What encouraged you to start Notebook?
Growing up in 90’s India, we have all been subject to a particular form of education. Project work and aural comprehensions were considered the advancements in the school education system. As a student, I always felt that things could have been presented better than the textbooks we were studying. Back in the ’90s, the comic books provided a reference level for engagement and we wished studies could look like that.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and we realized that while the world outside has changed in so many ways, the education system has remained the same. Despite the emergence of Edtech giants, most students had to rely on guidebooks and notes for the other 60% of their board exams. The knowledge that this gap existed, and the belief that we could address it was what prompted the genesis of Notebook.
What makes Notebook standout among all its competitors?
Edtech isn’t new. There have been others who have tried teaching subjects over the internet, and have tried a myriad range of treatments – ranging from text on the screen to full-fledged 3D animation. At Notebook, we spent a year in soul searching – meeting students, watching them study, and figuring out the pain points in the home study environment. We realized that learning was a sum total of 3R’s – Realisation, Recall, and Repeatability.
Realization: The topic has to be internalized and every aspect of it delivered as a tangible, realizable form of learning.
Recall: The topic needs to be converted into a limited number of memorable events, graphics, and sentences that would aid Top of the Mind Awareness and Recall.
Repeatability: Once a student learns a topic, the retention and recall reduce over time. Introducing elements that would require the students to use their mental faculties would enable greater learning.
Notebook’s greatest differentiation is in that it doesn’t treat students as passive learners, but has a design sensibility that makes the student an active participant in the learning process. The use of sequential art, similar to a comic book, invites the student to fill up the gaps in his or her mind and this accelerates the learning process.
What are the trends influencing the development of the Edtech industry worldwide?
Edtech industry worldwide is facing a steep growth trajectory because of the following conditions:
- Felt and Stated Consumer Need: With greater access to content, parents and students have seen first-hand that there is better education available beyond the local school or tutor, and hence they are proactively looking for educational aids online.
- The proliferation of Handheld internet: The explisive growth in access to the the internet on handheld devices has brought more users to learning portals.
- Globally declining Data prices: In emerging economies, the data network is available at pricing as low as USD 0.20 per GB of data, with India providing some of the lowest data pricing in the world in the post-Jio era.
- Declining device cost: Between 2008 and 2016, the average price of an Android device has halved. There are 300 Million smartphones in India, which has been possible because of the influx of more affordable models.
- Greater Need of Personalisation: With time, the industry has evolved from global to local to hyperlocal to “glocal”. The need of the hour is to enable scale by sourcing globally while serving localised needs
How use of AI in Edtech sector transformed the minds of youth?
This is a myth. The use of any technology does not transform the mind. If anything, every successive step in technological advancement has been a process of getting closer to accurately copying the human mind. Artificial Intelligence (AI) stands for a computerised system that can replicate human intelligence. This is, to a large extent, a function of pre-empting situations that the student may face in the course of his or her learning journey. The use of AI makes it possible to offer a learning experience tailored to the student’s individual learning needs. Machine learning allows the system to learn from interactions across a large population of students, which adds to the ability to pre-empt situations. This approach towards personalisation aids engagement and therefore, learning.
What are the main challenges of the Indian education system? How AI could help the country?
Despite the fantastic socio-economic development of India since independence, the education system has remained by and largely unchanged since 1858 when the British rulers decided to convert India into a supply line for educated clerks. Age-old ‘chalk and talk’ falls flat in engaging students who are exposed to the superior quality of content and user experience in all other spheres.
Use of latest technology like AI and Machine Learning aid engagement and understanding so that the students who were so far disengaged from the learning system find education catered in a form more conducive to their learning curve. The most important role of education in a connected world is to inspire a child’s natural curiosity, and AI-driven personalisation seems to be the best method to do this.
What are the threats and how are they restricting the progress of the Education Technology (Ed Tech) and Smart Classrooms market across various regions?
So far, the major threats that have hindered mass proliferation of Edtech and Smart Classrooms in India have all been Supply-side issues. Out of the 280 million school students in India, a significant number study in schools that have one or two classrooms, one teacher across all classes and subjects and often no electricity. No electricity means no digital devices or televisions. Most of the Edtech content created so far is in English, which means students studying in vernacular languages are excluded. Consumer-facing Edtech products are priced as annual subscriptions, asking the parent to pay more than half of his annual income at one go. Content is mostly designed as per the lowest common denominator across Boards – which means the school and tutor still remain the point where the student receives learning tailored to his school and examination needs. It is, however, heartening to know that connectivity and access are improving, and more students are feeling that they need to supplement school education with self-learning tools.
What gaps did you identify in the education system which you wanted to change?
Two areas that we saw gaping voids, and decided to address are inclusion and engagement. Education in India, by its very nature, has made exclusivity synonymous with quality. We want to break that myth and show how it is possible to include every student on a personalised learning journey by providing best-in-class educational content. In terms of engagement, we believe that every child is talented, and it only takes engagement to make the student want to learn. Our content development has focused entirely on these two aspects – quality and engagement – so that every child can learn, and develop a knack for learning.
How competitive is the Edtech sector?
Edtech is growing more and more competitive with each passing day. Today there are more than 300 companies registered with the ROC that aspire to provide education over some digital medium or the other. However, the sector is far from reaching a consensus in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Every contender is bringing new thoughts and ideas to the table. This dynamism shows that there is still plenty of room for new entrants. Also, players who have been around for years are yet to significantly impact the Indian student population, especially beyond urban centres.
What impact do you expect to make in the next 5 years?
Our approach of inclusion through quality content – especially in vernacular languages has the potential to reach millions of students and change the way the average parent looks at e-learning. Our business success is based on more and more students and parents believing that classroom learning can be augmented by content on an app or a website. In 5 years, we expect to make self-learning tools more credible to the average Indian parent. We also wish to see the various Boards of education adopt e-learning methods in a bigger way. The Boards still have the greatest say in deciding the student’s future, and if we can make them believe that technology-enablement works, that would be our greatest contribution.