[Startup Bharat] Meet edtech startups that are taking quality education to non-metro cities across India
India’s small towns and cities harbour big dreams and ambitions. But often, students from these cities are at a disadvantage as they don’t have access to the quality education their counterparts in metros do. How will experimentation and innovation flourish if students can’t build on a solid foundation of learning?
Students in the metros gain from big players like Byju's, Khan Academy, and AlmaMapper, but those in Tier II, III, and IV towns are often forced to migrate to educational hubs, including Kota and Hyderabad, or Tier I cities for their education.
Enter these few edtech startups that are focusing on non-metro cities to make top-class education and training available.
International Public School for Rural Innovation
The character of Phunsukh Wangdu in blockbuster film 3 Idiots was inspired by Ladakh's Sonam Wangchuk. Inspired by India's missile man APJ Abdul Kalamand Sonam, Anil Pradhan, 23, started a similar school in Odisha.
The Odisha boy’s encounter with the gap between the education system in villages and cities led him to leave good job offers and start International Public School for Rural Innovation (IPSFRI). IPSRI, situated in Baral village of Odisha, is an innovation school for students of classes nursery to 6. IPSFRI follows the same syllabus and curriculum as the Board of Secondary Education in Odisha, but employs technology and innovation in the simplest of topics.
The teachers mostly focus on skill development and STEM education, and use a 3D printer to teach subjects like geometry. IPSFRI's innovation room has laser cutters, drill machines, cutting machines, wood cutters, and all kind of small tools that children can use.
“STEM education is popular in cities and urban parents can afford it for their children. By starting up in IPSFRI in the villages, we are not only ensuring quality education there but also introducing STEM education," said Anil in a previous conversation with YourStory.
The students, besides studying regular languages, are involved in activities where they build something new out of broken things, including monitors and refrigerators. Students also participate in sessions on meditation, yoga, and Swachh Bharat programme.
IPSFRI doesn't charge any kind of tuition fee from the students. Schooling is free for students with a BPL or Ration Card. Anil charges a minimal amount for the materials from students who come from a little-better-off families.
The school runs on donations, and individuals can sponsor the education of children. Machines are sponsored by companies such as Kempii.
Anil soon wants to launch an 'Innovation School on Wheels', which is now in the prototype phase. It will be a bus with the innovation room, and Anil plans to take it to remotely located schools across Odisha.
An IIT graduate, a former police commissioner, a Wharton alumnus, a former McKinsey consultant, and vice president at New Silk Route Private Equity. Rajan Singh is all this and more. Rajan founded ConceptOwl, a teacherless, online-in-classroom education platform, in 2016, in Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram. ConceptOwl provides affordable science coaching programmes to help students across Tier II and III cities prepare for entrance exams.
“Students in these areas lack quality coaching and lakhs are forced to migrate to cities like Kota or Hyderabad,” said Rajan in a previous conversation with YourStory.
ConceptOwl currently offers coaching in physics, chemistry, biology and math. The coaching programmes are available at Rs 20,000 per year for classes 7 to 10 and at Rs 30,000 for classes 11and 12.
In a ConceptOwl class, the teacher is replaced by a facilitator or manager, who manages the teaching as per a script designed by the startup.
According to the founder, the startup has revenue of Rs 2 crore and has raised Rs 3.5 crore since inception. The principal investor is SunTec Business Solutions.
After testing the model in two locations, ConceptOwl is now rolling out the programme in 15 schools in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Alleppey, taking around 700 students on-board.
Rajan aims to reach 100 locations by the end of this year, and is focusing on South India (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh). The team is also building programmes in Hindi and other regional languages to penetrate into Tier II and III towns and cities, providing them with the same quality learning options as students in metro cities.
ConceptOwl recently won the Seeding Kerala investor event, held in Kochi, and will soon attend a Silicon Valley investor event.
If you thought Tare Zameen Par’s Ram Shankar Nikumbh only exists in movies, you have not met Dinesh Badagandi.
Dinesh, the Founder of Bengaluru-based Varnaaz Technologies, started an initiative with the same name as the movie: TareZameenPar (TZP). What does it aim to do? Dinesh wants to bring the stars closer to children in Karnataka’s rural areas.
TZP has built a mobile planetarium with customised inflatable domes, inside which students settle down to watch the wonder of the cosmos - just like in regular planetariums. TZP’s six mobile planetariums have conducted thousands of shows for over 3 lakh students across Karnataka and are working out to reach more students across states.
The mobile planetariums come with a genset, two inflatable domes, a GPS, a solar-powered UPS, special projectors, portable air conditioners, software and trained personnel.
Born in a middle-class family in Karnataka, Dinesh realised the gap between rural and urban students at even the school level and decided to help bridge this gap. He feels students in the rural areas often do not understand scientific concepts due to the lack of hands-on-experience.
"They don't think of getting admission into IIT; the ITI is their limit. I have always wanted to change that," said Dinesh in a previous conversation with YourStory.
TZP offers a one-day lab-on-wheels (planetarium on wheels) programme where students get to watch short films on the basics of astronomy, demonstrations of experiments to understand the concepts of refraction and reflection, and learn about solar energy and its applications.
"Practical experiments let them understand concepts better than their textbooks. We also tell them about career options they can explore after school,” Dinesh said.
TZP offers 60 shows, many of which are approved by the Department of State Education Research and Training. TZP sources its content from Evans and Sutherland, a world leader in digital planetariums, and dubs it into Kannada to help children in rural areas understand. The startup keeps adding to the list, and the cost of the programme is around Rs 100 per student.
Founded in January 2014, Testbook helps students from Tier II, III, and IV cities to crack government job exams. The Mumbai-based educational platform was founded by IIT graduates Ashutosh Kumar, Narendra Agarwal, Abhishek Sagar, Manoj Munna, Praveen Agrawal and Yadvendar Champawat.
Testbook, which started operations in Patna and Bhagalpur, now has 11 centres across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, and Rajasthan. The startup offer online test series and mock exams for banking, insurance, SSC, railway, engineering, teaching, defence, and police.
The team has partnered with 200 coaching institutes to integrate Testbook online tests with their curriculum. It has also partnered with 220 cyber cafes across cities, and created Testbook-branded computer labs to provide students with practice papers in a real-exam environment.
The company has more than 6 million registered users and their Android application has over 8 million installations. In a previous conversation with YourStory, Ashutosh said, “More than one lakh tests are being solved on our platform on a daily basis. Apart from this, thousands of users are watching our video lectures for concept building.”
While most edtech startups are trying to replace the traditional methods of teaching with modern equipment and, ultimately, replace the teacher, GuruG is empowering teachers. The Bengaluru-based edtech startup, founded in 2013, has an Android application that helps teachers discover curriculum-aligned teaching ideas, generate lesson plans, and get analysis on student learning.
GuruG’s three-member founding team includes Amruth BR, Anand Joshi, and Shivananda Salgame.
The team believes that “unless the teacher is empowered, we will not be able to improve the quality of education”.
In 2014, Team GuruG used to reach out to students of government schools in forest areas, including Bandipur, Mudumalai, and Kanha, among others. Through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative, the team worked with NGOs to enable teachers of these schools to use the platform.
Besides using the in-built curriculum, teachers can build their own curriculum-aligned lesson plans.
“Most service providers are looking at the way they can deliver content in classroom. But our idea was about how you deliver the content,” Shivananda says.
GuruG focuses on the process and methodology of teaching, while conforming to existing principles and factors. In the pilot stage, the team rolled out content in five languages: Kannada, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, and English. Today, all Indian languages can be accommodated in the application.
“English and technology are not linked. We wanted to create an application that could work in any place, by anybody, and in any condition, with least support from the provider or technology creator,” Shivananda says.
The application works without the internet and on any Android device. GuruG is also integrated with Diksha, the National Teacher Platform. With this, the application will be available to millions of teachers, from the 2019 academic year.
According to Shivananda, over 75,000 teachers are already using GuruG.
Most of the startup’s engagements are on a B2B model. They also work with large publishers, including Pearson, on a project-to-project basis.
In the near future, GuruG is keen to “build more futuristic technologies that will make teaching and learning more personalised”. “We will invest our time and effort in that,” Shivananda says.