By Vamsi Krishna & Siddharth Nautiyal
Today, across the social spectrum, there is an increasing willingness of parents to invest in their children's education. Both government and private players have improved the quality and scale of education being provided. Despite this, learning outcomes for students are far from desirable. As a result, a large proportion of children in India supplement school learning with after-school tuitions.
While after-school classes is a multibillion dollar industry in India, the market is fragmented. There are two key segments. One is individual-driven, small neighbourhood tuition classes with wide-ranging quality. The other is institutions catering to 100-plus students. Some of these larger institutions do have standardised, acceptable quality, and a few established brands have spread beyond their local geographies. The established brands, which cater to 2-4 lakh students annually, also tend to be the most expensive, costing Rs 40-50,000 for school tuitions and over Rs 1 lakh annually for test preparation.
Several edtech solutions have emerged over the years to bridge this quality and affordability gap. Most solutions are self-paced and are meant to be deployed at home as an additional support beyond tuitions. The supplementary nature of these solutions has not solved the affordability gap as they add further burden on parents' wallets that already bear school and tuition fees. A lot of these solutions continue to require parental or adult guidance, and hence see lower engagement.
In India, education expenses tend to be prioritised over other household costs. As the disposable income of the aspirational lower-middle and middle-income population segments increases, spending on education is only set to increase. Combine this with the growing availability of affordable, high-speed internet, and it is not difficult to imagine a viable marketplace for a quality, scalable, online after-school teaching network that can provide:
(a) Live, synchronous coaching by a great teacher who uses interactive pedagogy to engage students in deep conceptual learning, enables peer learning and resolves their doubts in real time;
(b) Self-paced learning material such as offline lesson-plans, video and textual content to learn, revise and practice from;
(c) In and after classrooms assessments to identify student progress;
(d) Student analytics across online class, asynchronous content and performance on assessments;
(e) Learning tailored for a student based on student learning and analytics.
These five components are what make an offline experience a great teaching-learning experience. However, scaling a great teacher in an offline environment is hard and expensive. Live teaching platforms like Vedantu have set out to solve this problem using technology. Founded by four IITians, the goal was to overcome the constraints of time, distance and availability and access to high-quality teachers.
Today, technology is helping edtech players completely reimagine the education cycle. For example, in the past, bandwidth was always an issue, but today it is possible to reach students in a low bandwidth area as well. At Vedantu, a platform developed in-house helps teachers to identify a student's attention level. Students can interact with teachers, solve doubts, participate in gamified quizzes, and all this while the teacher gets constant feedback and customises his teaching pattern.
For any edtech player, the aim is to reduce friction for their customers across both experience and costs. We have overcome this by providing free trial classes to experience actual product before signing up and providing after-purchase services.
The real pay-off for us in the stories we're seeing. Sumit Jain is a special needs student from Satna, Madhya Pradesh, who has impaired vision. Working with our teacher, Sumit progressed from All India Rank (AIR) 982 in JEE Main, achieved an AIR 455 and the top AIR in the 'person with disability' category in JEE Advanced exam. Another story is of Nivedya Nambiar. She worked with our personalised programme and went from an AIR of 1,216 to an AIR of 697 in JEE Advanced.
Stories like of these hardworking students make our journey very exciting and one of constant discovery. Over the last year, we have learnt two things. The first is India at large couldn't afford one-on-one classes. It led us to innovate on developing a highly engaging and personalised group learning experience. The second thing we learned was that the marketplace model wasn't the best way to impart structured education to young students. With time, we believe, edtech must evolve into a comprehensive learning platform where the platform controls everything from teacher training, to post-class content-creation to doubt-solving to deep personalised interventions based on data-driven insights.
We remain committed to helping improve outcomes for students. There are Sumits and Nivedyas in every home. Today, thanks for the internet, we can reach them. It's now a question of giving them enough time to bloom and shine.
Krishna is CEO & co-founder of Vedantu, a live teaching edtech start up. Nautiyal is investment partner at Omidyar Network India, an investment firm focused on social impact. Views are personal