platform grows with the volume of transactions, publishers, and learners on it.

  • Open educational platforms refer to those whose contents are freely available, and on which publishers or research institutions can place their academic products on the basis of their proven credentials as content providers. 
  • Closed educational platforms tend to be commercially driven—access to content is restricted by paywalls; a commercial publisher or ed-tech firm could be the platform owner; and multiple publishers might enter into an arrangement with the platform to make their contents commercially available.

In India, the pandemic has triggered an explosion in the demand for educational resources across both kinds of platforms. For instance, SWAYAM, the government’s national platform for massive open online courses (MOOCS) has seen traffic increase exponentially since the COVID outbreak. Similarly, the National Digital Library of India (NDLI)—an open platform offering free access to over 55 million educational resources—has experienced an unprecedented spike in use since March 2020; and in October this year, the number of NDLI e-resources viewed and downloaded crossed the 100 million mark. Closed platforms too have witnessed spectacular growth. Ed-tech platform upGrad’s revenues grew by over 100 percent in 2020. And BYJU’s, India’s largest ed-tech company, has reported that 40 million new users have joined its platform since the pandemic began.

Clearly, there is a burgeoning market for subscribed content and price is not necessarily a deterrent for certain audiences. But if quality educational resources are to reach a wider user base while also ensuring that publishers’ rights and incentives are protected, a more sensitive balance between open access and access to paywalled content will have to be found.

Towards balanced models in India

The pursuit of access models that balance user benefits with publishers’ commercial interests pre-dates COVID, but the pandemic has imbued the quest with a new level of urgency. 

  • Free content initiatives: Since early 2020, several publishers in India and elsewhere have made previously subscribed bundles of content freely accessible for home teaching and learning, or for COVID research. But providing free content is not sustainable in the long run, and some means of monetising these resources will need to be devised. Indeed, as the pandemic wears on, publishers are beginning to cut back on their free content initiatives.
  • One nation, one subscription: The bold ‘One Nation, One Subscription’ (ONOS) scheme that the Indian government is currently deliberating upon could benefit both publishers and learners. ONOS would require the government to negotiate and purchase a single unified subscription from a consortium of academic book and journal publishers, after which their educational resources would be available to all citizens and publicly funded institutions.
  • National licensing: Somewhat similar to ONOS, though on a more limited scale, national licensing is a creative arrangement instituted by the Ministry of Education and the NDLI. Thanks to a bulk subscription paid by the Ministry to a range of publishers and digital platforms, their contents can be accessed for free exclusively through the NDLI platform. Accessing them directly from their source platforms, however, requires a payment or a subscription. The availability of nationally licensed contents has proved to be enormously beneficial to learners. 
  • Gold and green open access: Gold open access refers to the practice of making authors—or their institutional funders—pay journals an article processing charge (APC), after which their articles are made available on an OA basis. This approach, while reasonably common in developed countries, has proved to be less popular in India because steep APCs are often beyond the reach of authors and funders. Green OA, by contrast, does not involve an APC, but requires authors to post pre-print versions of academic papers in an open online repository, sometimes immediately after publication. It remains to be seen whether India will formally adopt green OA as a publishing standard.

Conclusion

As growing numbers of learners flock to platforms and publishers expand their programmes to meet the rising demand for content, we must ensure that learners everywhere can avail of the educational resources they need, and that the publishers who produce them are rewarded. The idea of access for all should not throttle publishers; but neither should quality academic content be beyond learners’ means. A fine balance must be maintained if education is to be reimagined.

Can you answer the following question?

  1. ‘One of the biggest clashes in our time is between the movement towards open access and the defence of intellectual property, including copyright.’ What are your views? Discuss.
  2. Digital platforms and ICT-based educational initiatives must be optimised and expanded to meet the current and future challenges in providing quality education for all. Suggest ways to optimize these platforms.

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