Our efforts to augment Maharashtra’s rural schooling set-up are a glimpse into the kind of role we can play in the broader ecosystem by creating the right products and uniting key stakeholders towards their deployment
ConnectEd Technologies, founded in 2015 by three young professionals—Lehar Tawde, Haren Paul Rao and Lavin Mirchandani—aims at enabling the youth by making quality educational and vocational training content accessible to them, using technology. In a short span of a year, the start-up’s efforts have resulted in support from the government of Maharashtra and a few corporates. This has led to their maiden project in the Palghar region of the state, which, they say, has impacted thousands of school students. In an interview with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, the founders—all of whom are NMIMS alumni—add they want to become an integrated solutions provider which not only offers world-class educational and vocational training content to the rural youth, but also gives the industry access to individuals whose measured competencies match their requirements. Excerpts:
Your website claims your motto is “to turn the world’s youngest country into a human resource powerhouse.” That’s a tall statement…
We aim to enable the youth—particularly those in rural areas—by deploying tailor-made, hyper-scalable educational and vocational training solutions on the behalf of corporates, NGOs and governments. We also seek to enable industry make data-driven human resource choices, by providing them access to individuals whose measured competencies match their requirements.
The task isn’t easy. India is a huge country with a large population and complex systems. However, efforts by the government, telecom operators and ISPs, coupled with the entry of low-cost, internet-ready mobile devices, are improving internet penetration, thus opening up a channel of information exchange that offers numerous possibilities. Add to that a sensitised environment—where the need for quality education is recognised by all the stakeholders—and it means players like us have an opportunity to demonstrate what our products can achieve.
What are your products?
Our primary product is the Smart Classroom System, which enables educators to integrate multimedia educational content into daily teaching practices. We have received a phenomenal response from all the quarters, including the education ministry of Maharashtra, allowing us to deploy it in schools catering to thousands of children in Palghar.
How does this System work?
It’s a standalone, solar-powered, dust-and-damage resistant teacher-aid product. It’s a simple device—it starts at the touch of a button and can be operated using a remote control. Now, traditionally, a teacher would spend all her time delivering a lecture. With the Smart Classroom System, she can do that in half the time. The rest can be used for discussions or exercises, as suggested by the System.
Is the device expensive?
We have priced it reasonably; we’re aware that audiences in rural areas are price-sensitive. Small, private schools can easily afford it. In fact, we’ve been able to provide the System to government-aided, zila parishad and even tribal welfare schools, which cannot usually afford such infrastructure upgrades as they are unable to pass on the expense to students’ families. We have encouraged corporates to fund the deployment of the System across schools, as part of their CSR spend.
Recently, the Maharashtra education ministry launched a campaign called EkShiksha…
Yes, EkShiksha is a collaboration between corporates, NGOs, school managements and educators to improve learning environment and academic performance across Maharashtra’s remotest schools. The campaign, initiated by us, aims at providing children in rural schools access to world-class education. At the heart of EkShiksha lies our Smart Classroom System, powered by our educational content.
What kind of content do you produce?
We produce multimedia educational content, which adheres to the state board curriculum but is tailored to improve the learning environment in rural classroom. The material covers every subject and chapter in the language of instruction followed by the school. We have a team of educators, scriptwriters, animators, translators, voice-over artists and editors who produce the content, which is pushed through our Smart Classroom System.
What made you choose Palghar for your project?
We chose to enter Palghar since it is a newly-formed district, is moderately-sized and easily accessible from Mumbai. Also, we had learnt that the local authorities were extremely encouraging of developmental projects. Every stakeholder we interacted with supported us, and that allowed us to conduct primary research in this region, encompassing 570 schools.
We must add that our efforts to augment the state’s rural schooling set-up are a glimpse into the kind of role we can play in the ecosystem by creating valuable products and uniting key stakeholders towards their deployment.