With 13.5M new students and counting, Byju’s co-founder Divya Gokulnath says online learning has become the new normal
Byju’s, one of the country’s leading edtech platforms has seen a meteoric rise in users during the lockdown. In just the first two months of the lockdown - March and April - it recorded over 13.5 million new students who are using the platform to learn.
Since the breakout of the coronavirus and the announcement of the lockdown, edtech platforms have reported growth despite recession-like conditions for most sectors and businesses. After the schools shut down, UNESCO estimates that the lockdown has affected over 32 crore students in India. To help affected students, Byju’s, founded by Byju Raveendran and Divya Gokulnath offered all its content free of cost and introduced live classes.
Divya Gokulnath, the co-founder and a teacher on the platform tells HerStory, “In March we saw over 6 million new students accessing the app and over 7.5 million new students in April. This shows that with schools continuing to be shut and all other learning sources unavailable, digital adoption has increased significantly during this time.”
Divya Gokulnath counts herself as a teacher first, as revealed in an earlier interview with HerStory.
After completing her engineering degree in Biotechnology from RV College in Bengaluru, Divya was preparing for her GRE to go study in the US and joined Byju Raveendran’s classes as his student. While waiting for the tests, Byju asked her to teach a class.
“I was 21, wore a saree, and took a class for students just four years younger to me on easy hacks to get through campus recruitment. I took many classes in Mathematics, English, and Reasoning and realised my happiness lay in teaching. By that time, my results were also published, and I cracked a few universities in the US, but I decided to change course, and stay back,” Divya said.
She was among the core eight people along with Byju who took physical classes and then pivoted to online learning in 2011 through V-Sat. In 2015, they launched the app and became the most renowned edtech startup in the country. The $10 billion startup has also entered the US market.
From being a student to a teacher, and now the director of Byju’s, Divya reflects on the rise of online education, the effects of the lockdown and the future of edtech.
Rise in online education
Students from classes 4-12 can access lessons from Byju’s teachers for free, attend live classes and make use of practice tests on the app to strengthen their concepts. The learning app recently ranked amongst the top 10 most downloaded education apps on Google Play Store. It also features on UNESCO’s curated list of credible educational applications as well as CBSE’s list of online mediums for students to continue learning during these uncertain times.
Speaking about the their efforts to help children continue learning during lockdown with YourStory CEO Shradha Sharma in the show Money Matters, Divya said,
“What we realised when the lockdown happened, and the children were out of school is that they were missing this schedule and regularity of learning and that is what live classes offer. Students are able to come periodically, attend classes and have access to great teachers - something they are missing especially now because of the lockdown. And all the teams at Byju’s, right from teachers, to the mentors, to the content, tech, R&D - everybody has stepped up. Even though we are working from home for the first time, we are all apart but still together. Somehow, everybody is making this happen.”
Divya notes that earlier students used to spend two-three days in a week on the platform. However, the current scenario has led students to completely depend on online learning, which means students are using the platform every day. Online learning is becoming the ‘new normal’, with edtech platforms in the spotlight.
Divya shares the experience of Noor Alam, a class 10 student who is using Byju’s live classes to prepare for his board exams that have been rescheduled. Like Noor Alam, many more students are using the platform to keep up with their studies and continue learning activities during the lockdown.
Divya believes regular online learning is initiating behavioural shifts in stakeholders including parents and teachers.
“They always had doubts about how their child would learn from a mobile phone but now, as they are seeing it happen in real time, they are becoming more open to the idea of learning digitally. Teachers on the other hand, have also become digitally empowered,” she adds.
Teachers have also taken to online learning even if they were hesitant in the beginning as other means are not available. With more children taking up online learning, Byju’s is planning to implement more products to enable students make use of uninterrupted learning experiences.
Blended model of education
India is currently among the top 10 countries affected by coronavirus. The curve of infections still has not reached its peak and infections are on the rise each day. This effectively delays schools and educational institutes from reopening anytime soon.
Divya feels the current circumstances of physical distancing and self-isolation have led to the sudden rise in adoption of online learning.
“At present, the society at large - schools, teachers, parents, and policy makers are turning to online learning to fight this crisis situation. However, it is more of a reactive measure,” she says. She adds that this leads students to experience a suboptimal online learning experience as the only thing that is changing is their delivery model from offline to online.
However, Divya says that online learning is not just about offline education delivered online. It is about creating a truly personalised learning experience and utilising technology to its fullest possible extent, which she feels is still a big challenge.
“The biggest advantage of edtech solutions like ours is that ‘engagement’ is a part of our core design. The traditional classroom has a teacher at the centre with students learning in a group through conventional methods. Online learning, when done right, flips this model and puts the student at the center,” says Divya.
Post the lockdown, Divya envisions a blended model of learning where offline education is supplemented by online learning.
The classroom of tomorrow
A teacher herself, Divya feels that future classrooms will have technology at its core and enable students to turn from passive to active learning. Traditional “one-to-many” approach will be replaced with blended one-on-one learning experiences, which will provide students with the best of physical and digital worlds.
“Edtech platforms like Byju’s will become a student’s reliable after-school learning companion. By providing enhanced conceptual understanding and a personalised, self-paced learning experience, edtech platforms will allow students to strengthen their learnings at school, from the comfort of their homes. With ‘engagement’ at the core of their design, edtech platforms will be able to provide students with a unique space where teacher-led content is delivered on a student-led platform. With the use of game-design principles, animations, interactive quizzes and tests, the whole learning experience will be enhanced, and the true power of technology will be realised,” says Divya.
Access to education
Divya has been part of content creation and classes since the inception of the platform in 2011. Since the lockdown, Divya, like all employees, has been teaching from home - turning her bedroom into a studio, complete with an acoustic screen, a camera, a tripod and a workstation. She even rehearses lessons with her six-year-old son.
With work shifting home and classes going online, many people have been disadvantaged because of lack of resources like smartphones, language or steady internet access. To overcome the language barrier, Byju’s is working to create learning programmes in vernacular languages.
Speaking about the access to education, Divya says, while the digital divide is still a challenge, the inequities and disparities that exist in the physical world are a much bigger hurdle to solve.
“Just a small section of students actually has access to good schools and teachers while the majority do not. Our best chance to solve this at scale is by using technology as an enabler using smartphones as a distribution medium, so that high quality content is accessible to students across different geographies.”
Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan