Education Technology, in the beginning, intimidated many educators. However, in trying times like COVID-19, most teachers are happy with the tools available to them. “In a country as large and diverse as ours, the only way to raise the quality of education and optimally utilize our educational budgets is by pooling in resources to build best in class content centrally, store it in the cloud and deliver it to every student using any handheld device which has a screen and is connected to the internet,” says Achin Bhattacharyya, Founder & CEO, Notebook. In an email interaction with CXO Outlook, Achin Bhattacharyya talks about how we can improve the quality of education in the country with the help of EdTech and shares the changes in the field of Ed-Tech that he wished to see in future. Excerpts.
The nationwide lockdown and school closures have brought online learning providers into the spotlight. How is Notebook responding to it?
The current crisis has entrusted all online learning providers with a fundamental responsibility of ensuring that children’s education should not be interrupted in any way because of schools being closed for such a prolonged duration.
As a socially responsible brand, we made access to our entire content free across all boards, classes and subjects free for all students, teachers and parents who are trying to do their best in helping their children in their studies.
However, giving free access was only the first step, as we saw the footfall in our traffic increasing by leaps and bounds in different parts of the country including B towns, C towns and remote villages. We also started getting a lot more calls in our helpline and thus ramped up the entire support infrastructure.
Also, in a situation like this, children, their parents and teachers are facing various other challenges that are emotional and psychological. To contribute in this aspect, we started holding regular webinars with eminent panellists including Child counsellors, senior teachers, Social workers, international cricketers from overseas and many more to motivate the students and promote a more wholesome education and upbringing for them.
Online education can change the educational landscape of India. What is the status of digital learning in India?
In a country as large and diverse as ours, the only way to raise the quality of education and optimally utilize our educational budgets is by pooling in resources to build best in class content centrally, store it in the cloud and deliver it to every student using any handheld device which has a screen and is connected to the internet. Digital learning is still very much at its infancy in India, and the potential for doing meaningful work in this sector is tremendous. However, the EdTech brands also need to take a severe effort of trying to identify the need gap and communicate with students in a language and sensibility that they can relate to. Unless the end-user is benefited, all technical jargons about state-of-the-art content and glittering 3D animation are useless.
What are the common misconceptions Indian students have about online learning programs?
The basics of education will never change, and that involves a great teacher who teaches his or her students in an engaging manner and online is no exception. If the classes are prerecorded, a particular student can go through a lesson as many times as he or she wants. Also, when we build content digitally, we have lot more resources and tools at our disposal like illustrations, animation, dedicated research team, background music and many more to make the whole experience more engaging.
Another common misconception is that online is a one-way communication, whereas the reality is entirely different. Our team is regularly reachable on the phone, and also we respond to thousands of emails every day from our users. We also hold regular live webinar sessions to answer their questions and address their queries.
Do we have a demand-supply gap in the online learning industry? What are the offerings from Notebook to ensure that everyone has access to the best learning opportunities?
The desire for good content is eternal and perpetual. However, to convert this desire to an actionable demand, few steps need to be taken. First and foremost, the believability factor of EdTech being a serious quality solution provider need to be built. Second, the platform needs to be responsive enough to chart out an individual learning path for each student, based on assessment outcome and various other parameters, precisely the way a good teacher guides a student according to his or her requirement.
At Notebook, we have taken care to ensure that we add real value to everyone who aspires to learn. Thus we also have customized bilingual content for state boards ( apart from CBSE & ICSE), and we are getting a great response to the same.
Further, we have designed our pedagogy based on the concept of augmented storytelling, which is the first in India, wherein education is delivered engagingly and seamlessly to the student. We have taken great care to ensure that the platform is very user friendly and the hardware requirements have also been kept to a bare minimum.
What would you like to change in the field of Ed-Tech or our current educational system in general?
Ed-tech, as a sector, has enormous potential. It can make a difference in the lives of millions by offering cost-effective best in class education to every child in the country. The actual potential of the sector will be unleashed only when we will be able to break all socio-economic and geographical barriers to ensure that each child is able to learn from the best of teachers who are the masters of their craft.
It is essential to have long term collaborations between government and players in the private sector as the only state has the distribution machinery needed to ensure access to every child.
Education has been of the least transformed sectors for a very long time. I think it’s time that we look beyond chalk and talk pedagogy in the confines of the classroom and look for more participative learning where students are treated as active co-creators of knowledge and not a passive recipient. Also, the objective of examinations cannot be to test rot memory. It should instead assess conceptual clarity needed to apply that knowledge in a real-life scenario.
What are some of the most innovative technologies in Ed-Tech right now? What are the key trends of this sector to follow in 2020?
Ed-Tech, as an industry, is looking at more interactive platforms, which will take machine learning to a new level using artificial intelligence. However, irrespective of all new technologies on the anvil, the human mind is irreplaceable, and thus the importance of teacher can never be undermined. The role of any technology will always be to act as a bridge between the student and the teacher.
What would be the future of Ed-Tech market from now? What is some advice that you have for startups that are emerging in the Ed-Tech space?
Convenience by solving logistical bottlenecks with the aid of technology has become a way of life and education cannot be an exception. Currently, not even one per cent of students are accessing any structured online learning platform, and that explains the tremendous untapped potential of the sector.
For all aspiring startups in this sector, my advice will be to embark in this journey only if they have the patience to get the result of their efforts. Content making is a very time taking and delicate process, which requires the highest level of precision as you are dealing with a child’s future.
Further passion for education is critical, as it will be much easier to put your heart and soul into it if you are in the game not only for the financial return but also for the socio-economic return that the sector offers.
About Achin Bhattacharyya and Notebook
Achin Bhattacharyya pursued this dream to provide access to learning for primary and secondary school education in India.
With the inclusion of all major boards and outreach to urban and rural classes of the country at affordable price points, Notebook is an effort to provide access to easy and efficient learning for school students. To provide quality content aligned to the syllabus, Notebook has a highly qualified team of content developers and an advisory board of senior educators, who have helped in ensuring the highest quality standards, that is validated across multiple schools. Care was also taken to provide best-in-class creative elements and technology.
In the highly competitive EdTech sector, Notebook stands out with its exceptional features delivering accessibility to knowledge with better functionality and efficiency. They take special care to make the reach as simple as possible by converting every topic into concise audio-visual form, delivering through cloud-based architecture that can be streamed on any personal devices.
Notebook is focused on bringing more features and functions to act as an aid to make the process of learning more inclusive.