The government has issued an advisory to citizens regarding the use of caution against ed-tech companies which enable online and remote learning. The offer of free services which are promised by some companies has to be carefully evaluated, the Ministry of Education stated in the notification issued on Thursday. It also urged parents, students, and all stakeholders in school education to be cautious while deciding on opting for online content and coaching through ed-tech companies in the country.
The Ministry of Education said that it had come to the notice of the Department of School Education and Literacy that some ed-tech companies were 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 vulnerable families.
It urged the citizens to avoid automatic debit option for payment of subscription fee and advised them to read the terms and conditions before acknowledging any acceptance of learning software or device.
“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.
Stakeholders are advised to ask for tax invoice statements when purchasing educational devices loaded with content or apps designed to offer online learning. The ministry also recommended a detailed background check of ed-tech companies and verify their content quality before subscribing to their service.
Additionally, the advisory cautioned parents to clarify doubts and questions regarding payments and content before signing up 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.
Parents are also advised to help their child understand features and marketing strategies by education apps that are being used to encourage more spending. Further, the ministry recommended users to look for student and parent reviews online about the particular ed-tech company before signing up. It also advised them to provide their suggestions and reviews that may help others.
“Record the evidence of spam calls/ forced signup for any education packages without complete consent for filing a grievance,” the advisory said.
The education ministry also advised citizens to go through the child safety guidelines mentioned in its PRAGYATA guidelines before using any ed-tech platform.
In addition to the recommendations, the advisory included a list of practices that it recommended citizens must not consider while signing up for an online learning service. These are as follows:
- Do not blindly trust the advertisements of the ed-tech companies.
- Do not sign up for any loans of which you are not aware.
- Do not install any mobile ed-tech applications without verifying the authenticity.
- Avoid credit/debit cards registration on apps for subscriptions. Place an upper limit on expenditure per transaction.
- Avoid adding your data like 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.
- Do not subscribe to unverified courses because of their false promises.
- Do not trust the “Success stories” shared by the ed-tech companies without proper check as they might be a trap to gather more audience.
- Do not allow purchases without parental consent. To avoid in-app purchases; OTP based payment methods may be adopted as per RBI’s guidelines.
- Do not share your bank account details and OTP number with any marketing personnel. Beware of cyber frauds.
- Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with.
The advisory also noted that citizens who are consumers of ed-tech services are protected by the legal provisions meant for e-commerce firms.
“It is very much evident that the ed-tech companies which may be considered e-commerce entities have to comply with the Rules to prevent any untoward liability in the future and need to establish a dedicated mechanism in place to check for compliance with the law,” the education ministry said.
It also mentioned that educational institutions including ed-tech companies and programs should comply with the general rules of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) Code for Self-Regulation in advertising and guidelines given below:
- The advertisement shall not state or lead the public to believe that an institution or course or program is official, recognised, authorised, accredited, approved, registered, affiliated, endorsed, or has a legally defined situation unless the advertiser can substantiate with evidence.
- (a) An advertisement offering a Degree or Diploma or Certificate which by law requires to be recognised or approved by an Authority shall have the name of that Authority specified for that particular field. (b) In case the advertised Institution or Program is not recognised or approved by any mandatory Authority but is affiliated to another Institution, which is approved or recognised by a mandatory Authority, then the full name and location of the said Affiliating Institution shall also be stated in the advertisement. (c) The name of the Affiliating Institution, as indicated in 2(b), shall not be less than 50 percent of the font size as that of the advertised Institution or Program in visual media such as print, internet, hoarding, leaflet, prospectus etc., including television. In audio media such as radio or TV the name of the Affiliating institution (if applicable), must be stated.
- The advertisement shall not state or lead the public to believe that enrolment in the institution or program or preparation course or coaching classes will provide the student with a temporary or permanent job, admissions to institutions, job promotions, salary increase etc. unless the advertiser can submit substantiation to such claim. In addition, the advertisement must carry a disclaimer stating, ‘past record is no guarantee of future job prospects.’ The font size of the disclaimer should not be less than the size of the claim being made in the advertisements.
- (a) Advertisement shall not make claims regarding extent of the passing batch placed, the highest or average compensation of the students placed, enrolment of students, admissions of students to renowned educational institutes, marks and ranking of students passed out, testimonial of topper students, institution’s or its program’s competitive ranking, size and qualification of its faculty, affiliation with a foreign institution, Institute’s infrastructure, etc. unless they are of the latest completed academic year and substantiated with evidence. (b) Advertisement stating competitive rank of the institution or its program shall also provide full name and date of the publication or medium which released the rankings. (c) Visual infrastructure of the Institution shown in the advertisement shall be real and exist at the time of the advertisement’s release. (d) Testimonial of toppers in an advertisement shall be from students who have participated in the testimony program, exams or subject only from the advertising institute. (e) An advertisement stating the number of passing out students placed for jobs shall also state the total number of students passing out from the placed class.
The ministry also recommended free e-learning contents, textbooks, and digital labs offered under government initiatives that citizens may explore before purchasing an online content.
Interestingly, the advisory by the government comes months after reports suggested lucrative behaviour of ed-tech companies including Byju’s in which parents and students are allegedly targeted to pay for online content that they couldn’t even afford. The issue was brought into notice last year by IIT alumnus Pradeep Poonia, though he had faced a lawsuit from WhiteHat Jr. for purportedly exposing its concerning behaviour.
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The COVID-19 pandemic helped push online learning as traditional institutions including schools and colleges were not physically active for quite some time. That growth has ultimately expanded for ed-tech companies in India and around the world.