Pioneers Of The EdTech Scene in India

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With over 91 percent of the world’s student population shut indoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all are getting their lessons and learning online, thus shining a spotlight on a steady but growing sector of educational technology - or edtech, for short - companies.

Far from being a flash in the pan, global edtech investments reached US$18.6b in 2019 and is set to keep growing.

One of the regions where edtech is primed for fast adoption is India. Rote-learning still drives education policies (though change is said to be underway), there is a sore lack of qualified teachers, and chasing paper degrees takes precedence over gaining actual employable skills.

A Teaching Opportunity

This was the landscape Vamsi Krishna, CEO and co-founder of Vedantu, India’s leading online tutoring company, stumbled into almost 15 years ago. While working regular nine-to-five jobs in a small rural town in Punjab, India, Vamsi and a few childhood friends found that there were children in the area in need of mentoring and coaching. “Informally, we just started mentoring and teaching them. That experience was extremely satisfying,” shared Vamsi. It was this positive experience that catapulted Vamsi and his team into the business of teaching.

It was 2006 when Vamsi and three friends, Saurabh Saxena, Pulkit Jain, and Anand Prakash, launched Lakshya, their first venture - an offline mentoring and test-prep company. Their focus on only hiring passionate, like-minded teachers was yielding great results. “To our big surprise, 11 students out of [our first cohort of] 36 got into the top five Indian Institutes of Technology, where the selection rates are less than 1% out of million plus students. And this was [coming] from a very small, remote place in India, where there was no precedence of even getting selected before.”

What were Vamsi and his team doing right, then? First, he notes, the teachers in Lakshya were highly qualified. Secondly, “if you bring awareness [to teaching] and mentor with passion, the results speak for itself. We realized that the quality of teaching in India was not there. And a lot of it has to do with, you know, the whole lack of glamour in the teaching job,” he muses. “And this happens in many other parts of the world as well.”

But Lakshya hit a ceiling after eight years. If Vamsi wanted to share his insights and ethos for teaching with the rest of India, he needed to scale. They looked to technology as an enabler, but the field of education technology was undeveloped. There were only a handful of companies doing video recordings of lessons. Furthermore, India was just beginning to build its digital infrastructure from 2013 to 2014, and internet connection and accessibility was not reliable.

“The concept of a live tutoring model [then] was tough to execute,” Vamsi acknowledges. “But what convinced us was, at the end of the day, in the long term, what will give you success is the success of the child.” So Vamsi and his co-founders persevered, and Vedantu - a portmanteau of two Sanskrit words ‘Veda’ (meaning knowledge) and ‘Tantu’ (meaning network) - was born.

Far from simply replacing the offline experience of Lakshya with an online version called Vedantu, Vamsi thought about a full-stack service model to actually produce learning outcomes. “We [always] think about keeping the students - their learning outcomes and experience - at the centre of our model,” insists Vamsi.

We [always] think about keeping the students - their learning outcomes and experience - at the centre of our model.

— Vamsi Krishna, CEO and co-founder of Vedantu

Going ‘Live’, Online

There are a few key elements to Vedantu’s live interactive online classes, each carefully thought out. The first is a main teacher overseeing the class. He or she is supported by secondary teachers. For a class of 200 students, says Vamsi, there will usually be four secondary teachers and one main teacher.

The second part is personalization. Each class has quizzes and interactive content - essentially a variety of ways to engage with the lesson. “Now what we’re doing in the background is capturing all this data. We know exactly how much time did the student take to attempt the question. Was that right? Was that wrong?” says Vamsi.

“With the data, it helps us personalize content and interventions for the child,” continues Vamsi. The secondary teacher would then conduct follow-up, to ensure any child who falls behind can catch up.

The last part is improvement. “Let’s say at the third part of the lecture, we see a lot of doubts [from the class] coming up. Again, we know this from the data. So probably, there is some problem with the pedagogy itself. So we then improve on the pedagogy, and [improve] on teacher training.”

EdTech’s Time To Shine

Today, Vedantu’s offerings can be scaled to classes with thousands of students, effectively bringing the price point down significantly, unlocking massive potential for students even in the remotest areas of India. “That’s the mission of Vedantu,” says Vamsi. “Our fundamental singular belief is that we can provide an experience ten times better than the best of offline teaching, at a quarter of the cost. And that’s how we will be able to reach millions of students, to impact them.”

With nearly 320 million Indian students affected by the nationwide lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late March, appreciation and awareness of edtech platforms is rapidly increasing. For Vedantu, 300,000 new students have joined their platform since the beginning of April, with over 10,000 students using their services everyday.

But with or without COVID-19, it’s clear that Vedantu’s priorities are centered on their students. Staying focused on these objectives from the very start has ensured the company tops the EdTech game in India. “What keeps [us] grounded is extremely strong metrics and parameters around [our] students,” Vamsi says.

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