Two ex-IITians have come up with a unique open-school communication and social learning platform that allows teachers, parents and students to interact freely and effectively on mobile phones. Ritesh Singh and Akshat Goel wanted to provide innovative solutions for effective knowledge transfer in our ecosystem.
Hence, these chose the name Eckovation for their startup, a portmanteau of ecosystem, knowledge and innovation. Founded in March 2014, the app was finally launched this June after more than a yearlong market research and study.
CEO Singh, who hails from tier-III town Chapra in Bihar, he had language issues from the beginning and these never left him. “So, I was always thinking about solutions that could help people just like me, who do not get access to quality education early in their life. I always wanted to make quality education accessible even in places where only minimal infrastructure exists. That’s how Eckovation came into being,” he told PTI.
From conceptualising to its practical usage, there were many challenges. “We first explored MOOCs (massive open online courses) but they were cumbersome and required a lot of self-discipline on the users’ part. Next we thought about providing data analytics through an ERP system that monitors a child’s performance and equips teachers and parents with sufficient data to improve a child’s performance by finding gaps, weaknesses and strengths.
“But looking at the size of a normal classroom, the actual implementation seemed extremely difficult and would have required greater efforts from the teachers instead of simplifying their lives. We also did a market study with 30,000 students across 4 cities across tiers to understand the gaps. Therein, we observed that parents are not in the loop, when it comes to classroom teaching,” says Singh.
According to him, the turnout of parents for PTMs is a mere 15-20 per cent and this needed to be fixed. “So we decided to build a product that brings together all actors of education – parents, students, teachers and school administration. Eckovation not only helps connect parents with teachers and students while safeguarding everyone’s privacy, it also connects students to teachers who are willing to transfer knowledge beyond their classrooms.”
Singh says the major challenge they faced was dependence of teachers on WhatsApp. “Although teachers wanted students to join their classroom-learning group, they were wary of their phone numbers falling in the hands of strangers. At the same time, teachers had to block students and parents because sometimes they did not want them to disturb them beyond office hours.”
Though the dependence on WhatsApp was a challenge but its limitations were also an opportunity for Singh and Goel. “For instance – size limit of 100 members in a group, privacy concerns, no control over conversation for teachers, so on and so forth. All of this has been taken care of in Eckovation app plus a lot more features are there to ensure education-focused communication. We are also introducing document transfer on the app. The app, by design, is very light and uses minimal Internet on your phone,” says Singh.
Eckovation allows teachers, parents and students to interact freely and effectively while safeguarding privacy. Except the teacher, it does not allow anyone to see anyone else’s mobile number in the group. “Moreover, we also observed that teachers are not very comfortable in being active 24×7 on the app and rightly so. So they can easily change the mode of the app from two-way to one-way thereby disallowing anyone else but themselves from posting on the group. It ensures that teachers only interact when they want to and have the time to do so.”
Also, Eckovation allows open learning by enabling teachers who are willing to share their group code outside of classrooms. “There are 400 such teachers active on the platform. Through this, students who may not have access to quality teachers can take lessons and clarify doubts from accomplished and experienced teachers who are willing to help in their free time.”
The ‘Open School Programme’ plans to bring 1 billion users on the platform by 2020. So how does a child gain from this facility? “A child has many questions. To make sure that he lives up to his or her potential, it is very important that all questions are responded to with appropriate answers. This is what Eckovation does. Students request their teachers to be available for 15-20 minutes after school on the app and teachers are happily doing it.
“On the open school platform, most of the teachers are available throughout the day. Students from all sorts of educational and demographic backgrounds have joined the open school groups and they learn.” The duo has raised money for their startup through a seed-funding round. The teachers on the open school platform have to register themselves before joining. Once they join, a small background check is conducted and after an interview with the experts on the subject, they are introduced to the students.