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October 12, 2020 Monday 10:18:09 AM IST

Edu-Startups and Blended Learning Solutions

Rajagiri Round Table

The Covid Pandemic suddenly pushed schools, colleges and higher institutions into a crisis situation but it was the resilience of teachers developed over the years to surmount any adverse situation that helped them overcome it and use technology effectively for online learning. The pandemic also helped large number of edtech companies to further consolidate their market share and raised hopes for expanding their business as blended learning is the new normal for the emerging post-Covid scenario. However the success of the edtech startups depend to a large extent on how well they understand the requirements of schools and colleges and how effectively educational institutions can communicate their requirements with startups.

The 63rd Rajagiri Round Table Conference held via Zoom Meeting on 9th September had a large gathering of participants from across the country representing startups, schools and colleges and industrial promotion agencies.

Various edtech companies have developed solutions catering to schools, colleges but affordability and relevance was a major concern expressed by the stakeholders. The teachers have become adept at implementation of information technology but what is required is technology to help teachers develop and share content. The schools are looking for customized or tailor-made solutions rather than ready-made solutions as one-size does not fill all in this sector. The New Education Policy 2020 has emphasized the need to teach children ‘how to learn’ more than ‘what to learn’. Hence the technology solutions should be focused on the development of important skillsets as underlined the policy.

Suma Paul, Principal, Assisi Vidya Niketan School
The edu-startups will have to provide the templates for teachers to create their own teaching aids. The teachers are capable of creating their own vodcasts and presentations. What they need now is a software to create aesthetically appealing teaching aids. Software or learning apps which prompts or corrects the grammatical errors and pronouncing errors. These things will augment the teachers when they prepare vodcasts to implement fool-proof teaching aids for students.

Teacher Centric

With concerns of increasing screen time and less opportunities for the social and emotional development of the child, the participants felt that edu-startups should focus on solutions targeted more at teachers and educational institutions rather than children.

Loyola Antony, Principal, St Christopher School, Nagaland
Startups may have developed solutions but they may not be the ones that educational institutions require. Teachers and institutional leadership require technology support. For eg. in English- modules can be developed to teach spelling, rhymes, letters, practicing syllables, unscrambling words, spellings, which are all activity oriented. The solutions should be developed in such as way that it doesn’t create stress or trouble to students. We have a moral responsibility to students and history should not judge as having made them do more work with gadgets or devices at the cost of developing other important skills in life.

Enable Interactive Learning
Most learning solutions implemented using legacy systems such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Google Meet are all one-way communications. Even the highly popular KiteVicters channel or other TV programs for schools implemented across the country have millions of viewers. But are the children watching it and absorbing the content? There is no mechanism for evaluation and assessment in most schools for online learning.

Vinish Scaria, BrightBee Technologies
If there are proper learning management systems in schools, it would be easier to assess the learning outcome. We can know when they are logging into the system, whether they are attending, even put restrictions on access of content such that they need to complete a task before going to next topic.  If teachers get proper feedback from students and vice versa, students will become engaged learners.
Academicians are least explored in the technology area and they need external support or expertise. They may require atleast one-year of hand holding. What is required is to empower the mentors, and equip the teachers to create content using technology.

Technologies Required for Schools
# Learning Management Systems
#Modules to teach coding
#Modules for school and college administrators to plan, train, create content and manage resources
#Virtual labs
#NCERT Content in regional languages
#Gamification tools
#Tools to implement Augmented Reality in learning
#Smart classroom technologies that are affordable

Clarity on offerings
With a surfeit of solutions including apps and modules created by edtech players, the schools and colleges are faced with the dilemma of finding out the solution that best suits them. Some of them are also exorbitantly prices which makes it difficult for educational institutions facing financial crisis due to Covid-lockdown.

Hillary Hinchliff, Principal, Gems Modern Academy

Trial runs of tech solutions are not possible in schools due to the shortage of time for teachers.  There has to be clarity on what is offered by these companies. If they clearly tell us what their solutions offer in terms of functionalities we can pick and choose which is suitable for us. Normally, we decide on some apps and we stick to it.

Skills for Employability
There is a common concern expressed in industry that many graduates whether engineering, commerce, management or from humanity disciplines are not job-ready. Hence the industry has to spent quite a lot on training human resources.

Srikumar Nair, Founder and CEO BygC, Bangalore

I find that there is a lot of information gap that exists between corporates and higher education sector. Startups are focussing on that gap. For eg. an MBA out of a college is not job ready and that is a reality. Our education sector is focussed on subjects and not essential skills. It teaches economics, accountancy, business, history, physics etc. Corporate sector doesn't work that way. We work with industry and higher educational institutions on the other side and try to bridge the information gap so that what they learn in college is useful when they come to industry. The larger job is about bridging the skill gap. Technology is only an enabler and helps us reach a wider audience.

Ian Smith, Vice Principal, Gems Modern Academy
A blended learning that helps children to have interaction with the real world of work through internships at the school level is now required. What is now required is a seamless transition from classroom to boardroom and schools should make it happen.

Issues facing startups
The startup eco system in India is growing but still at a nascent stage. The companies face issues of funding and many funding agencies do not understand the edtech market. Most of the startups are focused on providing technology solutions for education. But a demand should be created to a critical mass so that funding agencies will find it attractive to invest in them.

Biju Paul, MagazineCRM
Startups have a big issue when it comes to funding although Covid-19 has thrown up big opportunities in edtech. Banks, venture capital and angel funding is not easy to get for most startups. Startups and schools may think of using cloud-based solutions which reduce the overall cost on technology implementation which is good for both.

Christy Fernandez, Chairman, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation

There are not very many people to fund edtech. Venture capitalists go for projects they are familiar with and has probability of getting good returns. There are lesser number of accelerators for startups in India. Education comes under the social entrepreneurship and it is not taking off at a desired level despite the importance it holds for the development of society and future of the nation. KSIDC is having Seed Money of Rs 25 lakh to fund edu-startups.

What is of paramount importance even as schools ensure continuity of learning during pandemic is the much-needed focus on health, emotional, social and well-being of students. Many websites that children may explore may not be safe, they are also subjected to cyber bullying.  It is very important to care of cyber security-parents, teachers and students have to be made aware of the pitfalls of unregulated use of cyberspace. Edtech industry can also think of providing solutions in cyber security as well, participants said.

#Schools require customized solutions rather than off-the shelf solutions
#Teachers and institutional leaders require technologies that can help develop and share content, do assessments and manage resources
#Edtechs should focus on activity-based learning solutions relying less on gadgets or internet connectivity
#Edtech solutions should be affordable and there should be clarity on what it can offer for schools and colleges
#Solutions should be based on an understanding of the real needs of schools and colleges
#More venture capital, angel funding should be enabled for startups to grow
#Cyber Security concerns can be addressed by Edtechs
#Learning management systems can enable proper feedback from students, help in evaluation and assessment for schools.