Aakash Institute has been in the education sector for over 20 years now.
The well-known chain has been preparing students for engineering and medical entrance exams. Over the years, they expanded their services and currently offer education solutions for grade 8 up to entrance exam preparation.
The national test preparatory leader started Aakash Digital, a part of Aakash Edutech Pvt. Ltd. (AEPL) that offers digital solutions for all educational needs.
The emergence of the pandemic has led to sky-touching growth in enrollment for online courses and their solution,- Aakash Digital recorded a nearly five times growth in time spent by students on their platform ever since the pandemic began.
Approximately five times change was observed in minutes of Live Class consumed and a four times increase in minutes of videos watched.
Compared to the pre-pandemic times, there has been a three-times growth in enrollment numbers across pan India. This growth has been consistent across the country and the various course offerings of Aakash Digital, namely – NEET, JEE, and Foundation courses.
The year 2020 has been exceptional for Aakash Institute, with toppers coming from their institute for national tests like IIT JEE and NEET.
To understand how they were able to make the cut, Utkarsh Lokesh, Editor & CEO, EdTechReview, spoke to Rahul Agarwal, Group CTO, Aakash Educational Services Ltd, to discuss their journey and instruments that led to their success during the pandemic.
Following are the key takeaways from the conversation…
Impact of the Pandemic on the Indian Test Prep Sector and AESL's Approach and Challenges
While the pandemic led to flourished edtech industry, it seems that edtech unicorns like BYJUs and Unacademy made the most of it. Joining the list, Aakash shares the key challenges and how the user behaviour changed as the need arise. He mentions, "The pandemic has impacted the edtech industry globally. Till 2019 what was prevalent was the trying to adopt edtech attitude; it could be the integration of edtech tools, some were not using edtech at all, there were internet challenges, and then all of a sudden game changed. Due to the pandemic, Classrooms reached out to technology. Suddenly, when the need was there, for all the challenges, we found a solution. These could be better internet, better products, better platforms, and people adopted technology very fast."
He adds, "For edtech, the pandemic has transformed the world. It has fast-forwarded us by 10 to 15 years."
How Aakash Addressed the Challenges Due To Rapid Change amid The Pandemic?
Aakash was able to get on top while many were struggling with online education due to starting beforehand. They understood the importance of integrating technology long before the pandemic began, and that's how they were able to escalate and enhance their offerings. He shares, "Aakash was majorly a classroom Testprep solution, but we quickly adopted the technology. Our teachers were pretty good at adapting to whatever technology we had and learned new things quickly. What helped was our online journey that started before the pandemic hit us. Hence there was familiarity and hands-on experience of online test-taking solutions, online classes, live sessions, eBooks, recorded video learning material, etc. Since we had already started our online journey before the pandemic, we could easily escalate our solutions when we had bigger needs than our competitors. It came to us as a learning opportunity, and we had to pull our socks up and fasten up."
On Virtual Learning Being the New Normal
AESL leverage technology to address the diverse user base. He mentions, "Aakash is already conducting around 12-13 thousand online classes and sessions daily to address the diverse user base."
AESL Addressing Different Indian Markets (Tier 1) and Tier 2, 3 Cities And The Role Technology Play
Speaking of different Indian markets, he mentions that the kind of solutions they provide does not differentiate between different Indian markets (Tier 1, 2, 3). He further adds, "What plays a key role is the ease of access. The dirt-cheap fast internet rates across the country make it possible for students from around the country to access our solution easily. We worked upon teacher training, process standardisation, and the right hardware to ensure the online environment's teaching quality isn't affected."
Teachers' Response from Different Regions
Speaking of different Indian markets and the diversity of users and educators, he shares teachers' responses from different regions. Understanding the need for technical training for teachers, the institute ensured quality teaching for students with efforts in a different direction. He says, "There was a learning curve, and we worked on that through experimentation as a one fit for all approach couldn't work. We worked on multiple solutions, and teachers found their fit. Teachers had to learn as there was no other way, and they learned it very quickly."
Data Acquired from Huge User Base Leveraged For Solution Improvement
With such a vast student base in Indivasthere has to be enough data to be analyzed. This collected data can help industries do wonders, and Aakash leveraged the data to improve their solution. He says, "We analyse our data n terms of how many classes are conducted, how many students are taking these classes against the number of students enrolled, and how much time they are spending. Furthermore, we can analyze this data from different geographies and find out the problem points if we see a particular region is facing the most questionable inputs. Analyzing student behaviour is helping us make the product better. Also, we try to make our students understand the need and importance of using their technology productively."
What future beholds for Aakash and their students
With massive success in the online education domain during the pandemic, he confirms that there will be many exciting launches in the coming months. He says," Earlier, we were using third-party solutions but now have our solutions, and we are building and improvising our solutions in such ways that we wouldn't have to talk about scale as it would fuel us for the next many years and it will accelerate our business as well."
He confirms that in the coming months, they will be launching exciting edtech solutions.
CTO's Take on the Next Big Thing in Indian Edtech
Speaking of the two different existing worlds in education, I.e., online and offline, he believes that the next big thing in the EdTech domain could be solutions and platforms which eliminate the difference between online and offline and bridges the gap. An environment where students could learn from online or offline classes without there being any difference in out of education due to different modes of instruction.
One Piece of Advice To Emerging Edtech Startups
Rahul mentions how edtech startups have been coming out rapidly, and still, there are challenges on the surface for all stakeholders. He says, "In the last two years in India, around 4500 EdTech startups came up. Technology is an enabler in education. Before implementing the technology, people must question and understand why they're implementing that technology and what problem they're trying to solve. If the proposed technology is not solving the business problem, the gap in demand will fade away. Secondly, do not look at it as a sales business, rather a sacred business. The ultimate goal should be to help students in learning better". He adds, "Why has to be the ultimate question. Startups must understand the why behind their innovation; else, it's going to fade away."