The Indian education system is broken, both in government schools and private schools and private schools.
The emphasis in the classroom is on rote learning in order to score marks, and children aren’t taught to think for themselves.
This is why it’s heartening to see edutech entrepreneurs trying to use technology to fix the problems which plague a dysfunctional system.
Most of the push is towards online learning using a flipped classroom model, and this is a great way of making sure that the student is actively involved in learning, so that he retains what is taught. Many platforms deliver superb content but one major problem with a lot of these free high quality online resources is that not all are mapped to the syllabus (though Khan Academy now is). Most students aren’t self-starters. They aren’t motivated to learn on their own, which is why most will only learn what they are told to study. They only want to know if questions on the topic will be asked in the examination, and if it’s not in the syllabus, they’d rather not bother to find out more, because our school system is designed to kill the child’s inherent curiosity. Teachers are also taught to teach to the test, their focus being on helping their students to maximize their examination marks.
Give the fact that classes in schools are so over-crowded today, tuition classes have become extremely important, and practically all school students today attend one – they have become practically compulsory. It’s interesting that IIT toppers today lavish praise on the tuition they attend – and don’t give any credit to their school teachers at all !
While real-life tuition classes do have a supplemental role to play, I think delivering high-quality educational content online, mapped to the school syllabus, is going to become increasingly important.
For one, this is high-quality content produced by the best teachers. The content has been carefully curated and quality controlled, so you are not dependent on going to a tuition class where the teacher is so bad that you can’t understand a thing he is saying. It saves the student valuable commuting time, so that he is not drained of all his energy travelling back and forth from his school and classes. He can learn at home, along with friends, and this makes learning much more efficient. Since he can select what he wants to learn, he can master the topics at his own pace, which means the knowledge is likely to be far stickier. Because this is “just in time” bite-sized learning, he will retain this information for much longer.
Even better, we can use online technology in order to personalize the lessons, so that it is tailored to the student’s learning style. Finally, it’s possible to create communities around this online content, so that students can learn from each other as well, and both parents and teachers can participate in the ecosystem as well.
Edutech companies such as Byju’s and Robomate have started doing this, because they have a library of high quality content. However, what’s disappointing is that they have not kept up with the times. Thus, Robomate still continues to deliver content through a memory card – a completely obsolete model. Byju’s uses an app, but it has its pros and cons. Students suffer from app fatigue, and don’t want to download apps which they end up never using. Also, buying content on the app is extremely expensive, because the student is forced to purchase an entire year’s worth of content . He doesn’t use a lot of this, which means that this is money he ends up wasting. Also, this high price makes the content unaffordable for lots of students, and reduces the market share these companies can lock in.
Finally, by forcing students to consume content though an app, they are creating silos, where each student learns in his own individual bubble. When he is stuck, there is little he can do to ask for help.
On the other hand, if the lectures were delivered online, they would be able to create online learning communities, in which students can interact with other students. This simple step would allow them to incorporate all the cutting edge educational advantages which MOOCs (massive open online courses) offer.
In this model, students would be able to view short 5 minute videos on which ever topic they want to. This model respects the student, because it gives him the freedom to choose when, what and where he wants to learn, thus allowing self-paced learning. Since each video segment covers only one topic, it will be short, and this will improve student engagement, because most of us have limited attention spans. It will be possible to embed quizzes in the video, to ensure that the student is not just watching passively , but is actively involved. This makes it interactive, and allows the student to learn from real time feedback. Using spaced repetition and adaptive learning, the content can be mass customized for each student, so they can get the best ROI on their time. Companies can combine pedagogy with state of the art technology, to give students the best learning tools. This will be much more affordable as well, because of the economies of scale ; and the marginal costs of serving additional students is virtually zero with this model.
Because these are short videos, they will be much more affordable for students, who can selectively view only those topics they are interested in. The good news is that it’s become much easier to collect small amounts of money using the new digital micro-payment platforms such as Amazon Pay, Paytm, or even Bitcoins.
This kind of model is great for the edutech companies as well, because it provides them with recurring revenues, and they can demonstrate a much higher level of student engagement.
4G is now widely available throughout the country, so that download speeds are no longer an issue. Yes, companies will need to protect their content, to prevent piracy, and the good news is that video encryption technology is getting progressively better. This is a huge opportunity, and companies should be focusing on how they can deliver high-quality content in the format which students want. They cannot afford to get bogged down because of legacy issues – this will mean that the competition will leave them behind in the dust. They have already incurred huge costs in producing the content, but this is a sunk cost, and they need to re-package their content so that it can be delivered in a student-friendly format.
At the end of the day, students (and their parents!) want results. If these companies can show that students will get better marks by viewing their videos, parents will be happy to pay for this delta. Using these online platforms, it’s easy for companies to prove that student are able to solve examination test papers more efficiently.
Finally, there lies a unique opportunity to leverage the new tools of learning analytics (educational data mining). The online data they get from the thousands of students who use their courses can be fed into an real-time analytics dashboard, and they can use this to incrementally improve their offerings and adapt their lessons, so that they become progressively better over time.
Yes, the market is challenging but if we can make the most of right technologies given the large numbers of students in India it is an equally attractive opportunity!