Today, there are a plethora of education-technology (ed-tech) companies in India. There are some which run regular tuition classroom chains (Giraffe Learning); which send tutors to your home (Flipclass); which connect you with tutors (Vedantu); and which use technology to replace tutors (Byju’s, Learnnext, Meritnation). Vidyanext, in the words of founder & CEO Pradeep Singh, is different because it blends the power of tutors and technology. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he adds that even though technology is transforming the traditional after-school tutorial market, for true learning to happen, technology needs to work hand-in-hand with tutors spending time in-person with students. Excerpts:
What differentiates Vidyanext from other ed-tech providers?
We combine technology and tutors to deliver better results than traditional ed-tech providers. During our first year of operation, we realised that technology alone is not enough, and that it needs to work hand-in-hand with tutors spending time in-person with students. We observed that technology still cannot replicate things tutors can do. For example, a tutor can look at a 10-step maths solution submitted by a student and pinpoint what went wrong in the third step. A tutor can look at the face of a student and know whether she has understood a concept or not.
So, we make technology and in-person tutors work together, complementing each other’s strengths.
How has Vidyanext grown?
During 2010-11, we licensed our learning technology to engineering and medical entrance examination coaching institutes (Brilliant Tutorials, Aakash Institute); they used their content on our software to provide digital learning solutions to students. During 2012-15, we switched to a tech-plus-teach model with technology-enabled tuition at our own centres; we developed a new model of learning—Vidyanext Learning System. Today, we have 35-plus centres in Bangalore and Gurgaon.
Now we are introducing a home tutor model. Our aim is to place a tutor within walking distance of each student. We call this the Vidyanext Tutor Network. We are starting in Bangalore with 700 home tutors and expect this to grow to 1,500-plus tutors during the year.
Will you venture into small towns?
We saturate Bangalore this year, and expand to other metros and tier-2 cities in the next three years, and then to smaller towns. We have the ability to scale up because we’ll be working with tutors who already exist in every town in India. We don’t need to set up centres; we only have to partner with existing tutors. Given the excitement we’ve seen from tutors in Bangalore, we believe we can replicate the model.
How do students learn?
Students learn using the Vidyanext Learning System—a combination of in-person tutors and tablet-based learning technology. Tablets come with course content mapped to school curriculum. Tutors use reporting and collaboration tools that enable them to provide personalised attention to each student. In addition, parents use a smartphone app that helps them track their kids’ progress. The learning process itself is anchored around a chat metaphor, with VidyaBot as the catalyst. We also have a flash card solution called Memory Buddy, which, using the proven spaced repetition learning technique, helps move things learnt to a child’s long-term memory.
How does VidyaBot work?
VidyaBot is a virtual assistant. It provides students day-to-day guidance—where should they focus, give feedback on learning tasks they have completed, and give reminders and alerts on what activities they need to complete. It also has data on the steps needed to score well in exams. Students love the idea of a smart personal robot that can help them learn better.
Does VidyaBot talk to students?
Usually, guidance data is buried in reports; kids don’t spend time analysing reports even when presented well. Instead, we use a conversational user interface. It is a WhatsApp-like interface; Vidyabot chats with students on it. For example, this is what VidyaBot will tell a student whose name is, say, Neha, when she opens the interface: “Hello Neha, remember you studied electricity a few days ago? Now, it is time to revise so you don’t forget. Review these flashcards and take this quick quiz.”
How do you reach out to students?
Parents across India are always searching for tutors. Some search online, some ask friends and some look in the neighbourhood. Our focus is to ensure that Vidyanext surfaces as an option, whatever their search method. We have built brand recognition through radio ads and digital advertising. We also focus on building communities and engaging with parents on Facebook, blogs and other digital platforms.
Your portal, it appears, is only for the well-connected parents…
It is, in fact, the opposite. Our objective is to make our solution accessible and affordable to every student in India. Therefore, our business model, pricing model, learning systems are all specifically designed to work for every type of parent and student—affluent or not; tech-savvy or otherwise; urban or rural; CBSE, ICSE, state boards, and so on.
Why does a student who, for example, attends a tech-enabled school in a metro city need Vidyanext?
While reasons are varied, the reality is most students attend tuitions. Vidyanext only focuses on making that tuition experience better using technology. We’re not creating a new need. You are already choosing a tutor, and with Vidyanext, the same tutor you’re going to choose can teach better. Moreover, schools, no matter how tech-enabled they are, cannot give the personalised attention that every child needs. While in the last decade technology usage in schools has increased, the prevalence of tuitions is also increasing as fast.
Who vouches for the credibility of tutors you provide?
We interview the tutors who join us; we also inspect their premises to ensure they are teaching in a safe, clean environment. We ask parents for a reference and keep checking back for quality control. We are building a rating system so tutors have incentive to maintain quality and only the best ones will thrive.
How do you make money?
We charge a registration fee—an upfront fee students pay directly to us. It ranges from R1,500-3,000 per year, depending on the number of subjects, and is valid for the academic year. Then we have a 15% share from the tutors on the monthly fee parents pay them. Each tutor can set her own fee, and pay Vidyanext 15% of that every month.
What is the market size of the kind of ed-tech you provide?
Our current focus is K4 to K12, and in this segment we estimate a nationwide market size of 70 million students who will be taking tuitions and avail our services. In terms of value, it translates to a R21,000-crore market opportunity.
Could ed-tech providers, over the years, replace schools?
Schools provide a lot more than education, they give children socialising skills, networks, and teach discipline and collaboration. We see ed-tech providers as supporting education at all ages, particularly focusing on the academic aspects, but not as doing away with the need for schools entirely. If you ask the question differently—can a student succeed in academics without going to a school but entirely through a Vidyanext-like model? We believe so.