The government has issued a notice to citizens to beware of ed-tech companies providing online and distance learning. The offer of free services promised by some companies must be carefully examined, the Ministry of Education said in a statement on Thursday. It also urged parents, students and all stakeholders in school education to be careful when choosing online content and coaching from ed-tech companies in the country.
The Department of Education said that the Department of Education and Literacy had learned that some ed-tech companies are luring parents into the guise of offering free services and having the Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) mandate signed or activated, especially for vulnerable families.
It urged citizens to avoid an automatic debit option for paying the subscription fee and advised them to read the terms and conditions before confirming acceptance of any educational software or learning device.
“Some ed-tech companies may offer the free-premium business model, where many of their services may appear free at first glance, but to get continuous learning access, students must opt for a paid subscription,” said the Ministry of Education.
Stakeholders are encouraged to ask for tax bills when purchasing educational devices that come with content or apps for online learning. The department also recommended a detailed background review of Ed-Tech companies and their content quality review before subscribing to their service.
Additionally, the recommendation admonished parents to clarify doubts and questions about payments and content before signing up for their child’s learning on an ed-tech company.
“Activate the parental controls and security functions on the device or in the app or in the browser, as this helps to restrict access to certain content and limit the expenses for app purchases,” the ministry stated.
Parents are also recommended to help their kids understand features and marketing strategies through educational apps that are used to encourage more spending. Additionally, the ministry recommended that users search online for student and parent reviews of each ed-tech company before signing up. It also advised them to put forward their suggestions and evaluations that might help others.
“Gather the evidence of spam calls / forced enrollments for educational packages without full consent to file a complaint,” the advisory reads.
The Department of Education also advised citizens to go through the child safety guidelines outlined in its PRAGYATA guidelines before using an ed-tech platform.
In addition to the recommendations, the recommendation included a list of practices that citizens should not consider when enrolling in an online learning service. These are as follows:
- Don’t blindly trust the advertisements from the ed tech companies.
- Don’t sign up for loans you don’t know about.
- Don’t install Ed Tech mobile applications without verifying authenticity.
- Avoid registering credit / debit cards in apps for subscription. Set an upper limit for the spend per transaction.
- Avoid adding your data online such as emails, contact numbers, card details, addresses, etc. as the data could be sold or used for later fraud attacks.
- Do not share personal videos and photos. Use caution when turning on video or making video calls on an unverified platform. Keep your child’s safety first.
- Do not subscribe to unchecked courses because of false promises.
- Don’t trust the “success stories” shared by the ed tech companies without a proper review as they could be a trap to attract more audiences.
- Do not allow purchases without parental consent. To avoid in-app purchases; OTP-based payment methods can be used in accordance with the guidelines of the RBI.
- Do not give your bank account details and OTP number to marketing staff. Beware of cyber fraud.
- Do not click links or open attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are unfamiliar with.
The opinion also indicated that citizens who are consumers of ed-tech services are protected by e-commerce business legislation.
“It is very clear that the Ed-Tech companies, which can be considered as e-commerce companies, must comply with the rules in order to avoid any accidental liability in the future and must put in place a special mechanism to ensure compliance with the To review laws, ”said the Ministry of Education.
It was also mentioned that educational institutions, including Ed-Tech companies and programs, should adhere to the general rules of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising and the following guidelines:
- The listing must not give the public the impression that any institution or course or program is official, recognized, authorized, accredited, approved, registered, affiliated or endorsed, or has a legally defined situation, unless the advertiser can make believable.
- (a) An advertisement offering a degree or diploma or certificate that is required by law to be recognized or approved by an authority must include the name of that authority for that particular field. (b) If the institution or program being advertised is not recognized or approved by a mandatory authority but is affiliated with another institution approved or recognized by a mandatory authority, then is the full name and location of the affiliate also indicated in the ad. (c) The name of the affiliated institution as specified in 2 (b) must not be less than 50 percent of the font size of the advertised institution or program in visual media such as print, internet, hoarding, brochures, leaflet, etc., including television . In sound carriers such as radio or television, the name of the connecting facility must be given (if applicable).
- The advertisement must not give the public the impression that the enrollment in the institution or the program or the preparatory course or coaching course provides the student with temporary or permanent employment, admission to institutions, job promotions, salary increases, etc., unless the Advertiser can provide a justification for this claim. Additionally, the ad must include a disclaimer stating that the past is no guarantee of future job prospects. The font size of the disclaimer should not be less than the size of the information given in the advertisements.
- (a) The advertisement does not make any claims to the level of passing placed, the highest or average remuneration of the placed students, the enrollment of students, the admission of students to renowned educational institutions, the grades and the ranking of the unconscious students, the certificates of the top -Students, competitive rank of the institution or its degree program, size and qualifications of their faculty, affiliation to a foreign institution, infrastructure of the institute, etc. Date of publication or of the medium that published the ranking. (c) The institution’s visual infrastructure shown in the advertisement must be real and in place at the time the advertisement is published. (d) Certificates from top performers in an advertisement may only come from students who have taken part in the certificate program, examinations or subject from the advertising institute. (e) An advertisement stating the number of passed out students must also include the total number of passed out students in the class placed.
The ministry also recommended free e-learning content, textbooks and digital labs offered through government initiatives that citizens can explore before purchasing any online content.
Interestingly, the government’s recommendation comes months after reports pointed to lucrative behavior by ed-tech companies, including Byjus, allegedly alleging parents and students to pay for online content they couldn’t even afford. The issue was brought to my attention by IIT alumnus Pradeep Poonia last year, despite facing a lawsuit from WhiteHat Jr. for allegedly exposing his worrying behavior.
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped spur online learning as traditional institutions, including schools and colleges, have been inactive for a long time. That growth has ultimately spread to ed-tech companies in India and around the world.