LEAD founder reveals how technology is reshaping school education in small-town India

In a conversation brimming with insights on Day 3 of TechSparks 2021, Sumeet Mehta, Co-Founder and CEO, LEAD, tells YourStory’s Shradha Sharma how the edtech startup is transforming and democratising school education with disruptive solutions.
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Hands up, if you’ve ever needed to go for ‘tuition’ to supplement your education as a student in India. If you’re like the majority of Indian students, the answer is probably ‘yes’.

One of the key challenges for students in India is the need to take ‘tuitions’ even after being taught at school. Another is the disparity of what small-town schools make available to students and what students from metros get.

Sumeet Mehta also experienced the same as a student, so he co-founded Lead School with Smita Deorah – starting off as a full-fledged school focused on middle school students and then offering an integrated system for schools by helping them digitise the entire curriculum. 

“I have seen the disparity between what small-town schools make available to students and what students from metros get. So actually, what began as personal resentment for me converted into a way of making an impact on this world,” he said at a session on Day 3 of TechSparks 2021, India’s most influential startup-tech conference.

“The way we solved this problem was to first run schools ourselves, figure out the challenges - first-hand, then build an integrated system while running our own schools. Running our own schools would basically get us to just a maximum of 70 schools in our lifetime. However, India has 1.5 million schools.

“We figured that if we truly wanted to make an impact at scale, we needed to take our system to other schools, and improve outcomes for everyone,” he told YourStory Founder Shradha Sharma during a session on ‘Reshaping school education in India through technology’.

LEAD has done this, and with much success. It currently works with more than 2,000 schools and claims to serve more than eight lakhs students across the country with a focus on cities in two, three, and four geographies.

“Saraswathi comes before Lakshmi in education. So if you're able to deliver learning outcomes, commercial success will follow,” he said.

How is LEAD’s offering different?

Sumeet helped us understand how LEAD was different from other edtech players by giving us a context of the landscape: consumer edtech players versus school edtech.

Consumer edtech goes directly to students offering supplementary education, while school edtech solved for the teaching and learning process in a school. 

“If you look within school edtech, there are a lot of people who do piecemeal solutions. Our learning was that these piecemeal solutions don't work because the capacity in the school to integrate them doesn't exist. What we've built is an integrated system for all stakeholders to come on our platform,” he said.

"Integration is the key differentiation. And then under the hood, the work that we have done on curriculum and pedagogy basically means that all the best practices are codified into the system to create a one-stop solution,” he added.

Transforming the classroom experience

Talking about improving how education was traditionally delivered in the classroom by the teacher where significant time is spent in writing on the blackboard and in behaviour management, or single mode, Sumeet said, “When we come into a school, all the classrooms get converted into audio-visual-enabled. So when the teacher is teaching, she's not just giving a lecture, she is doing some activities, she is showing an audio-visual, so learning becomes multimodal.”

“Also, because all students are not adept at listening, we convert the classroom into teacher-led group and independent practice, which is codified. Good learning is parallel. So you teach, you test, you remediate, and then move forward. Otherwise, gaps keep compounding,” he added.

Rethinking our ideas of schools

“You cannot equate a school with the school building. ‘School’ is an experience, and the building is one point of delivery - but it cannot be the only one,” said Sumeet, talking about how the idea of a school is changing post-pandemic.

“Analog, traditional ways are not disruption-proof. Currently, this was a disease-based disruption. Tomorrow, it could be weather-based or even terrorism-based. Technology can play a big role in making schools disruption-free,” he said.

He said LEAD grew 3X during the pandemic, showing a clear shift in schools' openness to adopt technology and innovation.

“We built a bridge programme to cover learning gaps created by the disruption. And in just 12 days, they were able to go back to 65 percent of their grade-level learning,” he said, talking about bridging the back-to-school dynamic post-pandemic.

Increasing adaptability with simplicity 

Talking about increasing adaptability with simplicity, and how tech solution providers have to ensure that they are creating delight and simplicity for the user, Sumeet said, “One thing I've learned is that changing a habit is the hardest thing in the world. Our job is, therefore, to make it ridiculously simple for them to use so there is no reason for them to continue with their status quo.”

“Technology has to drive a lot of personalisation and decision making as far as the child is concerned. So our technology is rooted deeply in data science to ensure that we ensure that even in a mass setting like a one-to-40 classroom, we are able to personalise learning because every child is at a different stage,” he added.

Realising India’s democratic dividend

Sumeet concluded by speaking about the role of education in realising India’s democratic dividend.

“We always talk about demographic dividend. But that demographic dividend is available to only a very small sliver of children who are lucky by the accident of birth and getting born in a metro or a rich family. If we can just democratise it, what will be possible for our country is unimaginable,” he said.

“My hope and dream is that millions of kids can actually demonstrate this kind of learning, which is concrete, and not, you know, fragile, and truly be a part of the new Indian dream,” Sumeet said.


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Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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