“Over Dependence on Technology Hinders Innovation in the EducationSpace in India”: Vijay Shukla, Managing Partner, Eduvisors

30th Mar 2012
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Vijay Shukla is a ‘parallel entrepreneur’ and has co-founded Eduvisors - India’s largest education sector focused business consulting and research services company, Setu Ventures - a firm that provides professional and financial assistance to early stage companies and entrepreneurs and ValueFirst - India’s leading enterprise mobile data services company.

Vijay has over 16 years of industry experience and has earlier worked with Steel Authority of India, E&Y and Glaxo SmithKlin. He specializes in the areas of strategy, business development, consulting and engineering.

Vijay’s passions are in the areas of education, value creation, technology and entrepreneurship.

An engineering graduate from IT-BHU and MBA from XLRI, he has mastered the ‘art’ of evaluating business strategies and organizational processes throughout his career working in the domains of public sector, entrepreneurship, information and mobile technology, FMCG and management consulting services.

YourStory.in recently caught up with Vijay to talk about Eduvisors and his take on the challenges and opportunities the Indian education space has to offer. He is also one of the mentors of the EduStars program.

What are the areas that Eduvisors works on?

Eduvisors is India’s largest Education-sector focused business consulting and professional services firm, we have two broad areas of specialization. The first is ‘capacity building’ - where in Eduvisors works actively in setting-up schools, colleges and universities form the vision and concept stage to launch stage. In capacity building, Eduvisors covers aspects such as opportunity assessment through feasibility and market studies, business and financial planning, business structuring, getting the leadership team in place, and project management to ensure launch as per the business plan. We advise educational institutes on all aspects, including location, funding, faculty, and curriculum and also provide expert inputs.

The second area of specialization is related to ‘improvement of performance’. Our involvement with an educational institute does not end once it begins operations. Periodically we assess the institute’s performance. So, we do auditing, teacher performance assessment, teacher training, etc. Besides, we advise a variety of clients ranging from private equity and venture capital funds to large enterprises desirous of setting-up or running educational initiatives, whether as a business or as a part of Corporate Social Responsibility aspects of their organizations.

What role does Eduvisors play in the vocational training sphere?

In India, soft skill and predominantly English language training (e.g. spoken English) dominates the vocational training industry. If you look at the market reality, English speaking workforce is a necessary (in a few cases) but not sufficient condition by the employers. Tangible skills (hard skills) are in demand. Specialized skills in handling machinery or performing a particular function in the manufacturing process are some of the skills that the industry wants the workforce to be adept at. Soft skills are considered as a value-added aspect of one’s skills repertoire but not as the primary skill-set (barring a limited number of jobs where soft skills become primary skills).

We advice vocational training institutes about the quality of the course and actively participate in improving the course to meet the industry requirements and focus on domain knowledge and hard skills.

Is there investor interest in the education sector in India? What role does Eduvisors play in augmenting that?

We have seen a lot of Private Equity interest in the education space. Our role is multi-fold; we analyze the industry, target companies and opportunities in the space and present in to the potential investor.

In spite of there being heightened interest among the investor community in regard to the education sector in India, the number of actual investments is quite low. The reason being most of the companies in this space are low on innovation. Many of the investment targets are over dependent on technology and want to use that to bring a revolutionary change. Sadly, most of these companies are not aware of the ground realities. For example, most companies consider theoretical segmentation of the market such as urban/rural or tier-1/tier-2. However, few have the real understanding of students or teachers or the context. Only a very few of the products and services on offer currently fulfill the real needs of the consumers.

What are some of the challenges in coming up with innovative services or products in the education space?

These are not in any specific order, but some of the challenges that I see in innovating in the education sector in India are:

• Over dependence on technology

• Limited understanding of ground realities

• Not understanding the mindset and requirements of the consumers (students and teachers)

• Sourcing of a competent team to deliver; and

• Business structuring related matters as education is a regulated sector

Having said that there is a lot of scope to innovate in this sphere and these challenges can easily be overcome with concerted effort.

Budget 2012 mentioned that Rs. 765 crore will be allotted for the second phase of development of Aakash and creating e-content. What is your take on this?

Aakash is over-hyped. The government needs to address a number of infrastructural aspects before a product like Aakash can be optimally utilized. Internet connectivity is a major concern and specific to Aakash, battery backup is not up to the mark.

On a different note, one has to ask the fundamental question - Do Indian students really need a device like Aakash currently? I don’t think that is a top priority. NCERT books are excellent and very cost effective. On ground reality is that students require capable teachers to explain them the content in the right manner. That is the biggest challenge. Even if they have access to Aakash, but the teachers are not good enough to utilize it to teach them, then it defeats the entire purpose.

What according to you are some of the opportunities in the education sector that has not yet been explored as much as it should be?

Teacher training & development is one area that presents a lot of opportunity in India. As I mentioned earlier the quality of education will improve only if the quality of teachers improve. In South Korea, a company has devised an innovative way to ensure that maximum number of students gets an opportunity to learn from the best teachers in the country. They have identified a large number of teachers and the subject each of them is best at. They have created video content of these teachers explaining their core subjects. DVDs of the videos are distributed to students all across the country. We can easily do something similar in India. . It can be an innovation that is relevant, solves a big problem, is low cost to start and is scalable.

Student exchange programs are another area that presents great opportunities. Imagine a group of students from the north-eastern part of India get to spend a week with students in a small village school in Karnataka. The level of exposure and learning will be unparalleled. International student exchange programs are the prevalent ones, but intra India student exchange programs need to be given equal importance. Startups in the education sector should explore such possibilities.

The vocational training sector also throws up good opportunities. If one asks a few senior persons from the industry, they will tell that the requirement for a skilled workforce is right at the top of their priority list. However, the valuable intervention in vocational training will need a lot more rigor if the industry’s needs are to be addressed satisfactorily.

Further, the adult education sector is mostly untapped in India, and it is another area with huge unmet demand that innovative startups can explore. Adult education can be for the purpose of both career enhancement and to inculcate a hobby. Basically, there is a significant gap (read need!) in adult education for people with need to learn or study beyond formal education.

Views on the EduStars program.

The Edustars program is a good source of inspiration and insights for budding entrepreneurs. I congratulate YourStory.in and Accel Partners for conceptualizing and delivering successfully on the initiative.

I would recommend that in addition to the current content, it will be good if certain data on the education sector is provided via Edustars, to entrepreneurs on a regular basis. Also, updating the content of the website regularly will be helpful for the users to remain connected on an ongoing basis.

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