Classroom education in India is evolving fast. It is no longer as poky as it used to be in the textbook-and-blackboard days. Technology has found a firm footing in the wake of the Corona crisis, and many students and teachers have embraced edtech platforms and online classes, tutorials and test prep sessions as the culmination of new-age education. But these are mostly supplementary and have not made a holistic improvement in the quality of learning. More importantly, can edtech give mainstream learning a boost when youngsters go back to school?
“On an average, students spend six hours in school. If you have to make a transformative impact in the education system, spending an hour on an edtech platform can’t solve the core challenge,” said Sumeet Mehta, cofounder and CEO of LEAD. The Mumbai-based edtech platform has been working for nearly a decade to upgrade the learning ecosystem.
Mehta’s concerns are genuine enough, going by the findings of the Pratham Foundation. In its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the NGO revealed that only 44.2% of standard V students could read standard II-level text. Worse still, around 20% of children regularly drop out from school before reaching the 12th standard, a report by Unified District Information System for Education Plus says.
In simple terms, rote learning, less-than-adequate tech infra for enhancing learning methods and few refresher courses have deepened the gaps in students’ learning and teachers’ upskilling.
A Lookback At The Long Road
Mehta’s vision for building the right school ecosystem for imparting quality education stemmed from his own experiences and a desire to offer better education for every student in small-towns. It was not exactly a blue ribbon institution, but his father was a teacher by profession, and the son got all the help he needed. However, when he came to a tier I city for a degree in electrical engineering, the knowledge gap hit him hard.
“Your place of birth should not determine the quality of your education. But that’s the ground reality in India. Smaller towns did not have the premium teaching-learning system enjoyed by the private schools in metros. And I wanted to change that,” he said. (Interestingly, Mehta did his MBA in marketing from IIM-Ahmedabad, one of the top B-schools in India.)
His passion for transforming the ecosystem to meet the aspirational needs of the young kept pushing Mehta. So much so that after working for Procter & Gamble’s Singapore office for seven years as a brand manager, he decided to come home and work towards his goal. In 2012, he and his wife Smita Deorah (COO) set up LEAD’s first school in Areri, 35 kilometres from Gujarat’s capital Ahmedabad, with just 14 students on day one.
This was the couple’s ground zero for putting together years of research into learning models and building a system in sync with the Indian context to deliver results.
It took another five years to fine-tune the system and tie up the loose ends. But in 2017, LEAD was ready to operate as an integrated B2B SaaS platform, digitising school curriculums, revitalising teaching and assessment processes and setting up connected solutions for all stakeholders — students, teachers and parents.
Asked why the duo moved away from the brick-and-mortar school model to implement the solution, Mehta cited scale as the key reason. “If you have a tech solution, you can reach out to many more schools and impact more students. But that is not possible if you are running individual schools,” he said.
How LEAD Overhauls Schools From Ground Up
LEAD has launched a mobile application and a web portal for easy access and implementation of its subscription-based service suite and has role-specific interfaces in place. According to Mehta, building a comprehensive system involving all stakeholders was necessary to ensure that the company’s proprietary digital curriculum, co-developed with educationists, pedagogist and other experts, was properly implemented.
LEAD’s curriculum is based on the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) syllabus, followed by the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) and many state education boards across India. But the differentiation lies in the learning method.
Building the foundation via language & courses: A look at the language of instruction underlines it further. Unlike traditional schools, LEAD has adopted what is widely practised in real life, and its courses are only available in two languages — English and Hinglish. The latter is an ingenious mix of Hindi and English spoken in most Northern Indian homes and schools. LEAD has introduced it keeping in mind that study materials provided in everyday language keep children engaged, while the formal English language courses will boost their language skills. There are just six subject matters, which are broad in scope and cover almost everything essential. These include English, Mathematics, Coding, Social Science, Environmental Studies and Hindi.
Assessment for right-level learning: Here’s a tech-driven ingenious solution to gauge a learner’s depth. Each concept featured in the curriculum contains learning indicators or algorithm-powered metrics to assess a student after every lesson. Based on the outcome, teachers are able to track the learning gaps and reorient their instructions for desired performance.
Gauging the creative strength: Finally, there is creativity assessment for all-round development. As creativity is an observable trait that cannot be directly measured, LEAD’s digital curriculum breaks it into several rubrics that include originality, independence and presentation of ideas. Every creative task or project is evaluated against these rubrics to assess a student better and help them where they lag.
The company is currently working with more than 2,000 schools and claims dramatic improvement in students’ performances. Consider this. When LEAD onboards a school, around 29% of the students are above 70% mastery of their level-specific courses. But within 6-12 months, more than 70% of the students will reach that level.
Collaboration Is The Magic Bullet
One of the key players in the School Edtech category, LEAD contains three interfaces, and each is designed for a specific stakeholder — student/parent, teacher and the institution itself.
App for students and parents: LEAD has developed a secure app to provide digital access to every student. This one comes loaded with various tools for visual learning, practice modules and reference texts.
At the time of onboarding, each student is asked to take a baseline assessment of the English language via this app. As English is the primary medium of instruction at LEAD, the company mandates this test before children can join regular lessons.
Next comes peer-grouping based on right-level learning. Instead of conducting traditional classes, LEAD splits the students into level-based cohorts where everyone is at the same difficulty level. It helps teachers develop custom modules to teach specific groups and help them catch up with mainstream students.
Students are also given regular homework, assignments and group projects for assessing their progress and monitoring their learning gaps. When these tasks are completed, one has to take a snapshot of the page/pages and upload the same on the app. LEAD uses a text recognition algorithm so that students can upload images of their handwritten homework snapped via any basic phone, and it can analyse and match it against the set responses. At present, LEAD is helping more than 800K students improve their learning outcomes on its platform.
Furthermore, the app regularly updates parents regarding their children’s progress, strengths and weaknesses to ensure more transparency and collaborative measures for higher academic achievements.
The teacher’s app: According to Mehta, critical reasons are leading to the widening academic gaps in India. To start with, continuous upskilling of teachers or the use of the latest teaching tools and methods has never become the central theme of the country’s education system. The dearth of skilled teachers beyond Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities also add to this woe, leading to the poor quality of classroom teaching.
Keen to address this growing pain point, LEAD has developed a well-equipped teacher’s app with ready-to-use lesson plans that sync with all partner schools. Besides, it comes with an automated assessment mechanism powered by artificial intelligence that also updates homework/assignment submission status and generates detailed assessment reports.
The app features various workshops where teachers can improve their skills. Plus, it has a knowledge database that keeps one updated about latest learning techniques. Teachers on LEAD can also connect via the app, share new ideas and solve problems collaboratively. Every teacher onboarded by the school edtech firm gets a tablet specifically designed for this, and the same can be used to impart multimodal lessons and work on professional upgrades. At present, this platform hosts more than 10K teachers from LEAD’s partner schools.
Academic ERP for institutions: The company’s enterprise resource planning software integrated with every school admin system. Using this, principals and administrators can create academic calendars, manage timetables and store individual assessment records of all students. LEAD has a 24×7 support team to help students, teachers and administrators.
LEAD’s Vision: #TechForPurpose
Unlike other edtech companies that primarily focus on user generation or platform engagement, LEAD’s USP is all about establishing a new and improved way of learning through custom curricular content, personalised learning modules and tech-driven assessment systems for greater utilisation of resources and better outcomes.
“While building our platform, we came up with the concept of Tech For Purpose. We believe that tech is a means to an end, where the end is better learning outcomes. Today, a lot of B2C-focussed edtech companies are platform-centric and focus more on bringing new students to the platform and keeping them active instead of focussing on improving them,” said Mehta.
However, LEAD has adopted a B2B model, which means it has to focus on learning outcomes (and thus bring value to partner schools) instead of platform engagement. The company also believes that its output will help it create brand awareness organically without spending huge amounts on promotional campaigns.
Its views are not without merit. According to Inc42’s edtech report, word-of-mouth promotion remains the biggest driver of a platform’s adoption in the Indian edtech sector.
LEAD’s long-term aspirations include big growth, though, reaching 60K schools and 25 Mn students by 2026. In line with Mehta and Deorah’s vision when they started the project, LEAD wants to build a 250 Mn-strong student base in India as part of its sustainable school edtech ecosystem.
Other players in the space include Singapore-based XSEED Education and Noida-based Next Education.
While, enterprise edtech reshaping classroom teaching at the grassroots is still a niche segment, there is a massive opportunity as players here will be tapping into a large addressable market. According to LEAD, school edtech’s addressable market size is valued at $15 Bn, creating a potential for a much larger scale of impact.
In the near term, the key drivers for adoption in this segment will be determined by the development of a connected learning ecosystem, value creation for both students and teachers and democratisation of classroom learning irrespective of where one goes to school. All that is needed is self-reflection and a disruptive deep dive for a new type of report card.