Consumerizing EdTech for India’s schools

India’s EdTech sector has yet to make the grade inside the country’s classrooms. Startups that take a cue from the consumerization of enterprise software and build for their customer’s employees, not just their customer’s customer, have an opportunity to turn that around.

GV Ravishankar

Published November 29, 2019

The last few years have seen tremendous growth in adoption of technology by Indian consumers for education. Byju’s Classes have served over 2.5 million students through its platform since the launch of its app in 2015, Unacademy’s YouTube channel draws over 100 million monthly views and Doubtnut now solves over 9 million questions from students each month.

EdTech is a high-potential, high-growth sector and over $1.6 billion of venture capital has gone into Indian startups in the last five years, helping founders build interesting solutions to help millions of students learn better. But while growth has come for startups that focus on after-school study, targeted tuition and test-prep products that are marketed to students and parents, India’s EdTech sector has yet to make the grade inside the country’s classrooms. India has not yet seen any large companies being built in the space.

Our hypothesis is that startups that take a cue from the consumerization of enterprise software and build for their customer’s employees (teachers in this case), not just their customer’s customer (students/parents), have an opportunity to turn that around.

The classroom conundrum: demand vs supply

The fact that Indian schools are lagging behind consumers when it comes to adoption of technology is not for a lack of good ideas. Over the last 13+ years, we have met numerous entrepreneurs wanting to change how school education works – and strongly believe that true progress in education can’t be made without a real change in the schools, where children spend 6-8 hours each day.

We hear pitches about tablets in classrooms, assessment tools, analytics to drive understanding of how individual children learn and perform, personalized career counselling, math labs, and high-quality content to augment and support teachers with resources. Most of these companies had good products and highly qualified teams chasing the dream of changing how India learns. In fact, the first generation of EdTech companies including Educomp, Next Education and Everonn did indeed make serious progress in equipping schools with digital content in classrooms. But school-based EdTech has proven to be a difficult model to scale and many startups have stagnated or failed.

To understand why, we interviewed a number of EdTech founders and ran a survey of 800 teachers in partnership with Centre for Teacher Accreditation (CENTA), a company focused on certifying the competencies of teachers and connecting them to a range of opportunities through its MyCENTA platform, to learn more about how they view and use technology.

The net takeaway: the core issues faced by teachers have not been satisfactorily addressed well by most B2B solutions. Most EdTech startups are focused on how to enhance the student’s learning experience but few are solving the teacher’s pain points – and indeed may actually be adding pressure in unintended ways.

Our survey showed that:

  • Today’s teachers are pretty wired: 95% of the respondents considered themselves technology savvy or neutral – meaning they were users of technology and not averse to it; 98% owned a smartphone. Just over 90% are on WhatsApp, 59% use shopping apps and 26% are on Instagram. What’s more, 43% use EdTech apps – 27% said they use BYJUs
  • They think tech has a strong role to play in schools: 94% believe the use of technology can deliver better learning outcomes, 74% said technology can help deliver concepts better – and 69% said it can help communicate with students in an engaging manner.
  • They’re already using apps/online resources to prep for class: 80%+ of the teachers used Google and YouTube in preparation for the class and more than half used specialized teacher resource websites online. 38% use ed tech apps like BYJUs and Khan Academy to prepare for their classes
  • But there’s too little time and too little support: When asked what the top barrier to adopting technology in classrooms, teachers cited lack of time (31%), lack of training (16%), lack of support from school management or infra support (14%) and lack of good EdTech products (13%). Teachers said they barely have time to cover the core curriculum, never mind time to learn how to use and incorporate new education apps in classrooms

The key takeaways: teachers believe in technology and are already using technology/the internet for learning purposes and sharing those in classrooms. But they are still not using specialized educational products in a significant way and believe the low adoption is a result of a lack of time, product complexity or a lack of efficacy and infra support.

This doesn’t sound like a demand problem. It’s a supply problem – supply of the “right” solutions. Overall there has been less thought given to design to make products easy for teachers to adopt vs making learning easy for students. The doctor writing the prescription needs to be addressed too!

Products need to be comprehensive; point solutions may not help much in isolation. And they shouldn’t create more problems than they solve. We heard about an assessment app that gives feedback on how students are doing every week and identifies learning gaps, which sounded good in theory. But teachers resisted: they didn’t have time to cover the regular syllabus, never mind work in remedial lessons to match the ongoing flow of information on gaps. They felt frustrated by this flood of information they couldn’t take action on.

There’s also the risk factor. Teachers are held in high regard in India, and EdTech founders we spoke to say teachers are sometimes worried about faltering in front of a class, especially in front of older students who may know more about computers than they do. This kind of ‘loss of face’ could undermine their authority.

Software companies like DropBox may show the way.

The Consumerization of EdTech

When tablets and smartphone began to proliferate in the US a decade ago, and the ‘bring your own device’ culture began to take root in American workplaces, enterprise IT companies realized they needed to reimagine their applications and, in some cases, make them function seamlessly across official and personal use cases.

The key insight for enterprise software companies was that employees are consumers first and they prefer to use tools that are built like consumer products – with the simplicity and ease of use (“no training”) they are accustomed to versus the clunky enterprise software systems with hundreds of features that require mass training and large change management projects to deploy.

The consumerization of enterprise tech gave rise to many large companies, like DropBox, Evernote and Slack. Beyond its referral marketing success, DropBox beat out competing cloud storage companies simply because it just worked and was intuitively easy to use.We expect a similar theme to play out in schools in India as both teachers and students become significant consumers of technology through their smartphones.

Indian schools need products that are simple and easy to use (think consumer apps like WhatsApp, with no training required) and that work in tough environments (with poor connectivity, unstable electricity). These products and solutions should be designed to be teacher centric as they are the real consumers – their lives should be made easier and not more difficult in a role where they are seriously constrained on time.

When asked what non-teaching aspects tech would be most useful for, 67% of the teachers in our survey said work planning and time management; 63% said creating lesson plans and 50% said tech could have a role in doing student assessments. Other products that help teachers save time while being effective for students are also likely to win.

Product design is only half the equation and may not be the elixir. In-class EdTech has to address multiple stakeholders. Owners of India’s large private school sector want to grow revenue; every product they add should allow them to market something to show they are progressive. Administrators want parents to accept new solutions, and possibly shoulder the cost; teachers want to recover time and reduce workloads and students need products that are engaging and fun. No wonder this is complicated to scale.

Taking a leaf from B2C companies on delivering scale products that are easy to use and require minimal time to get going is the way forward. The good news is there is a new generation of EdTech companies that are up to the challenge, and we believe there will be more innovation to service this large opportunity.

This column was originally published on LinkedIn.