Updated: Jan 15, 2022
At the heart of any good Startup idea is the problem that it plans to solve. Every great company creates value in the long run by solving an important problem. We handpicked the Education sector of India, which has for long been plagued with problems, and dug deeper into the operations of the Edtech companies. And here's the question that popped up:
Has India's Edtech actually been solving the education problems of India?
Has it simply mastered a new mode of education, without effectively solving any problem per se?
Let’s take the problems one by one and dive deeper into Indian Edtech's efforts to solve them:
PROBLEM 1: Inaccessibility to quality education by the underprivileged
In October Azim Premji, founder of Wipro, wrote in Economic Times on ‘Why and How India is facing its most dire education emergency’. In his article he highlights how attempts at online classes were unsuccessful during the Pandemic, due to inaccessibility to internet and smartphones, resulting in 1.5 years of no education for the underprivileged.
To give you a sense of the massive scale that Premji is referring to, here are some numbers:
85% of India’s schools are in rural India
75% of all teachers are based in rural locations
(source: The Central Square Foundation)
But, in 2020
only 32% of the rural population were active internet users (source: IAMAI)
60% children from disadvantaged backgrounds could not access digital learning for reasons including absence of a smartphone, multiple siblings sharing a smartphone, difficulty in using apps, etc. (source: research conducted by Azim Premji Foundation)
So, even though there are a plethora of online education services cropping up, those services are mostly addressed to the urban class, as of now at least, while rural India continues to struggle with the inadequacy of the right infrastructure required for online education. We haven’t even touched upon the affordability of these services by the rural masses.
But there’s a ray of hope.
In Nov'20, Byju's launched the 'Give' initiative, inviting donation from people who have spare smart phones or tablets, which will be refurbished by Byju's, loaded with Byju's educational content and thereafter given free of cost to underprivileged children.
In Sep'21, Byju’s partnered with government body NITI Aayog to provide children from 112 aspirational districts of the country free access to Byju’s high-quality and tech-driven learning programs. The partnership is likely going to impact about 3,000 students.
In May'21, Vedantu, launched the Help India Learn initiative, pledging ₹15 Crores to impact 12,000 students who lost one or both of their parents during the Pandemic. The company is taking help of NGOs that are closer to the ground to identify the students and also monitor their progress, including course corrections, if required.
Just like Byju's 'Give' initiative, through the Help India Learn initiative Vedantu is also inviting partners that can sponsor digital devices for children who are unable to take online classes due to the unavailability of smart devices.
WhiteHat Jr., the Edtech Startup acquired by Byju's, launched the WhiteHeart initiative in Jun'21, through which it conducts live sessions for children from underprivileged communities, free of cost. In these sessions, White Hat Jr. teachers deliver content through online medium revolving around Critical Thinking, English, Math, Science and so on, to a class of underprivileged children, set-up with the help of NGOs.
The initiatives by the Edtech Unicorns is definitely in the right direction, but the impact and the investment are still miniscule. Until all service providers in the ecosystem, consciously acknowledge and address this problem at a larger scale, India is far from solving it.
PROBLEM 2: Teachers are often underpaid
In India, education has always been among the most underpaid sectors. Our teachers are brimming with knowledge but unfortunately not paid adequately. Here’s how India compares with other nations: In the US, the average annual salary for a teacher is INR 41.44 Lakhs ($55K). This is 20x of what an average teacher earns in India. In fact, Germany, Australia and England are 16x, 15x and 13x of India, respectively. Even if we adjust for the cost of living differences, salary of Indian teachers is still far from adequate.
But, the good news is that this problem offers a huge opportunity for the online education business. Here's how: for the teachers in foreign countries who wish to take their lessons online, the cost-to-student will be much higher as compared to what it would be if the same lessons were given by teachers in India. Therefore, by connecting teachers in India with students abroad, one can reduce the cost for students and at the same time increase the income of the Indian teachers. Win-Win!
En-cashing on this opportunity, in April’21, Byju’s announced the launch of ‘Byju’s Future School’ that will cater to students in the US, UK, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico. In an interview Raveendran said that 11,000 women teachers from India will cater to students in English-speaking markets. Again, a move in the right direction and with the right purpose. But only when the numbers start pouring in, will we be able to establish whether Byju’s was actually able to solve the problem or just reap higher profits for the investors.
PROBLEM 3: India’s age old textbook oriented education system
Our education system has for long been criticized for the textbook oriented learning approach. In fact, owing to the more practical oriented approach of teaching in the West, India has witnessed a massive brain-drain.
Of course, a problem like this needs systemic changes to be made at the policy level. The New Education Policy, 2020, is a welcome move in this direction. But, until the new policy is executed efficiently and diligently across all modes, we will never get anywhere.
However, this is one problem which seems to be addressed efficiently by India's Edtech – With the help of products like short videos, 1:1 tutoring, doubt-solving and immersive content, Edtech companies have always endeavored to promote cognitive and creative thinking among its students. This approach to learning is far from how a 90s' kid grew up. Coding and Educational games, for example, was unthinkable in those times. Take for example how we learnt the Pythagoras theorem and how Byju’s teaches it. Our math teacher most probably made us repeat 10 times (20 times for us) to learn that a^2 + b^2 = c^2, only to end up getting 5/10 in a test (thanks to step marking). Here’s how Reveendran teaches it in a famous ad by Byju’s back in 2015.
Well, let's be honest, despite the scale of the problem that India's education sector faces today, we do get some respite when we hear about the steps taken by our visionary tech entrepreneurs. Hear it for yourself:
In an interview with SocialStory Pulkit Jain, co-founder of Edtech Unicorn Vedantu said,
...we understood that after a few years, for-profit edtech, despite innovations, will not be able to reach the segment of the society who have absolutely no means to devices or the internet. That is when we thought about doing something to create equal opportunities for all children.
Byju Raveendran, co-founder of the World's biggest Edtech Startup, also a former teacher, said in an interview,
“I believe a golden age of teachers is going to come back”
You see? When these entrepreneurs share such thoughts with complete conviction, we cannot not believe in their vision. A strong sense of ‘Why’ on the part of the entrepreneurs paves a long way for the Startup. BUT, unless the impact of the Company is felt at the grassroot level, Raveendran and Jain will be just another tech entrepreneur who disrupted a sector but didn’t really solve the problems. Yes, the companies and the sector as a whole seem to be headed in the right direction, but there’s still years of effort to be poured in for Indians to be able to actually witness the return of the ‘Golden Age’.
This article is a part of December'21 edition of our Startup Newsletter. Here's the complete publication: