Kim Campbell

NexThought Monday – ‘Ed-Tech’ Opportunities : A new study delves into how social enterprises can work in the affordable private schools Sector

This article was co-authored by Hila Mehr and Ben Mayer.

To say that education technology is on the rise is an understatement. With the global education market currently valued at $4.4 trillion and estimates of 23 percent growth by 2017, ed-tech is set to make new entrances into education throughout the world over the next five years. As ed-tech innovators seek new markets for emerging innovations, one place they should look is India’s Affordable Private School (APS) sector.

APS institutions provide a low-cost private education to communities throughout the developing world by charging enrollment fees as low as $5.50 a month per student. With an estimated 300,000-400,000 APS schools in India that serve 65 percent of school age students, there is a robust market of schools that have the flexibility and competitive market incentives to experiment with new technology products. APS schools already spend an estimated $2,048 a year on technology interventions and as the demand for technology grows, so will their technology expenditures.

While most tech dollars in APS have flowed to computer labs and classroom instruction, the emergence of India’s Aakash tablet has spurred a trend that we see taking hold in low-cost education markets. In a pilot of educational tablets developed by Hyderabad startup Edutor, we found that parents, school leaders, and teachers were completely supportive of its use in the classroom. The fact that Edutor’s tablets were restricted to relevant educational content, had built-in assessments, and was not dependent on consistent electricity made it a device that parents were willing to invest in and the school administration eager to adopt for the classroom.

The early success of Edutor’s tablets in APS looks promising, but the product’s future ultimately will be determined by how well it caters to the unique needs of APS stakeholders. Understanding these needs could help similar tech-leaning social enterprises position their products in the market. Below are five educational technology innovations that address important gaps in APS.

1) Educational content that is aligned to the state-wide curriculum APS schools follow

One of the most important ways to capitalize on ed-tech opportunities in APS, is to ensure that content geared towards supporting core subjects are aligned to the school’s local state-board curriculum. For better or worse, APS stakeholders are beholden to the state or nation-wide exams that students take in 10th grade. Students’ performance on these exams governs their access to higher education and can make or break a private school leader’s reputation among parents. The push to perform well on state board exams drives the content and pedagogy introduced in APS schools.

The problem is that low-income schools have trouble finding technology solutions that match the curriculum their school follows because many existing ed-tech products design content for the nation-wide exams for wealthier private school students. There is an opportunity for more ed-tech companies to establish a presence in niche markets by developing solutions for the various state boards.

2) Ed-Tech solutions that automate assessment

Since the board exams are so important in APS schools, unsurprisingly, the testing culture is strong. From as young as kindergarten, students are given some form of assessment as frequently as thre to four times a month. All of this testing not only pressures students, it also burdens teachers with the cumbersome tasks of preparing, distributing, grading, recording, or administering exams by hand. Ed-tech solutions that automate parts of the exam would help lighten the testing load for teachers. If the solution was simple and intuitive enough for teachers to use comfortably, they would be eager to adopt because it makes their jobs more efficient. Furthermore, it would create more time for teachers to teach and reinforce new concepts with their students.

3) Ed-tech games based on the curriculum, that draw on students’ natural interest in music and computer games.

When 9th grade APS students were surveyed on how they use technology in their daily lives, more than 50 percent stated that they use mobile phones and computers to share music or play games. Educational games are currently a rarity in APS. Technology should marry the entertainment value of games or music and the learning goals of the school’s state-wide curriculum to create solutions that students will advocate for and be interested in using. This is especially important for parent buy-in because APS parents’ consumption decisions in ed-tech are heavily influenced by how much students advocate for the technology.

4) Computer curriculum that teach relevant and financially viable technology skills

APS parents ultimately look to school as a vehicle for upward mobility for their children. Parents highly value computer classes in school because they believe that equipping their children with technology skills will make them more employable. However, due to the challenge of attracting and retaining quality technology teachers, computer classes are severely underutilized. There is an opportunity for MOOCs, ed-tech games, or self-paced learning tools to be designed to teach students more relevant technology skills. Learning a computer language or hardware maintenance will go much further in developing students’ employability than learning how to use the Paint application in Windows, for example.

5) Ed-Tech solutions that provide a safe way for adults to monitor and control the content students can access through the internet

The internet has the power to connect APS students to a world of knowledge that far exceed the limitations of their local resources. However, internet access for students is still a rarity in APS because school leaders, teachers, and parents fear students will use the Internet to access websites that they deem inappropriate. School leaders are especially sensitive to the negative impact the Internet could have on the school’s reputation if students are exposed to the wrong things online. Currently, there are no child-safe Internet filters that APS parents and school leaders trust to monitor students’ Internet use. Technology solutions that can facilitate Internet access with a fail-safe way of preventing access to the kind of content parents and school leaders fear would go a long way in improving Internet penetration among students and drastically broaden the scope of ed-tech solutions that could be used in APS.

(Pictured: Ram Gollamudi (left), CEO of Edutor, and Prasanna Boni, chief operating officer, with the ’Augmented Classroom Solutions’ tablets for schools. (Image credit: P.V. Sivakumar/The Hindu Business Line)

Each opportunity offers its own set of challenges to implement. However, all represent entry points for enterprises that pay careful attention to how each invention can support stakeholders’ educational goals and fit into community standards. As increasing numbers of entrepreneurs, foundations, and businesses are coming together to make educational technology a reality in low-income communities throughout the world, the future of global ed-tech innovation could be in the APS sector.

This article is based on findings in the education technology paper Education Technology in India: Designing Ed-Tech for India’s Affordable Private Schools.

Kim Cambpell is the lead investigator and author of this report. She most recently worked as a consultant for Gray Matters Capital Foundation, piloting educational tablet interventions in two affordable private schools in Hyderabad, India.

Ben Mayer is a field researcher and co-author for this report. He is an IDEX Fellow in Social Enterprise in Hyderabad, India, where he works as an APS market researcher at Gray Matters Capital.

Hila Mehr is a field researcher and co-author for this report, and also manages outreach. She is an IDEX Fellow in Social Enterprise in Hyderabad, India where she consults for an affordable private school.

Education, Technology