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[Published in Pluggd.in]
“The technology itself is not transformative. It’s the school, the pedagogy that is transformative”
- Tanya Byron, psychologist
As part of our upcoming founder-focused breakfast on education startups, I wanted to lay out my thoughts on the education space, which has proven to be a productive area for us through our investment in TutorVista. This post is focused on K-12 education businesses.
After Educomp and Everonn built large businesses over the last few years, many education-focused businesses are emerging, piping existing and new content into classrooms or homes using new technology platforms like web, cloud, tablet and VSAT. However, it is debatable if any of these businesses have measurably improved student learning outcomes.
Technology Adoption Lifecycle
Tech-enabled education businesses still have not crossed the chasm (they fall in region I and II above). In fact, of the ~80K private schools in the K-12 segment in India –only ~12-15% (# of schools doesn’t take into account # of classrooms per school, Educomp claim: 8000 schools) of them are using technology enabled solutions.
The key reason is that the perceived technology is being adopted by schools who buy those solutions that are vendor financed or paid for by the “early adopter” parent. To get to the main stream market (pragmatists, conservatives in the diagram above) a “whole product” needs to be stitched together that addresses the pain points of all the stakeholders of the education ecosystem effectively. Here are the pain points I see in the market:
- Parents pay for everything but still haven’t seen any impact of the solutions on the child. Simply a technology enabled solution can’t intrigue them for long
- Schools have benefitted from higher fees and more admissions with no investment. However with no measurable outcome, they have not been able to sustain high fee or any differentiation
- Students do not learn anything fundamentally different from their text books
- Teachers are negatively impacted by long execution lead times due to extensive teacher training
Though school as a distribution channel not only provides instant credibility but also a captive base of customers to the business, this channel might take time to scale since schools appear to be fatigued by a number of vendors offering similar solutions.
So how can a business create a bandwagon effect so that the product becomes a standard, a solution and a convenience?
Businesses need to have a strong value proposition by identifying the key intervention point (s) as well as by addressing some of the pain points mentioned above. Additionally they need to continuously innovate. They should:
- Make intervention easier by tapping areas such as designing student feedback platforms for teachers /parents, customizing remedial content and developing out of school learning aids through asset light platforms since these are relatively untapped opportunities. It is essential to have closer involvement of educationists, rather than just technologists, since educationists would help create products that blend with the core needs of existing educational setups.
- Design content which is easy to grasp, fundamental in nature and more interactive than text-book content. Elements of high quality animation or gamification makes learning more experiential and activity-based and hence more engaging for students.
- Figure out direct to customer (student/parent) “Edmodo”-like distribution channels to reduce friction in scalability.
- Provide affordable solutions to the school/parent. Although the parent is fairly price elastic, it is essential to cut across the affordability criteria for the ~80K schools in the country. The price can be a small percentage (up to 5%) of the school tuition fee or tutor fee depending on the distribution channel. Customer response/engagement can also be tested by giving the solution for free in the first 3-6 months of product launch.
- Develop simplified tech platform frontends so that the teacher/student doesn’t need much hand-holding. Should involve basic steps that can be easily understood by a non tech savvy person.
- Keep track of the key regulatory changes going forward since this space is unregulated. Introduction of CCE* (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) is an example which has created new business opportunities .Some organizations such as Bureau of elementary/secondary education and CBSE, ICSE, IB, SSC, HSC, state education boards might be worth monitoring.
Potentially interesting areas for intervention (with examples):
- K12 curriculum: This is a relatively crowded space but requires high quality interactive content through scalable asset-light technology platforms (cloud/tablets/web etc.). Idiscoveri is doing some meaningful work in this space through non tech platforms.
- Student assessment/CCE*: These include adaptive learning methodologies with feedback, including remedial content so that teachers/parents understand the weak areas of each child. Additionally technology as an enabler can potentially improve efficiency of the teachers. Educational Initiatives is a relevant example in this space that resonates in my mind.
- Out-of-school tutoring: These solutions include self-learning interactive content/tutoring through tablets/web/cloud. Tutorvista, a known name in this space and also one of our erstwhile portfolio companies, was acquired by Pearson in 2011.
- Extra-curricular/counseling: Such models can be difficult to scale since this isn’t the basic requirement of the parent or the school, yet there is a possibility of building brands aimed at holistic development of the child. Edusports, a company that designs a K12 sports curriculum is one example in this area.
Though one might argue that the impact on the schools and the students would be more visible in the long term, there are a bunch of progressive schools such as Shri Ram (Delhi), La Martiniere (Kolkata), and Presidency School (Bangalore) etc. who seem to understand, appreciate and adapt meaningful products which should transform the pedagogy in the long term. As far as commercial schools are concerned they would follow suit once the models are proven.