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This lockdown, download a teacher

Rina Mukherji | Updated on May 29, 2020 Published on May 29, 2020

Present, Miss: Apps and websites bring the classroom home until schools can reopen again   -  THE HINDU / M KARUNAKARAN

With online learning in great demand during the lockdown, startups in this teaching space are cashing in

* Rapidly growing at 55 per cent a year, the Indian edutech market is estimated to be worth US $1.96 billion by 2021

* While the edutech platforms make use of animation and graphics to help students grasp complex concepts, what they lack, is the personal touch that teachers bring.

If there is one business that is making hay while the lockdown drains most others, it is the education technology or edutech start-ups. These companies rely on a combined use of computer hardware, software, and educational theory and practice to facilitate learning, especially academic studies.

Lucknow-based EduGorilla, an online tutorial for competitive exams ranging from Staff Selection Commission for government jobs to CLAT (Common Law Admission Test) for law college admissions, saw the number of users zoom to 60,000 from 40,000 during this period. Its offer of a 25 per cent discount on all study packages and free e-books saw sales doubling, and it’s now eyeing the global market too, says CEO Rohit Manglik.

Kopykitab.com, an edutech platform focused on test preparations, launched its #gharbaithepadho (learn from home) campaign during the lockdown, with its app giving students free access to a host of study material. This included school and college textbooks and reference material, and notes for board exams and entrance exams such as CAT (Common Admission Test) for graduate management programmes and NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) for undergraduate medical and dental courses.

Carve Niche Technologies, which runs the BeGalileo math learning programme for the ‘K12’ (kindergarten to Std XII) segment with a network of 3,000 teachers and 902 centres in India, went fully online during the lockdown.

The fast-growing edutech segment is fairly new to India, piggybacking on the demand for tuitions from parents anxious to prepare their children for the competitive job market.

A 2016 report by consultancy KPMG pegs the Indian edutech market at $247 million. Growing at 55 per cent a year, it is estimated to be worth $1.96 billion by 2021.

Most Indian edutech portals are in the K12, test preparation and language learning categories, with a few focussing on teaching for the differently abled. Bengaluru-based Byju’s leads the pack, becoming the world’s most valued edutech company in March 2019, at $5.4 billion. By January 2020, it was valued at $8 billion. Byju’s, which started in 2011 by offering tuitions for schoolchildren before moving to packages for competitive exams, has sparked several clones.

Kopykitab.com was started in 2013 by Sumeet Verma and Amit Shrivastava, both of whom hail from small towns in central India and wanted to make study material available to students from all sections of society. They began with free downloads for books on management, commerce, accounts and engineering from popular publishers. Since 2016, they have been providing customised notes and video lessons for school and college students, apart from preparatory material for competitive exams. Today, they boast a user base of 4.5 million, with around 69 per cent of the traffic coming from smaller cities and towns.

Both Kopykitab.com and EduGorilla offer study material in regional languages, too.

Asked how the companies are able to sustain the free download model, Verma says, “The growth has been several-fold year-on-year, so providing free content does not leave us with any losses. Moreover, we make it up by charging on premium content.” Several edutech websites have entered into agreements with publishers to make e-books available for downloads by students. For reference books, Kindle editions are made available. “We provide a secure platform to the publishers for their content,” Verma says.

Avneet Makkar started BeGalileo in 2016 as a part-online model to complement offline coaching. Teachers use technology to both assess and teach students. An algorithm is used to assess a student’s grasp of a lesson and prepare a personalised module to help him or her catch up before moving to the next lesson.

The centres are run by all-woman teams. Concentrated in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, with a few centres in Delhi-NCR and Hyderabad, BeGalileo plans to expand to more cities and towns with its online model. To keep children engaged beyond lessons during the lockdown, it has created math games such as puzzle cards and treasure hunts.

Byju’s focuses on metropolitan centres and operates through pre-loaded tablets and an app, with study packages priced from ₹12,000 to ₹90,000; it caters to school-level learning and competitive exams.

EduGorilla’s packages are priced ₹199–7,000, and that of Kopykitab.com’s at ₹99–2,500. Their lessons can be accessed through apps or websites. Students can opt only for a lecture video, or the previous year’s papers, or notes, and pay accordingly at nominal rates.

High on technology, the edutech platforms make use of animation and graphics to help students grasp complex concepts. What they lack, of course, is the personal touch that teachers bring.

Debasish Chakraborty, a private tutor for school maths and science, and competitive exams, is not too impressed by the online tutors: “The teaching by premier schools in cities like Kolkata is more than adequate. Ready notes are fine for those who want to just get through, and have a weak base. For those who aspire to top, I would advise them to thoroughly read their textbooks. But for competitive exams, the mock tests are a great help.” He also concedes that a digitised library, such as the one provided by Kopykitab.com, can be a godsend for medical and engineering students in small towns that lack good libraries. “A reference book for a medical course may cost about ₹36,000; how many students can afford it?” he says.

Sanghamitra Sinha, a senior accounts teacher and coordinator at La Martiniere girls’ school in Kolkata, agrees that the websites can be useful for students in mofussil areas. “The videos are particularly well made, and can give students the experience of learning from different teachers on a range of subjects,” she says, adding that it will be even better if the sites expand to include co-curricular subjects such as music and the arts.

Rina Mukherji is a Pune-based journalist

Published on May 29, 2020
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