Education technology in India is burgeoning:with 1.5 million schools expected to open in the next five years, India is a lucrative market for many of the ed-tech players. While the opportunities seem exciting, there are many perennial challenges surrounding the industry. Educators, entrepreneurs and investors in India have learned that technology doesn’t always deliver results. With a solution focusing on efficacy and better learning outcomes, Zaya Learning Labs is growing steadily, but by taking cautious steps.
Based in Mumbai, Zaya Learning Labs, has, since 2013, been attempting to close the ‘educational gap’ and provide world-class learning to marginalise communities. Founded by an IIM alumnus Soma Vajpayee and an ex-Cisco engineer Neil D’Souza, Zaya serves over 50 schools and 20,000 children.
During his time with Cisco, Neil developed a strong passion to help underprivileged communities and he set his sights on how to bridge the education gap for children in remote regions of the world. Zaya was named after one of his promising Mongolian students, Airun Zaya, whotriumphed over astonishing odds and piped digital books to an orphanage located in remote regions of Mongolia.
With a growing foothold in India, the startup is now expanding to Zambia and other international markets.Zaya’s products are focused on enabling the disconnected billion students. Unlike the traditional classroom, where passive learning is largely the norm, Zaya operates on a rotational-based model, also known as ‘blended learning’. The beauty of blended learning lies in equal participation on part of the teacher and the student during the learning process. The traditional learning method involves a one-way flow of knowledge, whereas in blended learning, students spend their time between learning on tablets, instructional time with a teacher and peer-to-peer work. Students learn at their own pace, ensuring better learning outcome.
As rightly said by Neil, “There is a plethora of quality digital content on the web. But the students at the lower end of the pyramid don’t benefit from it. There are various reasons – connectivity issue, unmotivated teachers, intermittent electricity, high-cost of Internet and no access to devices. Our products cater to communities facing such issues. Our ‘Class Cloud’ product provides digital content to schools where such undesirable conditions exist.”
Zaya’s Class Cloud is a portable, classroom-specific wireless device with an adaptive learning platform designed to store, access, and deploy curriculum and content in classrooms with intermittent connectivity or no connectivity.
The software installed in the Class Cloud does not just passively provide content – it also actively analyses the content’s usage and the resulting student achievement so that educators can ensure content meets the educational needs of individual learners. This is not to say there aren’t difficulties – finding content creators willing to subject their content to data-driven scrutiny and working within the confines of Indian timetables, to mention two – but the educators’ efforts help unlock the potential of technology in reducing, rather than accelerating, the socio-economic achievement gap.
Zaya is backed by the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, an investment fund within Pearson that invests in education startups across emerging markets. Along with an undisclosed amount from Pearson, Zaya is also backed by Bhavtosh Vajpayee – Managing Director, Global Research at Barclays and an IIM-A Alum.
Zaya work culture and expansion
Like any other startup, most of the team is in their mid-twenties. Neil credits his young team for the progress made till date. “We have some of the brightest minds working on a cause which will change millions of lives. I am grateful to be working with people who are equally passionate about changing the education landscape for the better,” he adds.
Last year, the team grew from five to 30 employees, and the startup is currently on a hiring spree. Neil emphasises the need for a work culture that fosters creativity and innovative problem solving.
Zaya is a unique ed-tech company which is willing to try new things and keep searching for viable solutions that will produce repeatable results for students, and close persistent learning gaps that exist around the world. It is, therefore, safe to say that Neil is putting together a company that will be a major player in the ed-tech space globally in the years to come.
Other players in the ed-tech space
It is worthwhile to take a look at other players in the ed-tech space. Edukart is an online education marketplace which acts as an aggregator for various courses offered by India’s infamous coaching centres. Another player would be the Bengaluru-based online-offline higher education services provider iNurture Education Solutions, while MeritNation.com targets school students (Class I-XII) across various educational boards,including CBSE and ICSE, in India. Mumbai-based Toppr is an online platform to supplement offline teaching in schools and helps students prepare for JEE and medical exams. Gamified education startups like EduIsFun are into app-based education.
Education is a fast growing sector, and, with increasing internet penetration and growing digitalisation, is bound to expand. Goes without saying that Zaya Learning Labs is a startup worth looking out for.