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NEW DELHI : Online education startups have benefited immensely from the shutdown of schools and colleges, as they tried to fill the gap with online classes. Investors, too, have jumped on to the edtech bandwagon, even as funds dried up for startups in other sectors. Edtech startup Vedantu raised $100 million in July at a valuation of $600 million, making it the second-most valuable online education startup in India after Byju’s. Virtual is becoming the new normal in learning and is the key to driving growth during the coronavirus pandemic, said Vamsi Krishna, co-founder and chief executive officer, Vedantu, as part of Mint’s Pivot or Perish series. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Did the covid-19 pandemic force Vedantu to review its business model?

We were the first to take a positive step in offering free access to our live, online classes for students across the country. This resulted in a major upsurge in the number of students learning on Vedantu. We recorded growth of 220% during the lockdown, with more than 2 million students attending live classes and teachers delivering 8 million-plus hours of live classes.

We are constantly innovating with technology at the core. Driving impact at scale is our singular vision and, the fact that we have launched an early-learner category, new product experiences and non-academic courses, keeping in mind the current situation, is testimony of this.

Virtual is becoming the new normal in learning. Therefore, our strategy to encourage learners to experience live, online learning will continue. We believe this will be key in driving category and business growth during the pandemic and beyond. Vedantu is exploring opportunities to scale impact, as it achieves 4x growth, and looks forward to adding 30-40% employees this year.

How will the covid-19 crisis change classroom learning?

Online learning has seen exponential adoption among students during this pandemic, and schools, as well as institutes, have switched to an online mode to ensure that India’s learning never stops. This continues to benefit students.

But switching from offline to online platforms has been a challenge for many teachers, as they were not used to conducting classes in the virtual world. We expect to see more momentum with new users experiencing the benefits of online learning.

Why are edtech startups attracting investors?

India has been at the forefront of making the shift towards online learning. While the education market is huge, online penetration is still at a nascent stage.

Therefore, investors are increasingly exploring opportunities in this market because of the untapped potential.

To invest in this market, they are looking for partnerships that have long-term growth opportunity, the potential to scale and a successful business model.

What kind of challenges are edtech startups facing?

Despite coming up with superior technology solutions for online learning, edtech startups still aren’t quite reaching the full potential because of the digital divide, as quality and equality issues are prevalent in India. There is also a misplaced notion about the use of gadgets. Time spent on gadgets and overuse is linked to many unpleasant outcomes.

Online learning, when done in moderation and with guidance, can help unlock the potential of each child.

How has the crisis changed the business model for edtech startups?

The education market is massive yet highly under-penetrated, with online learning forming only 2% of this. A majority of India’s student population still does not have access to a quality teacher or good learning content. The pandemic has only made the situation more stark, and online learning has emerged as the only practical solution.

What is Vedantu’s outlook on the future of edtech?

Category awareness has shot off the charts because of the pandemic and it is steadily being established that live, online is the superior pedagogy for learning. It is the long-term solution for students and, as a brand, Vedantu is strongly propelling the live online category. Innovation is at our core and, as a student-focused company, we will use this to offer innovative features to our learners from within the comfort of their homes.

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