‘Parents being lured’: Union govt issues advisory on edtech platforms

The government said that it has come to its notice that parents are being lured in the garb of free services and getting auto-debit mandates, and these especially target the vulnerable.
Representative image of a young student sitting in front of a laptop and taking notes
Representative image of a young student sitting in front of a laptop and taking notes
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The Union government on Thursday, December 23, issued an advisory to citizens cautioning them against the practices of edtech companies, saying that since their technology is pervasive in the space. It said that parents, students and stakeholders have to be careful while deciding to opt for “online content and coaching” offered by edtech companies.

The note put out by the Union Ministry of Education said it has come to the notice of the Department of School Education and Literacy that some edtech companies are “luring parents in the garb of offering free services and getting the Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) mandate signed or activating the Auto-debit feature, especially targeting the vulnerable families.”

The ministry also explicitly states that parents must not “blindly trust” advertisements” of edtech companies, and that “success stories” shared by edtech companies must be checked properly.

Last week, Sivaganga Member of Parliament Karti Chidambaram had said that online courses offered by edtech companies are not vetted by anyone, and that no one knows the content, quality or calibre of these courses, or the calibre of the tutors on the platforms. He had also said that companies engage 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.”

The government outlined certain practices in its statement, calling for caution. It too stressed that people must avoid enabling an automatic debit option for the fee to be paid to the online platform. It cautioned against freemium models, where the basic service is free but any additional services are paid. It says that if auto-debit is activated, children could access content that is not free without realising it.

It also points out that one must read the terms and conditions before taking a device that is offered by the company, as your IP address or data may be tracked.

It asks parents to do a background check of the company, verify the quality of content, and clarify doubts regarding payment and content before putting in money. It also asks to activate parental controls so children cannot access more content than what is already paid for and limit spending. 

It also asks parents to look for reviews online for grievances that are already put out or marketing gimmicks. In case you have been signed up for something without your complete consent, it asks you to record calls or these forced signup instances to file a grievance against the platform. It also cautioned against sharing bank account details and OTP numbers with marketing personnel.

It also asks parents to be wary of signing up for loans that they are not aware of. It asks parents to avoid using credit or debit cards to authorise such transactions, as well as set a ceiling for expenditure for each transaction, as well as disallow purchases without parental consent.  “To avoid in-app purchases; OTP based payment methods may be adopted as per RBI’s guidelines,” it says. It also tells parents to not give out data such as emails, contact numbers, card details, addresses etc. online as the data may be sold or used for later scam attacks.

“Do not share any personal videos and photos. Use caution against turning on the video feature or getting on video calls on an unverified platform. Keep your child’s safety at the utmost priority,” it adds.

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