An online platform that makes education more personalized
Vedantu enables students in remote areas to receive tuition from highly qualified teachers
Bengaluru: Its almost 4 pm on a Tuesday afternoon and Vasavi gets ready to take her daily physics lessons for 9th and 10th graders. An Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras graduate, Vasavi, on maternity leave from her corporate job, dedicates three hours daily to tutoring students from Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai and remote towns such as Rudrapur in Uttarakhand.
In Wani taluk, Yavatmal district in Maharashtra, 9th grader Tanusha M. gets ready for her physics and mathematics class. She takes two classes from highly qualified teachers whose location Tanusha does not know. She only knows them through their qualifications and names.
Vasavi and many others like her are teachers by choice and Tanusha is one of the thousands of students they teach daily via Vedantu, an online tutorial service run by Vedantu Innovations Pvt. Ltd. The journey of Vedantu began almost a decade ago when Vamsi Krishna (from IIT Mumbai), Pulkit Jain, Saurabh Saxena and Anand Prakash (from IIT Roorkee) got together in 2005 to start something that their parents did not encourage.
Giving into their parents’ demands, they joined corporate jobs, but lasted for only about six months. On 16 December 2005, Anand resigned. The others followed. With a bit of teaching experience gained during their summer breaks at the IITs, they decided to teach. They wanted to challenge conventional teaching methods.
They started by teaching the children of the workers at Trident Group Ltd’s yarn plant at Barnala, Punjab. “That was the pivotal step,” Vamsi says.
This led to more students and their first venture, Lakshya, a test prep establishment where they helped students crack engineering entrance exams. Among the four, they claim to have taught over 10,000 students from 2006-12 in places such as Patiala and Chandigarh.
At Barnala they swept floors, set up classes and even slept at the same place where tuitions were held. “The energy we used to get from these sessions... we could really see the spark that really motivated us to take up the profession of teaching,” Vamsi says.
In 2012, Mumbai-based education coaching service provider MT Educare Ltd acquired Lakshya Forum for Competition Pvt. Ltd. The model had its limitations. “Being there as teachers ourselves, we felt the challenges with the offline set-up... no matter what, there were challenges of scalability.”
Determined, and now equipped with Lakshya’s experience, they challenged institutionalism and generalisation in education to make it more personalised and democratic. But the disparity in learning would remain, which called for a technological intervention.
In April 2014 they started developing a product and six months later Vedantu was live. Vedantu was the so-called anti-model of its predecessor. It developed WAVE (whiteboard, audio and video environment) technology and the teachers marketplace model. In order to get access to more good teachers, Vedantu started developing technologies like whiteboard and audio and is currently developing facial expression reading algorithms for better engagement and greater efficiency from each session.
“We are coming out with engagement metrics. For every session the algorithm analyses the session and goes back to the teacher,” Vamsi says.
Vedantu says, “Innovation has come to facilitate the why.”
Initiatives like Digital India and fast growing Internet infrastructure provide platforms like Vedantu with tools to connect more students and teachers facilitating effective learning.
Though the motivation was not money, the company did not want to be an NGO. The priority was to make a difference; money would follow. The platform has now completed providing 21,000 hours of live learning to more than 17,000 students through 180 listed teachers.
The platform, which charges around 30% of the teachers’ fees, says average tutor earns around Rs.40,000 (depending on the number of hours) and the top earner raked in Rs.98,000 (August 2015). Vendantu has a mix of professional teachers, corporate entities and college students. Vamsi says the presence of teachers working only on Vedantu (10-15%) is where the real disruption is happening.
Vedantu is aware of its limitations. This venture cannot be run as a mainstream institution due to regulatory requirements. “So we can at least be a parallel education system,” Vamsi says.
Vamsi says that there are around 250 million students in India and around 33% of them go to private schools. This hasn’t deterred its global ambitions. “Global expansion can be tempting,” he says about moving to other markets like in South Korea, Singapore and other East Asia markets.
Accel and Tiger Global led a $5 million funding in Vedantu in May this year. Anand Daniel, an early stage investor with Accel Partners, says Vedantu has huge potential. The tutoring market size in India is around $11 billion (2014). “Very few teams in India have a great sense for the education sector as well as how technology can be used for effective scaling Vedantu is one such team,” he says
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the mBillionth and Manthan awards.
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