This startup is creating rural micro-entrepreneurs and helping rural children speak English
Krishworks helps rural entrepreneurs set up after-school English learning centres for kids in rural areas using tabled-based solution.
Despite having a Master’s degree, Sumon Mondol worked as a hawker in trains selling books. Becoming an entrepreneur was his dream, but he did not know where to start. A chance encounter with Subhajit Roy, the Co-founder of Krishworks, helped Sumon realise his dream.
Kolkata-based Krishworks, founded by Subhajit Roy (32) and Gargi Mazumdar (26) in 2015, helps rural entrepreneurs set up after-school English activity centres for primary school children through a tablet-based software.
Sumon says Krishworks helped him to set up a smart village education centre in his village Piali in West Bengal. Sumon, who is currently teaching English to the children in his village, says the children not only speak English, but have “become loud and confident enough” to even perform on stage.
This, Subhajit explains, was the dual aim of his startup - to not only educate children in rural villages but also to provide livelihood opportunities to the youth.
“We wanted to create micro-entrepreneurs who would teach English to village children using our technology. We have a lot of educated youth in our country, but they lack confidence, skills and fluency. A robust training aided with technology can upskill them. This will not only benefit the students, but will also help these youth to earn more,” he says.
In just over a year, the startup says it has opened 14 centres across West Bengal, where nearly 600 rural students are being educated in spoken English. Further, eight village schools across the state have adopted its curriculum, which they claim will impact over a thousand students from the next academic year.
The startup has been incubated at IIM Calcutta, Sigma IKP Eden and the Indian School of Business DLABS, Hyderabad, and is presently financially supported by IIM Ahmedabad and Tata Trusts Social Alpha. It has also been recognised by the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Bengal Chambers of Commerce as one of the rising startups from Eastern India.
In 2014, Subhajit and Gargi had decided to compete in the Global Learning XPRIZE competition to promote learning using technology. Calling themselves Team Krishna, they were a 25 member team who worked on this project for free of cost, while continuing their jobs in various firms.
The team had to develop a game based on open-source software that worked on tablets, without internet connectivity. These games would be deployed in Tanzania to help local school children learn without teachers. Team Krishna designed ‘Gurukul,’ a tablet-based software, which can help less privileged children to self-learn reading, writing, and mathematics without any help. The team was shortlisted and was among the top 30 teams globally.
After the competition, the founder duo decided to quit their full-time job and create an enterprise version of the software to benefit underprivileged students across India. They were joined by their fellow teammates Kaushik Mazumdar (32) and Balagopal KV (26).
All of them come with varied work experience — Subhajit worked in the field of Embedded Computing and was part of various DRDO projects. Gargi was previously employed at Cognizant and was a teacher at NGOs such as ChildLine, Schools On Wheels, and Outreach. Kaushik had made numerous open source contributions for Godot game engine, while Balagopal previously headed the e-Cell at NITK Surathkal.
Initially, Krishworks conducted a pilot in low-budget NGO run-schools in the Sundarban area where it was found that teachers earned a mere Rs 1,200 per month.
“Almost all the teachers were taking tuitions for the same children. We also realised that though the parents were sending their children to school for free, they were ready to spend on tuition and provide extra academic support to the kids,” Subhajit recalls.
The team initially started working out of a budget cafe in Kolkata to build over the project work. Here, they met Gaurav Kapoor, the Head of INVENT programme for IIM Calcutta Innovation Park, who advised them “to do something for the children in rural areas and create micro-entrepreneurs in the process.”
From Maths to English
In early days, the team faced monetary challenges. While the villagers liked their product, no one was willing to pay to use the tablet.
“We knew the government had earlier tried distributing AKASH tablets, an Android-based tablet promoted by the Centre as part of an e-learning programme. We went to schools and saw the tablets were unused. We were informed that they lacked MultiMediaCard, didn’t have proper power backup and faced other technical problems. We also realised the teachers didn’t feel the need to use them in classrooms,” Subhajit explains.
The team realised that even though parents didn’t want to pay for maths, they could do anything to make children speak in English.
“Today, English is needed everywhere. For filling up forms, using computers, and for official purposes, to name a few. Every industry is trying to automate their processes and they use English. This poses a huge barrier in villages where there are no adequate options to enhance English language skills,” says Balagopal, Co-founder of Krishworks.
Hence the team changed course and conducted a second pilot, this time with English teaching content. The results were encouraging. The parents were now willing to pay for this service.
While there are other organisations like Hippocampus Learning Centre, Meghshala, and Byju’s among others who provide similar tablet-based learning model to children, Subhajit says his competitors are rural tuition teachers.
“Our other competitors are companies like Coca Cola, because people in villages are willing to spend to buy a bottle of the soft drink than spend money on education,” Subhajit says.
The Krishworks model
Krishworks has created multiple rural micro-entrepreneurs who have to invest an initial amount of Rs 20,000 for a tablet that comes loaded with content and games. The individual then runs an after-school English activity centre using the tablet and other study materials. The children can enroll for a monthly fee of Rs 200 and each centre can host a maximum of 192 children.
Krishworks’ interactive software works as an interface between the teacher and student through ‘gamified’ content, where the teacher plays the role of a facilitator. The classes are conducted for three days a week, one hour each day. The courses are defined into 12 levels, with each level spanning to around six to nine months. The classroom consists of a set of interconnected tablets, which contains daily lesson plans, action activities, interactions in audio/video format.
After conducting pilot projects in 17 villages for over 400 children in West Bengal, Telangana and Karnataka, the startup set up two tech-enabled after-school English activity centers in December 2017 in two villages in West Bengal — Jiban Mandal Haat and Piali. This was met with huge success, and like they say, the rest is history.
Krishworks plans to open 50 centres in rural West Bengal by next year. The goal, Subhajit says, is to impact 10 million children in the next seven years. They are presently raising finances through crowdfunding, to help micro-entrepreneurs raise seed money required to open the centres.
“Our aim is to use technology to make quality education accessible to the masses. We want to reach every nook and corner of our country to ensure that every child is given the right to fulfil his/her dream. They shouldn’t be deprived of educational opportunities just because they are poor or far away from the city,” he says.