How Indian education technology startups are going global


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From distance education to cultural preservation, digital platforms are transforming the way learning is visualized and presented, with wide-ranging implications for publication of educational content, access by users around the world, and business models for sustainable social impact. Governments and academic institutes, as well as tech providers and entrepreneurs can jointly transform the definition of learning.

Three years into his business, Prateek Bhargava, founder of education technology startup Mindler, has ventured into five countries, including Russia and Singapore, and is evaluating few more markets abroad. According to the firm that helps students in career assessment and counselling and planning, technology adoption in education delivery and assessment is growing as a sector, and it is better to venture out for a bigger market pie. "It's no more about saturate in India before going global...if your product is good then why not," said Bhargava.

Bhargava's firm is not the only one.

Several Indian education technology firms have already either ventured abroad or are on the verge of entering suitable markets. Education technology firm Aspiring Minds have ventured into countries such as the US and China. Xseed Education has presence in countries, including The Philippines, Singapore and Middle-east Asia. Mobile application-based firm Byju's (Think and Learn Pvt. Ltd) has already announced its intention to go global sometime this year.

While the trend augurs well for the sector and will ultimately benefit India's huge education space, there are largely four primary reasons behind companies' plans to go global - easy acceptance of their technology in teaching, learning and assessment, diversification, international recognition of what they are doing, improving their business proposition back home, and possible access to capital.

"If you have a globally completive product and a company with ambition, then it is wiser to go overseas," according to Varun Aggarwal, co-founder of Aspiring Minds that specialises in education and talent assessment for both institutions and corporate houses. "We believe what we were doing in India can be replicated anywhere in the world. We are now in China, the US, The Philippines and parts of Africa. When you talk about global - for an Indian company like us it means two key market, China and the US. Other markets are small in comparison to India, China and the American market."

At present, Aspiring Minds' international business was contributing between 25% and 30% of the total revenue and had the potential to grow faster than the domestic market, Aggarwal said. In fact, one of his co-founders shifted to the US to expand markets there. According to Aggarwal, companies such as them were venturing out because they believe they have a quality product, and clients want to have a global contract than a country specific contract, wider visibility and access to capital in key markets such as the US.

"Education technology space was layered, with some focusing on the business to business market and some dealing with consumers directly", said Ashish Rajpal, founder of Xseed Education. Diversification was one of the key reasons for venturing into other markets, he added. Bhargava of Mindler agreed. "In some of the international markets there is less competition, so you have an advantage. Besides, once you have done well abroad, your acceptance level back home goes up. Investors also look at startups more favourably if the product is diversified and well tested in different markets than just one."

Startups in edtech today span sectors such as K-12, higher education, vocational training, and corporate training sectors. Opportunities lie in financial management tools, teacher lifecycle management, and curriculum development, according to Manoj Thandassery, founder of Curiositi.

Following, in the wake of the social media revolution, are the dual trends of cloud computing and the modularisation of computer software (as standalone apps). Other transformative forces are advances in electronic publishing and the latest generation of e-book readers. But challenges arise in rural school inclusion, and guarding against attention deficit, cheating and cyber-bullying, Mason cautions.

ClassPlus is a classroom management app helps tutors reduce time-consuming secondary activities such as creating quizzes, checking assessment, and tracking attendance logs.

According to a report by NSSO, India is home to the largest after-school tuition market in the world, with over 7.1 crore out of the 30-crore school-going students take supplementary coaching classes every year.

Digital media in schools can help students in collaborative activities, peer-rating/ranking, and asking questions (not just answering them!). Digital metrics in education range from basic activity (eg. number of content assets created or consumed) to process impacts (eg. better research and composition skills) and can even help educational institutes offer these educational services to a broader online audience elsewhere in India around the world. However, children should also learn the importance of trust, safety, ethics, relevance and focus in cyberspace.

"The more ways you teach, the more children you reach," says Anjum Babakhan, Director of Education, Glendale Academy. In Howard Gardner’s theories of multiple intelligence categories (musical, visual, verbal, logical, kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, existential), each lead to different types of professions and each can be enhanced in different ways by digital media.

Online learning is the way to bring high-end education and learning to the masses with comparatively lower costs, according to Ashwin Damera, Executive Director, Emeritus Institute of Management. In this regard, edtech transformations are regarded as a ray of hope to tackle India's vast challenges. In sum, the mobilization of digital media for the purposes of learning, education, and training will be one of the key factors in shaping the Indian youth and workforce in the coming decades.

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