Synopsis–Byju Raveendran, Founder & CEO, Byju’s says that though the pandemic accelerated the need for online modes of learning, their relevance would stay despite offline models making their way back.
Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiaries when lockdown began last year was the edtech sector. With the pandemic upending normal living, 2020 was a year which saw life unravel like never before. For the first time, schools and colleges shut and online education became the primary mode of learning. Result? The edtech sector witnessed an incredibly sharp surge in user growth and traffic.
In fact, a report by RedSeer and Omidyar Network India pegs the online education offerings across grades 1-12 to increase 6.3 times to create a $1.7 billion market by 2022. The post-K 12 market, as per the report, is set to grow 3.7 times into a $1.8 billion market.
Attesting to this trend Byju Raveendran, Founder & CEO of Byju’s, India’s second most valued edtech firm, narrates their own experience in the last 12 months. “The first four and a half years, we had 45 million users come to our free apps. But these 12 months, we had another 45 million come in. What we have done in the last 12 months in terms of products is just not available in English, but all regional languages too,” Raveendran said while speaking at the recently held virtual Resurgence TiECon Delhi-NCR.
Recalling the initial days of the lockdown, Raveendran says that it took them 3-4 days to take stock of the situation and they started off by making all their apps free. “By making everything free, we made sure that a lot more students can learn online. We launched live classes within two weeks from the lockdown. Because of the pandemic, the sector is clearly at an inflection point, but what we realised is that it actually took a crisis like this for all the stakeholders to try out online learning,” he stated forthrightly.
Not everything can be taught online
The edtech company, which acquired Whitehat Jr for $300 million last year, is of the firm belief that a blended model which encourages online and offline learning is what would be ideal. “Maybe you can learn Math or Science subjects better online. But skills like empathy, social skills and real life skills cannot be taught online. You can’t teach students how to play. The ideal model is a blended model which brings the best of both,” Raveendran added.
Launched in 2015, Byju’s offers learning programmes from Classes 1-12 and boasts of 3.5 million paid users on its platform. Raveendran, a former school teacher himself, understands the significance of creating more ‘active learners,’ or those who learn because they want to learn and not because they are forced into it. “That’s the requirement of the future because 21st century illiterates are not the ones who can’t read and write. They are the ones who can’t learn, unlearn and relearn. More self learning has to be encouraged and that can only be done by ensuring there is love for learning. We need to bring that curiosity back in our kids,” he asserted.
But the question that comes up for consideration is that will 2021 continue to see the rise of edtech with offline models slowly making their way back? Raveendran has no doubt on the efficacy of online learning platforms. He is of the view that teachers will always have an important role to play. “Golden age of teachers is going to come back because today, if someone wants to teach, they can just go online and teach. Because of what happened in the last few months, a lot of them today – teachers, institutions and even students – know that a lot of things can be done better online. We cannot consider Edtech different from education. At the end of the day, it is all about how we can use technology as an enabler,” he said.
Clear opportunity for India
The edtech player had also signed a deal in January this year to acquire test prep leader Aakash Educational Services, reportedly for $1 billion. The deal which is expected to close in the next couple of months would further add to the range of offerings by Byju’s.
Raveendran says that their organic growth is very strong, with the core model continuing to grow 100% year-on-year. Elaborating further on his point about teaching, he explains it in the context of the Whitehat Jr platform. “What is so special about Whitehat Jr is that it is not just about coding. It is actually the fact that in a brief span of time, there are over 10,000 teachers on that platform. And most of them were not teachers 12 months back, and that is why I feel that there is an obvious opportunity for India to create a huge talent pool of teachers for the world,” he stated.
Besides, he feels, with 25% of the workforce being women, any business which taps into this high quality talent pool is bound to make a huge impact. And it will also help scores of women get back into the workforce. “Re-entering the workforce is next to impossible – a lot of women consider that a big challenge. That’s the biggest opportunity. In our India model, we have the platform plus content self learning models. And there is an opportunity by adding this teaching layer on top where we create these teachers for the world and possibly define the online schools of tomorrow,” Raveendran added exuberantly.
Failure is a wrong word
Delving on the nuances of entrepreneurship, he emphasised entrepreneurship is not a skill but a mindset where ‘no,’ isn’t taken for an answer. “When people say failure, I feel it is a wrong word. You can’t do anything new without making mistakes. It is all about how you actually build muscle to do things in a hard way. Now it’s the other way round – if you are doing all the hard things, you will end up building muscle for it,” he asserted.
Stressing on the significance of timely goals, Raveendran added that incorporating annual, weekly, monthly and even daily goals in one’s life needs to align with dreaming big. “Measuring whatever you can is very important. Because things which you can’t measure, you can never improve,” he emphasised.
Raveendran has also been a proponent of curiosity driven learning since early on. Drawing from his own experience of self-learning, he reminisced his days when he took to learning a lot of things off his own. “I have a lot of conviction in self learning because it forced me to become a self-learner. The only way I have learnt English is by listening to cricket and football commentaries on radio and they speak very fast. Today I make it a point to slow it down, but sometimes I want to pack in a lot of things,” he chuckled.
He suggests the application of different tools which can help practice the skill of learning in a better way such as visual learning, videos, playing games and digital activities. Learning, he feels, is currently still driven by fear of exams and not love for learning. “I will be happy if I can play a role in defining the online schools of tomorrow. If you can bring that spark, students will end up learning faster. Learning how to learn is a very important skill. Finding that right balance by keeping it engaging, without losing its effectiveness, is crucial. My favourite phrase here is, ‘finding the right amount of chocolate coating before we take them through the broccoli’. And it is actually difficult,” he reflected.
A firm believer in always looking ahead, Raveendran advised finding the right balance between speed, focus and efficiency to new edtech founders. “It is one of those few areas where, if you do good, you will end up doing well. And if you do well, you will end up doing good. Eventually, if you are passionate about doing it, chances of success will be much higher because initially there will be so many roadblocks. Thinking big and keeping a high aspiration level is important. The other 50% is all about inculcating that discipline and, of course, the daily goals,” he concluded.
(Illustrations by Sadhana Saxena)
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