BW Business World: The Appification Of Education

Technology and education were always supposed to be ideal bedfellows. Microsoft, and later Apple, showed the world how learning could become the stuff of magic when software or apps could be created to transform the way content is presented. Multimillion dollar productions were ported to disks bringing to life rich visual feasts of science, nature, geography, history and for those who remember, the Encyclopedia Encarta. Even books became interactive, popping out videos, going 360 degrees on images and panning across graphs and figures to zoom into details. But neither did these address the real-life education-related problems of many places, like India, and nor were they affordable to everyone.

Technology and education were always supposed to be ideal bedfellows. Microsoft, and later Apple, showed the world how learning could become the stuff of magic when software or apps could be created to transform the way content is presented. Multimillion dollar productions were ported to disks bringing to life rich visual feasts of science, nature, geography, history and for those who remember, the Encyclopedia Encarta. Even books became interactive, popping out videos, going 360 degrees on images and panning across graphs and figures to zoom into details. But neither did these address the real-life education-related problems of many places, like India, and nor were they affordable to everyone.

Today, this is changing. Startups are jumping into the education segment to cater to the specific needs of students and educators in India — and of course, do what startups do. With the meteoric rise of the use of mobiles, naturally that means the appification of education has begun. And “edtech” is already making a difference.

Helping Hand

It certainly is a life-saver for Umesh, a 23-year-old from Indore who has been furiously busy preparing for the CAT exam. It isn’t easy and, with so much at stake, it’s nerve wracking. But Umesh has a coach at hand, even though he’s studying hard at home. He’s on Prepathon, a three-month-old entrant into the education app space from the PagaLGuY portal — a large MBA resource. The Prepathon app, which has been in the works for the past two years, is free on Android, and helps students prepare for the CAT, JEE, and IBPS examinations. But it doesn’t just throw the content at the users. Its chief executive officer has strong ideas on how education and technology should work.

“Technology has changed everything from healthcare to transportation, but interestingly, it has been able to do nothing for education,” says, Allwin Agnel, founder of PaGaLGuY and Prepathon.“It’s been the same as it always has for the past hundreds of years — you have a teacher and you have a classroom. The only difference in the past few years is that all the content has been digitised. But frankly, this has not really propelled a whole new generation to learn.” Agnel believes that companies try to either put content online, or offer teaching services, or form communities. But never all three. “For any online business to work,” he says, “it has to first replicate offline. Our idea was to put all three together in Prepathon.”

In the app, Prepathon offers the content, particularly daily quizzes, it has the platform for students to get the support of other students in a community, and it has an always-available coach. With these in place, a learner’s progress is tracked, suggestions are given, analysis is done to help overcome weak points and motivate a student to keep at it. The coach can chat with the student to help channel content to the learner and overcome any sign of procrastination.

Prepathon’s quizzes have already been taken 50,000 times by its 100,000 students. There are only five coaches so far, but this number is to be stepped up as the company scales. Prepathon gets its funding from PaGaLGuy at the moment and is free for students though it may move to an affordable but paid model in the future.

Child’s Play
Jairaj Bhattacharya and Shashank Pandey, two IIT graduates, agree entirely with the thought that content alone, even if it’s in digital form, is not enough to make anyone learn. The duo founded a platform they called ConveGenius to bring edutainment to young children because they believe that innovation is missing in this sector. “You cannot guarantee learning by selling content — otherwise it’s just the replacement for a book,” says Pandey.

Singapore- and Noida-based ConvaGenius set out on the gamification route, not tampering with the actual content but linking learning to rewards external to the content. With apps in the works, they built in the software onto tablets. They worked on access to content which they could aggregate and present free. They carried out a pilot on a mix of kids from both government schools and high-end public schools to see what measures could be taken to make a child learn. To add to the intrinsic curiosity of a child they tried to digitally build in a points system to incentivise them to learn. The points could be traded in for various treats, from play time to ice-cream.

Funding
ConveGenius has just received a modest sum of Rs 2 crore in pre-series A funding. The company did not reveal the source of their educational content but does reach out to an initial base of 50,000 students in the primary school category. They plan to scale to address higher grades as well and launch their app on mobiles.

Neither students nor educators have the time to sit at desktops for long periods of time, looking at learning resources or solving problems. Just like everything else, education too has to be mobile-first and all about communication. It was with this in mind that Flinnt was founded. “The need for people to share resources and collaborate on the go is absolutely felt,” says Harish Iyer, founder and CEO of the Flinnt platform.

The app itself has no content but is a messenger in which faculties of institutes and students and create categories. “It’s just like a set of Facebook posts in which you can discuss certain subjects of academic interest,” said Iyer, “It’s just that the faculty has control over posts, who comments, and can moderate and delete comments if they are inappropriate. It’s a structured social learning environment that we provide to institutions.” Links to resources, questions and discussions can take place on Flinnt.

The control and focus isn’t possible on public messengers like Whatsapp. The institution subscribes the Flinnt app at a fee of Rs 15,000 per year, and then the students and teachers can then download the app free for up to 5,000 individuals per institution. Both schools and higher educational institutes use Flinnt including for parent-teacher communication.

There are several other apps spanning the categories of content, tests, and collaboration, specially catering to K-12 learning. Tata ClassEdge is an example and it enables teachers to deliver high-quality content to spark learners’ curiosity, critical thinking and other intellectual skills. Many apps are purely content related and focus on delivering instruction in a mobile format. Duolingo — the language learning app that has become very popular globally — is an example.

The heartening thing is that many of the startups involved in edtech are looking at reaching remote areas with their offerings. But like all startups, the challenge will be to manage the technology when scaling and finding a sustainable source of revenue that ensures a future beyond burning through funding.

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