Rishabh Khanna is a cognitive scientist, who has been revolutionising educational practices for over 10 years. After founding transformational learning companies, he is now solving a key issue in education — the lack of quality teachers’ education systems.
"The age-old B.Ed curriculum has failed to prepare teachers for the 21st century, and has made them dependent on on-the-job learning. This absence of skills leads to lower salary packages and hence, teaching has become the last career choice. We identified the layers of the problem, and are offering a complete online solution for teachers. Our services are aimed at making teacher education accessible and providing lifecycle management,” says Rishabh.
Between 2010 and 2017, he researched teacher education standards, curricula, and delivery networks around the world. After extensive on-field research and reviewing skill data of 20,000 plus teachers, Rishabh and his brother Ankit founded Suraasa in 2017, under the parent company Les Transformations. The startup is headquartered in Gurugram.
"In 2018, we launched in Dubai and delivered our in-service teacher education courses to over 300 teachers within the first quarter. That was our first international paycheck. We also got our approvals from KHDA Dubai to deliver Bachelor Level Teacher Qualifications and our first batch of Teaching Qualifications. In the same year, we initiated research and development of our UK accreditation and approvals by regulatory bodies in the UK," says Rishabh.
Better skilled teachers
Quality education is one of the top priorities for every government today. And to make education accessible yet impactful, teacher education is being highly regulated. Suraasa trains teachers in three countries — India, UK, and UAE — and works with both public and private schools. The startup builds its own courses, working with people who have master’s degrees and PhDs in education and have had decades of experience in international teaching and learning.
According to Niti Aayog, by 2030, India will have the largest number of young people in the globe, a population size, which will be a boon only if these young people are skilled enough to join the workforce, and to do so, you need skilled teachers.
"We have built a skilling framework for teachers using global standards of the US, the UK, Australia, the UAE, and Singapore. It is relevant to 21st century teaching skills, which include more experiential-based training and is customised for students. The Indian education system is going to be revamped, thanks to the NEP and platforms like ours are relevant for the current of education," says Rishabh.
He adds that Indian teachers need to meet country-specific requirements to get teaching opportunities abroad.
“Suraasa helps teachers in meeting skill and certification requirements by virtue of its courses. Once ready, teachers are helped to get selected for international teaching jobs and the local teaching approvals for the target countries. We put them in touch with government and private schools with better salaries. Basic salary may start as low as Rs 80,000 up to Rs 4 lakh per month," says the founder.
Suraasa’s programmes are internationally benchmarked and accepted as graduate level qualifications in Dubai and the UK, and also help people in getting employment opportunities.
In fact, these are highly sought-after courses in these countries and are even preferred by schools when they look for teachers.
"In our initial research and discussions with schools in India, we saw high reception in international schools, and they have shown interest in hiring our learners who have completed our certificate and diploma programmes," says the founder.
The Business of Suraasa
The e-learning platform enables teachers to upskill themselves with content and pedagogy created by its in-house research and development team. It is available as a web and app-based solution, and is on both Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
The edtech startup’s technology has been built in-house and comes with an immersive education experience built on cognitive learning technology, which enables one to develop deep rooted skills.
Users can also build a personalised skill portfolio for better career opportunities. Teachers are able to learn, complete assignments, join live classes, pursue complete qualifications online with real-time classes with professors from around the world. Soon, Suraasa will allow teachers to apply for international and domestic jobs and schools to search and hire highly skilled teachers within the platform.
"A prospective teacher can join our online or a physical centre-based graduate-level teaching qualification programme instead of going for a traditional B.Ed. These qualifications help teachers in building their skill portfolios that become the evidence of their skill set, leading them to get employment opportunities from high paying schools and get higher starting salaries. Moreover, our qualifications are accepted in multiple countries, and even lead to receiving teaching licenses in many countries," says Rishabh.
Similarly, a current teacher with qualifications like B.Ed or M.Ed can also join Suraasa’s short-term certification and skill enhancement programmes and build a skill portfolio for better career and growth opportunities. They can then get employed by higher paying schools or plan a teaching career abroad. The company charges Rs 20000 per course to Rs 2.50 lakh.
"All our learners get lifetime access to their skill portfolio and get mentoring sessions from time to time to plan their skill and financial growth," says Rishabh.
The business and the industry
Suraasa markets its platform using digital marketing and advertising platforms. Its first product, a short-term online certification, attracted over 300 paying customers in the first quarter and over 1,500 paying customers in the next four quarters.
The startup, with 40 employees, is focused on teacher education and deals with pre-service (PGCTL, Diploma in Teaching) and in-service (short term courses, professional development courses) courses for teachers who want to upskill).
This product has a ticket size of around $200 per learner. Its second product PgCTL (Professional Graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning) is a 10-month long graduate level teaching course, which attracted around 250 learners in the first year of operations.
PgCTL is a UK Level 6 teaching qualification designed to help teachers accelerate their professional growth, and has an average ticket size of $3,000 per learner. Its other products include intervention courses for upskilling teachers.
"Our model is offering B2C solutions directly to prospective and current teachers who wish to explore high growth opportunities in the field of international education. We only work with teachers and sell directly to teachers. We connect them with schools, but don't charge the schools. The model offers both online as well as a physical centre in Dubai and Bangalore. We have upcoming centres Delhi, Mumbai and Kochi. One can choose what they are comfortable with. While the solution is new, there has been a good acceptance of the model in the past year and is set to grow multi-fold in years to come," says Rishabh.
Challenges and the market
The founders have personally invested over $200,000 in the startup and claim to have built a profitable business.
"However, the investment is a lot more because we have ploughed back all the profits in the business," says Rishabh.
No business is without its challenges.
Teacher education is a vast field and every country has its own standards for teacher employment and teacher education. The most difficult yet most enjoyable part of building the business, according to Rishabh, was researching and understanding teacher standards of five countries (India, the US, the UK, the UAE, and Australia).
“We mapped the learnings and findings from our study of these five countries and built a robust framework of Suraasa Teaching Standards,” he says.
In the next 18 months, the startup plans to expand its presence in India and enter new international markets. It plans to launch four new qualifications for teachers to be accepted all around the globe.
Suraasa has ideated a complete tech solution, which will not only help teachers learn and upskill better but also find international jobs. "This is the foundation of our vision — to make India the export centre of teachers to the entire world,” says Rishabh.
At present, it claims to have around 8,000 teachers on the platform, and says it has trained and qualified over 350 teachers. At present, it is expanding in India and competes with startups like Teacherix.
In FY20, Suraasa’s revenue was around $1 million, and is targeting around $3-4 million this year. The founder says that COVID-19 has not affected teacher hiring in the three countries that it operates in, and believes that the need for quality teachers will always exist.
"All teachers who take our qualifications are also guaranteed placement support — either domestic or international. To put it in perspective, we aim to remove the borders for teachers and enable them to realise their true global potential," says Rishabh.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)
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