Mr. Lavin Mirchandani is the Co-founder of ConnectEd Technologies, which is an edtech social enterprise that specializes in creating tailor-made technologies and deploying large-scale developmental programs that make quality education accessible to government schools and the children studying therein. For the company, he leads Content Development and Finance, which are two critical functions that lead any edtech enterprise towards a sustainable business model. In a situation where the edtech industry in India is plagued by companies that have raised immense capital to achieve scale, but remain largely unviable, Mr. Lavin Mirchandani has been able to leverage his past experience in the finance industry to build a commercially viable business model for the company from the first year of business itself.
India’s public education system at the school level is large, complex and fragmented, with each region having its own, unique State Board of education that teaches children typically belonging to low-income backgrounds through an array of primary, middle and secondary schools that serve education in vernacular Indian languages. While every State Board must adhere to guiding principles set by the Government of India’s education policy, they are free to adopt or adapt the master curriculum laid down by NCERT as per their preferences. Additionally, they are also free to update their respective State Board curriculums as and when they find it necessary.
Socio-economic condition of audiences relying on government schools, coupled with heavy government regulation, limited smartphone ownership and internet usage discouraged most EdTech companies from creating solutions that addressed peculiar needs of India’s vernacular segment. The above situation existed despite 55.04% of all school students in India, amounting to 125.1 million children, being enrolled in vernacular government schools across various State Boards.
Before Covid-19, for the few EdTech social enterprises, such as ConnectEd Technologies, who wished to provide quality education to government schools and their students, efforts relied on securing funds from socially-responsible organizations or governments, and were limited to digitizing government schools with tailor-made e-learning Infrastructure. Within this small community of passionate education and technology enthusiasts, one often wondered when audiences that relied on government schools would open-up to leveraging smartphones and internet connectivity to provide their children with access to quality education through technology.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, educational institutions across India, including government schools, were ordered shut by the government. While audiences associated with private schools soon migrated to an online format of teaching-learning, audiences reliant on government schools suffered dearly. To ease pressure on school students and their parents, the government ordered all boards to reduce the prescribed syllabus and ease examination guidelines. While this move offered relief to all school-related stakeholders, the government knew that this was a temporary solution to a problem that needed to be addressed sustainably.
As a move in that direction, education-related authorities across all levels within the Government started advising and equipping government school teachers to leverage WhatsApp and other such platforms to keep students engaged with educational material created by them. This approach taken by government school teachers, coupled with the realization that private school students had already migrated to learning online, propelled audiences relying on government schools to look at smartphones and computers as devices that could be leveraged to access education.
The shift in mindset happened so quick, and at such a large scale at once, that research conducted by Government of India on the learning preference of government school students during Covid-19 showed that 84% of all students preferred learning using a smartphone, with 17% students preferring to learn using a computer or laptop. Private players such as YouTube reported a nearly 1400% increase in search volume for educational videos in vernacular Indian languages.
As this audience started seeking State Board curriculum-linked vernacular educational content online, they realized there were barely any EdTech players who were catering to their requirement. However, for EdTech social enterprises such as ConnectEd Technologies, this shift in mindset was what we were always waiting for. We leveraged our government relations, bank of vernacular educational content, network with government schools across various locations and on-ground operational capabilities to digitally deliver free vernacular content to under-served audiences associated with government schools.
Response to this model of deployment has been phenomenal across all quarters – not only while government schools were shut, but also once they reopened, as government school teachers started utilizing data from digital delivery of educational content to make interactions during physical classes more meaningful. With these insights, it is safe for us to conclude that the vernacular segment of India’s EdTech industry has just made its presence felt by flipping the switch on online education. The coming months and years are only going to see this segment grow, with over 50% of all school students in India belonging to it.
While conventional EdTech companies are well-versed in capturing private schools and their students, audiences relying on government schools are a whole new ball game due to regulations imposed by the government, socio-economic factors associated with the segment and their preference for state board-linked vernacular content. ConnectEd Technologies foresees EdTech social enterprises, who have a demonstrated experience in partnering with governments, engaging with government schools, bank of vernacular educational content, on-ground operational capabilities and a viable business model having an upper-hand at capturing audiences linked to this segment.
Irrespective of who is able to capitalize on this opportunity, one can be sure that the winner will be government schools and their students as they will finally find themselves to be a segment worth being addressed by EdTech companies in India – a position they should’ve occupied a long time ago.