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October 17, 2020 Saturday 10:42:45 AM IST

Chromosome of a Successful Edu-Startup

Guest Column

If you look at the world of business, how many brands have survived for more than fifty years or hundred years. A couple of brands may be more than hundred years old. But when you think of institutions with a legacy of over 500 or 1000 years, you will not find any business brand but many leading universities such as Oxford or Cambridge. They are still flourishing. That is the power of education sector. 

We all know about Anand Agarwal, the Professor of MIT, who revolutionised the Massive Open Online Courses( MOOC) movement in the world through EDEX platform with a large number of courses. Prof Anand Agarwal said that as a teacher he may have taught 1000 students but the very first time he used the EDEX platform he had close to 21,000 students. That is the scale in which technology platform is making available education across the world.

Lessons from Gurukula

Covid has brought lot of problems for most of us but for educational technologists this was the perfect storm that was waiting to happen. How well we are going to use this perfect storm is basically where we are going to ride the next wave. Why this disruption is required and why it is needed? If you look at the history of education and before the last century, the education was focussed on the teacher and a very small group of students. In the Gurukula tradition the teacher knows the learning pace of the students. A Physics teacher will not only know the subject but also find mistakes in the construction of a sentence and teaching was not organised into silos.  Jokingly, I used to say if the present school system was in vogue then we would have never had a Bhima or Arjuna because Bhima will be asked to do Archery and Bhima will be asked to handle the Gadha. The result will be failure of both!

Dronacharya knew that one person's learning level is this and this is called precision learning. And now come to the last century- the whole philosophy changed to mass production. Ford brought out the concept of large number of products produced at a lower cost and this concept came to education also. From small schools we started developing large schools. The model of specialisation came and people started seeing everything in silos.

MOOC courses matches each learner's learning paradigms or learning curve and enable teachers to develop teaching strategies based on that. Earlier in a class of 50 it was difficult in a limited period of time to gather all these data. We are not automating a normal classroom. If you automate a mess, you will only get a faster mess. In classroom it was not possible to go behind each child's learning path except in small classrooms. But technology allows you to do that. Even in retailing industry data can be stored and analysed for later use. Customised learning paradigms when you brought into technological domain, it adds to the richness of education.

Scalable Model


The flexibility and richness of education is brought about by technology. I used a doodle, a learning management system that helps communicate with students. But more importantly it helped me map my students. How much time a student has spent on a particular topic. which gives insights to the teacher to focus on a particular area for the student. Efficiency and effectiveness is brought together in MOOCs which is the key element or crux of the learning process. We know that it is not enough. Any solutions require a supporting eco system. Any startup succeeds when it has a scalable model. Technology has brought in the efficiency, effectiveness and scalability. The content that is created can be made scalable with technology provided it is designed in that manner. India has only 25% of its people in the higher education sector. Even as we speak of large Gross Enrolment Ratio in school education, the dropouts are very large. Pratham's studies show that 80% of the Class V or Class VIII students have a very low learning outcome and it is a problem as well as an opportunity. We are looking at a huge market. Investors in startups only took a company seriously if they believed in a very large horizon. It may take six to seven years for an edu-startups to break even.

Learned Model

The New Education Policy 2020 apart from emphasis on equity and access which is quite important for the nation, it also lays emphasis on flexibility and learner centredness. We are moving from a taught model to a learned model. It is in this model that all the technology that startups developed are going to be used

Now because of Covid, the world has gone again from mass to small. Governments are promoting and creating infrastructure. Everything is in the right ambience. We have colleges and schools who are willing to take the solutions. We are in a sector which was not disrupted and it is now getting disrupted. Look at the new learning paradigm but don't underestimate the value of the existing teachers. Look at the inventions that have taken place in the last fifty years. It is much more than all the inventions taken place in the previous years. It is all because of the teachers. Use that knowledge and use the technology and come out with interesting products. The ecosystem will be there to support you. Then all the present bunch of startups will become unicorns and multiple unicorns.





Dr Saji Gopinath

Professor at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode and former CEO of Kerala Startup Mission Read more articles..
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