Technological advances and changes have changed the way students, working professionals, and businesses view learning. Instead of set courses spread over a few years, people have woken up to the importance of lifelong learning to navigate the many curveballs jobs and careers can throw at you.
TCS iON, the strategic business unit of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s largest IT services company, has developed various programmes for the education sector, targeting school-going students and going up all the way to working professionals.
With three million learners on their platform and 200 million assessments done till, Venguswamy Ramaswamy, Global Head, TCS iON tells YourStory more about the services the organisation offers, likely trends, and how are they reimagining the way learning is done.
Venguswamy Ramaswamy: We are a platform and product-centric organisation. We focus on education, recruitment boards and SMBs. In education, we focus on government, K12, higher education, skills, and corporates on a platform and product dimension.
We focus on three large areas: assessment on a large scale for academic institutions and recruitment; the learning space; and business operations. We engage in concepts like digitising campuses, areas of manufacturing, and end-to-end business processes.
YS: What services does TCS iON provide in the education space?
VR: We go to students, teachers, and administrators as stakeholders; we have a set of services, products, and platforms for each stakeholder. Externally, we work closely with content publishers, whose services we aggregate.
How do we help? We help students to do tasks better, and aggregate content to make learning effective. There is demonstrable evidence of learning and it is outcome based. A vast majority of work we do with students is in terms of assessments and learning content etc.
We believe technology is going to play a critical role. Our current focus is to leverage cutting-edge technology like cloud or blockchain to redefine the education segment. There are multiple sets of reimagination we are doing for this sector.
YS: Tell us about the learning services you provide.
VR: We have launched a set of lifelong learning products. For any student, the learning perspective changes from kindergarten to higher education. It evolves when the individual becomes a job seeker and changes completely as a working professional.
We have a set of products based on the learning evolution that a candidate goes through in their life. The learning aspect is very different at each stage. For example, in Class 8, the teacher is a very important figure; in higher education, the teacher is more of a facilitator.
We believe learning will be truly multi-modal as we go along. The common mode has been going to the classroom, but this will definitely fade. So, other modes of learning, like seminars, videos, and debates, will become important. Secondly, we provide a large spectrum of learning modes where students can choose what is relevant to them.
The third aspect is to have a marketplace where we have a large amount of content from multiple publishers so that they can come on to the TCS iON platform for a much bigger scale. We address a range of students – from Class 8 and to working professionals – on a wide variety of subjects.
YS: How do you provide these services?
VR: We offer our services in three models. We directly go to institutes to help them adopt some educational technology, which helps them in speed or personalisation.
In the second model, we work with a number of distributors or intermediaries. Lastly, we also deliver our services in the B2C model where one can actually go to our learning portal, pay money, and consume content directly.
We provide our services across the country and overseas in countries such as Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, the UK, Ireland, and Mexico.
YS: What trends do you see in the education space?
VR: In TCS, we see six significant changes in the near future. We believe that students will spend lesser time on campuses and more on the internet. Campuses will exist, but their role will change as enabler or facilitator as the boundaries will fade.
Education will never fully be physical or fully digital; we coined a new term phygital that blends the physical and digital worlds. Tomorrow’s education will be in this mode.
We also see a trend where the role of a teacher will dramatically change. Teachers of tomorrow will be actual industry professionals. Another important trend we see is that learning will happen without actual learning; it will be done through gamification.
We also believe that the assessment of tomorrow will not be a test of knowledge, but more of a case about how a student can demonstrate what they can do rather than write and submit. This will reveal the depth of the answers.
Lastly, the evaluation will be location independent. For example, the test of English-speaking skills of a Japanese student can be evaluated by a teacher based in Hyderabad using the TCS iON platform.
YS: What is the USP of TCS iON? How do you stand out amid the proliferation of online education startups?
VR: We consider ourselves as an edtech segment within a large company. Our larger focus is to disrupt the current way of learning, assessment, marking, campuses, etc and operate on a much wider scale.
There are three million learners on our platform and we have completed 200 million candidate assessments.
We are currently working on a process under which the entire marking of an examination can be done overnight and results declared the next day. We are leveraging technology to reimagine and redefine the education sector. This also includes how we plan to make learning much more personalised.
YS: What are the challenges in online learning?
VR: As a data point, sub five percent of learners in the digital mode are actually completing a course. This indicates that motivation to learn by yourself is very low.
That is the biggest challenge. Also, today much of online learning is not outcome or reward-based.
The linkages are not evident for the students. Higher education institutes do not take ownership of giving a job to the student. Even in terms of skilling outcome, these are not accepted by the industry.
YS: How is TCS iON leveraging deep tech to deliver these education-related services?
VR: Many of the above-mentioned challenges have to be kept in mind when leveraging these technologies. We are deeply focused on AR and VR technologies.
For example, in schools that lack laboratory facilities, these technologies can be used to provide a similar experience. We are also using advanced analytics to personalise education for students.
YS: Does our education sector need to inculcate skills like critical thinking and problem solving?
VR: We should not look at it in one single dimension as there are multiple aspects to it. For example, at TCS, we have completely changed our approach to fresher hiring. Earlier, the intake was based on an assessment test to a set number of colleges, but now we have opened it to the entire country.
This year, we had 3.3 lakh students participating in our tests and those selected were called for interview. Here, 50 percent of them did not get selected. It shows that they were lacking in soft skills like how to present themselves, respond to situations, understand the question, and more.
So, we have to address these multiple dimensions and create interventions for all.