Ram Mohan had been running Devki Infonet, a software company, for about 12 years. The company makes e-learning software that links students living in the US and UK with teachers in India. He tried selling this in India but it didn’t work well because of the low penetration of computers.
In class: Mohan spent two years building the software. Vinod Karimatt / Mint
Mohan, 42, decided to turn the challenge of selling e-learning in India into an opportunity. “Providing this software in India to only students who have computers was not a feasible idea. We figured out that the idea has to be community learning,” he says. Community learning, where students would sit together in one classroom and share one screen, would take the pressure off individual students to own computers. The classrooms, which have large TV screens shared by multiple students, are run by franchisees. It costs about Rs 5 lakh to set up a franchisee centre.
Once he firmed up the idea, Mohan got his team of software developers to work on it. There were several challenges. Existing virtual classrooms mostly used satellite technology. This had two disadvantages—the classroom wouldn’t be interactive, it would just have the teacher lecturing a bunch of students who had tuned in; and they were expensive too. A satellite-based studio would cost at least Rs 18 lakh to set up. So Mohan looked at the Internet.
“We felt there was necessity that whatever the teacher writes should be displayed in front of the students. If the teacher has a PowerPoint presentation, video clipping or if they are teaching computer application—the desktop of the teacher should be visible to the students. So we had to incorporate all these features,” Mohan says. On Edyounet, which started in October last year, students can talk to the teacher in real time. They can also write on the board and have that made visible to the teacher and other students. The teacher can also write part of an equation and have a student in Chennai and another in Delhi write the remaining.
The Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India, the Institute of Company Secretaries of India and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India are now offering classes through Edyounet. It has 15 franchisees and an average of 20 students a centre. Convincing people and getting them to invest in a new idea has been difficult. Also, bandwidth providers couldn’t understand or believe in the concept. “We had to create a custom-created real time connectivity. If it was one studio and multiple locations, it would have been easy. But here, the studios can be anywhere and the students can be in any number of places,” he says.
Mohan is trying to set up a studio in Dubai now. This will help set up language courses to be taught by native speakers. For example, a German national in Dubai could take German lessons for a student in a village in Andhra Pradesh. “Can you imagine how this will transform education in non-urban India?” Mohan asks.
Mohan does not have a Plan B at the moment. On the contrary, he is confident that in a year’s time, the concept would have taken off and there would be a significant number of students enrolled for various classes. He is also converting the company from a sole proprietorship to a private limited company.
Using the Internet as a medium and then developing programmes on open-source Linux. This helped slash costs to about a third of those in the satellite-based system.