While we aren’t close to the dystopian future that Pink Floyd imagined, where students echoed – “We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control…” – in unison and went on a rampage, the current education system is far from perfect. There’s a saying that once you are bitten by the entrepreneurial bug that itch never leaves. Advitiya Sharma, Co-founder of Housing.com, recently spoke to YourStory about his intentions to ‘make a dent’ in the edtech space with his new startup – Genius Teacher.
After resigning from Housing.com in March 2016, Advitiya took a hiatus to visit his friends and family. He then spent about 10 days in Vipassana (deep meditation and silence). It was on the fifth day that he had strong recollections from his childhood and the time that he spent with his parents and grandparents in Jammu. His grandfather, a Sahitya Akademi Award winner, was a writer and poet. His poems would be aired on Doordarshan, and many plays were made on his stories.
Related read from September 2014: Behind the scenes: what makes an entrepreneur? Advitiya Sharma’s story
One particular memory about his grandfather stood out for Advitiya. He said,
My grandpa used to tell me to only do the things we love and are passionate about. When times were difficult financially he would also take up teaching. In my innocence, I had asked him why he was teaching students instead of writing poems and plays, doing what he loved.
His grandfather smiled and replied, “You will understand one day.” and gave him a gentle pat.
As a tribute to his grandfather, Advitiya decided to work on an edtech startup to make the lives of teachers easier and create ‘micro-entrepreneurs’. He said, “Currently teachers are not given the respect they deserve in the society. With technology, I want to help improve the situation for parents, students, and teachers.”
Based on his personal experience and market research, Advitiya sees a lot of glaring problems in the education space. He said,
Schools currently teach through a one-size-fits-all approach. The smart students who are able to grasp quickly get bored easily, while the slower learners feel anxious when they don’t understand something.
So Advitiya’s opines that in both cases students are ‘mentally disconnecting’ from their class and it is difficult for teachers to assess students interest levels constantly.
While Advitiya admits that modern technology has made it easier for students to learn at their own pace through video or audio content, they cannot replace teachers. He said, “While platforms like Coursera and Khan Academy provide good platforms for learning, the number of students who actually complete a particular course are very low(below 13 percent). The dropout rate after the first few lectures is alarmingly high.”
Advitiya believes that education and learning at their core need to be pro-active and also leverage technology. So after market research and running a few pilot programmes, he believes he has found the solution in Genius Teacher, which has taken inspiration from and is a cross between AltSchool and the montessori methodology of learning.
With Genius Teacher, Advitiya aims to create an ‘adaptive learning’ environment by leveraging modern day technology and connecting students and teachers at the hyperlocal level. Operating through a marketplace model, Advitiya and his team aim to train teachers that sign up with them about the best practices and how to keep students engaged.
Image credit- Genius Teacher
Advitiya added that by leveraging the principles of neuroscience and big data on smartphones and tablets, their Genius Learning Technology will be able to record different interactions in the classroom, and learn from it to provide students with an adaptive learning experience.
So Genius Teacher is currently focussing on providing ‘after-school’ training for students from third to fifth grade. They aim to start with a batch size of five to eight students and then scale up to 25 students per batch for every teacher. Their website estimates that teachers will be able to earn up to Rs 80,000 a month through their platform from the comfort of their homes.
So far Advitiya adds that they have seen great response from their pilot runs and have got over a thousand sign ups from teachers who wish to work with them. After a screening process and a five-day workshop, selected teachers will be given access to the platform and the proprietary technology to start training students.
Talking about the team, Advitiya added that the startup consists of techies from India and also some from Silicon Valley, but some of them haven’t joined full time yet as they are currently serving notice periods.
Image credit- Genius Teacher
Advitiya estimates that they will roll out the platform to the public around June 2016 when schools across India re-open. Talking about their strategy, he said,
We have created mini-heat maps of potentially great markets and will start with top five cities first. Based on the student data we collect, we will be able to create knowledge graphs, which teachers (and students) can leverage.
Advitiya also confirmed that the startup is currently bootstrapped. He said, “Because of my past work at Housing and the relationships I have built, a few VCs had offered to back Genius Teacher, but I politely declined as I wanted to prove myself and the business to them first before taking the next step.”