Sivaganga Member of Parliament (MP) Karti Chidambaram from Tamil Nadu questioned the quality of education and teachers on online platforms in India’s burgeoning edtech sector, and called for oversight and regulation. In the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, December 14, he said that if one was to start an educational institution today, a plethora of permissions is required, curriculum has to be vetted, staff needs to be of a certain calibre and also paid according to certain regulations.
“But today, there are online educational companies which are worth billions of dollars. Some of them are worth even more than the entire educational budget of India. These companies offer online courses which are not vetted by anybody,” he alleged. He added that no one knows the content, quality or calibre of these courses, or the calibre of the tutors on the platforms.
He then focused his attention on the predatory marketing practices of such platforms as well. Multiple reports have highlighted practices of companies such as Byju’s and WhiteHat Jr (later acquired by Byju’s as well) of using tactics to make people who can’t afford the products buy them, signing people up for loans they never knew they were signing up for, cracking down on dissent and more.
In his statement in Parliament, Karti said, “Now, these companies are engaging in predatory marketing practices where they prey upon the aspirational poor people, who want to give their children a better education, who want to supplement their education which they are not getting in government schools.”
He added that the companies force parents to buy courses and auto-debit the amount from the accounts even when parents want to discontinue it. “These auto-debits are happening regularly month by month. In fact, they are becoming like loan sharks where they are force selling these courses,” he said.
He then called on the Union Education Minister to bring a system to monitor online educational companies. He then flagged efforts of people who have spoken up against companies against whom companies have even gone to court — Pradeep Poonia, Aniruddha Malpani and Nidhi Bahuguna.
“But the power of this company is so much that it is able to bring down the complaints that are there on social media. If you put a complaint on social media, they bring it down. In fact, this company sponsors the Indian Cricket Team now. You know exactly as to who I am referring to. This company is worth 21 billion dollars. Our entire Indian educational budget is not worth that much. So, it is very essential to have some concerted effort to monitor these companies and prevent them from doing these predatory marketing practices where they are auto-debiting the accounts of unsuspecting people,” he said. Byju’s is the Indian cricket team’s official sponsor.
In replies to tweets reacting to his speech, Karti said, “Is their curriculum vetted? What is the caliber of their teaching staff? Do they indulge in predatory marketing practices? Are their marketing claims true? What is their complaints redressal mechanism? How easy is it to unsubscribe?” tagging companies such as Byju’s and Unacademy.