Manit Parikh, Country Head, ELSA Corp.

ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant) is an AI-powered app for the 1.5 billion language learners in the world to learn to speak English more fluently, thereby changing their careers and lives. To support and encourage students to utilize this valuable time during the lockdown period, ELSA Corp announced free ELSA PRO accounts for all students from 3rd to 12th class and college students. “ELSA app downloads and sign-ups have doubled since last one month. We have also announced a subscription grant worth of Rs. 52 crores for students in India for next three months,” says Manit Parikh, Country Head, ELSA Corp. In an email interaction with Higher Education Digest, Manit shares his views on the current status of online learning in India, common misconceptions of Indian students and parents towards eLearning platforms and many more. Here are the excerpts.

 

How is ELSA Corp responding to nationwide lockdown and school closures?

With the lockdown and schools being shut, a lot of institutions and schools have realized that the lockdown can extend for a few weeks more, which may hamper classes of Kids especially their semesters. Hence, looking at the current scenario, a lot of schools have come up with video learning techniques, which has benefitted many companies like ELSA which are into the online education field.

Teachers have realized that a lot of students who are at home and not being taught are not doing their homework properly. They wanted to incorporate learning with some gamification that is where ELSA has worked well. A lot of schools are now using ELSA for online learning and for giving online homework/assignments to the students through our digitized app.

The student after their classes can log in to our ELSA App and do their homework, practise their reading, speaking and listening skills. The moment they submit their assignments the teachers gets a notification about their submission and the real-time notification pops up. Based on that, the teacher would be able to bifurcate different students as per their capability and assign them homework accordingly.

Looking from that perspective, ELSA has benefitted. The app downloads and sign-ups have doubled since last one month. ELSA has also announced a subscription grant worth of 52 crores for students in India for the next three months.

What is the status of online learning in India?

The current state in India is quite nascent. The Private institutes probably have the infrastructure and state because of sufficient capital which can be used for digital learning. However, when it comes to government schools, they are far away from any kind of digitization. Though there are a lot of government initiatives, I think those were not able to provide desired outputs towards digitization. Honestly, I would say that as of now, we are not 100% digitized or even close to 100% when it comes to learning across all spectrums of education.

What are the opportunities ELSA Corp see in the Indian education market? Also, what are the challenges for you to become a major player here?

Challenges we see is the lockdown, of course, we don’t know when the lockdown will be uplifted. We primarily focus on B2B in the market. B2B is a bigger segment for us. B2B is going a bit slow compared to what it was a month back because of the lockdown and people holding on to cash. We see that as a bigger challenge because at the time of the lockdown is lifted there will be a gestational period for a month after which the revenue will double. The advantage we see in India close to 150 crore people that we have as a population and I think 20%-30% of them speak some form of English, that’s a massive population around 45 crores and I think that itself is a pool that we can target. Based on a lot of research and conversations with English experts who talk about how English can be taught or learnt. The first thing these expert’s advice to people who want to learn English is that they should first speak and listen and then listen and speak a lot of words then speak to their colleagues and peers. The grammar part comes very late, and that’s how we realized that there is a lot of opportunities which we can tap, there are many people/ students out there who did not know how to speak English but wanted to learn. Hence, we wanted to position it in a way, that there are modules in the app where people can listen to a lot of words and when you start listening memory starts registering and when it starts registering we start speaking that is where we will correct. With this 45 crores population, we will be tapping into 60% – 70% of the market opening which we can reach out to.

There are many apps in India which focuses on English learning and I believe, maybe one or two focuses on English speaking. In our case, we started as an English-speaking entity as a company and product and now we are venturing into even crowded English learning space. Now, for us, the opportunity is huge because English learning space is a proven market and English speaking is a newer market where people are grasping the idea of differentiating between learning and speaking. We also have B2B users and we are doing quite well there. With the learning market already doing great, COVID-19 has helped us we have given free license, and have we got a lot of users who don’t know how to speak English and that automatically opened up the market for us.

We have other players in the market who don’t venture into what we do and we don’t venture into what they do. After all, they are heavily funded and they are clearing the pass for us for online app-based learning which is making our case study which is proven by other players that app-based learning or speaking makes it a lot easier we don’t have to spend a lot of dollars because other players are already doing that. We just follow them on their track and we just position our products differently because they are more into science, maths, biology and physics learning and content learning, where we are purely into English speaking and that’s where we see a massive opportunity and that should allow us in the next 6 months to a year for English speaking app to become the market leader.

What are common misconceptions Indian students have about online learning programs? What kind of technologies would you recommend schools systems adopt?

Parents have a misconception that if online education comes into existence then the screen time will increase for the kids. Since no technology can replace teachers, which is true to a certain extent. However, this is also a kind of misconception that the Indian parents and students need to get away and it’s going to be blended learning, especially in schools. It is always going to be virtual learning and physical learning, and combining both it will make a powerful learning structure. Virtual learning with the technologies like AI, NLP, and speech assistance and so on will make the teachers to assist the students and allow them to help the students grow faster, better. It will make sure that all students are learning at the same pace.

In class, it all comes in a real-time basis where we need an answer with emotions and not in a monotonous way. There is where the misconception lies that the emotions need to be explained thoroughly.

I believe, today the school system should adopt the following technologies:

  1. Decent high-speed internet
  2. They need to have high-level computer labs
  3. Finally, to incorporate all updates, Schools should adopt key technologies like AI, Speech recognition, NLP and others that are around to help understand the student behaviour analytics. That allows the principal and teachers to make them better and well down.

This is where technology lies.

What are some of the most innovative technologies in Ed-Tech right now? What are the key trends of e-learning to follow in 2020?

AI, NLP, Speech Processing, AR & VR, these 5 are very innovative and are still getting innovated because I think we have only scratched the surface of 5% in many lakhs and we still have 95% to cover. I believe these 5 technologies will be the buzz word and will continue to be the buzz word. It will completely change the way Ed-Tech in the near future. The key and the biggest trends after the lockdown is going to be that each school, each parent and student is going to make sure that an online app for learning or an online infrastructure for learning is there in their institutions. They will never take a chance and according to me, the biggest trend is going to be the adoption of a virtual classroom-based learning and virtual app-based learning in the near future.

What would be the future of Ed-tech market right now? What is some advice that you have for the startups that are emerging in the Ed-tech space?

The Ed-Tech market is quite big. It is growing to get bigger and there are many more points of talking. The kind of innovations happens to the Ed-Tech is going to define which company will survive and which company will not. Off-course, some deep-pocket companies probably have enough money to muscle the smaller players but I think it is just a matter of time because sometimes low operation costs with higher technological innovations with some funding can disrupt the market. It’s a long way for Ed-Tech to go, we are basically at the pinnacle right now.

I would recommend building a sustainable product, focusing on technology and how technology is going to solve the whole problem.

What is your advice to the online learning aspirants?

The aspirants should not get bogged down; they should adopt online learning. As a new variant, it is fun but it’s also critical to not to completely be dependent on online learning. It is a tool to assist you more and more and to make you better when you are in the classroom you are on par with the other kids. So, access and adopt because it’s going to be safe. If you don’t adopt today you will be left behind in the race. Once that is done and you are left behind, tracking it up is quite difficult because right now the time is very fast. My advice is Access, Adopt and Move on.

 

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