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Byju Raveendran, Founder & CEO, Byju’s. (Mint)
Byju Raveendran, Founder & CEO, Byju’s. (Mint)

Pivot Or Perish | Pandemic is an inflection point for education, says Byju

  • As part of Mint’s Pivot or Perish series, Byju Raveendran, founder and chief executive of Byju’s, says how edtech platforms are waking up to a market that has accelerated overnight as many shift to digital to conduct regular classes

BENGALURU : The pandemic has forced educational institutions to rethink processes with classroom teaching being suspended in many countries. In India, teachers are moving classrooms online, and students are adapting to learning on computers and smartphones. As part of Mint’s Pivot or Perish series, Byju Raveendran, founder and chief executive of online learning platform Byju’s, says how edtech platforms are waking up to a market that has accelerated overnight as many shift to digital to conduct regular classes. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Why did Byju’s pivot to making some of its offerings free and how did it impact your user base?

Since the closure of schools in India, we made the content on our learning app completely free. We also introduced live classes to bring scheduled engagement to students’ everyday learning routine. We have received an overwhelming response with an almost 3x increase in the number of students accessing our app. Earlier, students used to spend 2-3 days per week on our platform. As a result of the lockdown, they are using the platform on a daily basis and spending an average of 100 minutes per day. In the last month alone, we saw over 6 million new students learning from our app. There has also been a significant behavioural shift in the parents’ mindset towards online learning as they have witnessed their children benefiting from it in person.

Will the covid-19 crisis metamorphose the classroom education/learning process?

Closures of educational institutes are impacting over 90% of the world’s student population, which is around 1.5 billion learners. With students now completely depending on online learning to fulfil their daily learning needs, the ongoing crisis has caused a paradigm shift, making online learning a vital part of mainstream learning. On the other side of the crisis, I don’t expect things to go 100% online or 100% offline. Every crisis presents an opportunity and this is that inflection point for education, where we expect the rise of a blended model of education. Screens have become the primary mode of content consumption for students. The ‘classrooms of tomorrow’ will have technology at its core. The future will see us take a leap from the traditional one-to-many approach to blended one-on-one learning experiences, providing students the best of both physical and digital (learning).

With many schools and colleges migrating to online learning, how will Byju’s play a role in this sudden shift?

At present, the society at large—schools, teachers, parents, policymakers—are turning to online learning to fight this crisis situation. However, it is more of a reactive measure. This might lead to students experiencing a suboptimal online learning experience as the only thing that is changing right now is their delivery model. In reality, online learning is not just about offline education delivered online. Creating a truly personalized learning experience and utilizing technology to its fullest possible will prove to be a challenge.

The traditional classroom has a teacher at the centre with students learning in a group. Online learning, when done right, flips this model and puts the student at the centre. What Byju’s has done is transform the learning experience where teacher-led content is delivered on a student-led platform (using) game-design principles, animations, interactive quizzes and tests.

Does online education platforms have a solution for affordable access to hardware tools, especially for schools and colleges?

Today, 70% of students in India have access to a smartphone and this penetration is only expected to increase exponentially. Smartphones reduce the disparity between students from metros and those from smaller towns by providing them with equal and personalized learning opportunities along with access to the best teachers. While the digital divide is a challenge, the disparities that exist in the physical world are a much bigger hurdle to solve. Just a small section of students actually have access to good schools and teachers while the majority do not have access to any teacher at all. These challenges can be solved at scale either by using technology as an enabler or by solving it at the infrastructural level by building good schools and giving access to good teachers.

The latter will take a long time for large markets and emerging economies like India. Our best chance to solve this problem at scale in the long run is to use technology as an enabler (for online education) and use smartphone distribution as a viable option (to solve digital disparity).

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