Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paath Shaala 2.0

People born at the start and end of the last century were lucky if you ask me. Back then in the 10's and 20's people got to experience the industrial revolution, which brought in brilliant innovations like the airplane, cars, machine guns and the like. The ones born in the 80's (like me) and 90's were also at the right place at the right time. The world which was moving at it own leisurely pace suddenly ODed on revolutions. At least in we have been privy to a lot of transformations. From rickety old Maruti 800s to the BMWs, from DD to HD channels, from waiting years to receive a telephone connection to free SIM cards of today, from post cards to Twitter updates we have seen the world change drastically. There have been no exceptions in any of the sectors: Banking, Travel, Communication, Telecom, Auto, Technology, Retail, Utilities, Entertainment, Sports: you name it, you've got it! How can education be left behind among all these.

Education has become the backbone of the burgeoning Indian middle class. Take my immediate family for example - Out of the eight people ( four from my family and four from my wife's), there are three B.E+M.B.As, one M.A+Ph.D, one C.A+C.F.A, one M.Com+M.B.A, one B.E and hopefully one B.E+M.S. Long gone are the days where an under-grad degree would be the pinnacle of education, guaranteeing a Government job and cozy life. Large Multi-National companies coming to India to recruit, expect students and professionals to be top class with cutting edge skill sets. At the other end of the pyramid, 80% of the Indian schools are run by the Government, where the larger bulk of young Indians are trying to carve their future. Both these sections of society, offer a latent pool of education hungry Indians, ready to gobble up any and all knowledge that comes their way.

Obviously, with this change in the demands of eduction, the tools of imparting the knowledge are also changing. The internet has revolutionized learning and taken it to a whole new level of wow! Wikis have killed Encyclopedias, blogs have overtaken magazines,  the Kindle has revolutionized reading, YouTube and company are making knowledge sharing extremely simple. The magic of internet, has clearly made two significant changes to the way knowledge was being shared before. Firstly, it has taken the world from a strictly hierarchical and all-encompassing teacher-student mold to a more flat setting where learning can be from anyone who is a subject matter expert. A student today, for example, may learn about the nuances of cricket from Harsha Bhogle's tweets, understand how an Internal Combustion Engine works from an animation video on Vimeo, learn how to write a robust Linked List in his program from his junior's blog. What this has ensured is that instead of the the one-size-fits-all approach, the best-of-breed methodology is raising the bar for learning and more importantly anyone can impart or share knowledge. The second change is that knowledge sharing today is no longer elitist. You don't have to go to Harvard to learn the best principle of Management, Kota to have the best IIT preparation or Doon school to get the best primary education. Quality learning is accessible to everyone via the egalitarian internet. It makes way for a level playing field where the best person will win. 

The internet is being embraced by everyone in their own right. Long standing educational institutions are using it to reach out to a wider audience through long distance learning programs. Younger institutes are trying to use the net and social media to build their brand and reach the right people. There are now, several start-ups which are using the web to deliver specific and quality learning for targeted audiences. Some are targeting competitive exam preparations or professional skill development, some building solutions for a more holistic learning, some are using it take education to the bottom of the pyramid, others are taking the age old tuition classes to a new level or bringing in experts to teach specific advanced topics of interest. Many companies are also using the net to build pockets of excellence in their own organizations and encourage peer learning.

I recently met one of my good friends and ex-colleague, after a long time. Over a year ago, Sanjay Bhadra, an IIM-B alumnus, left the comforts of a cushy corporate job to set up an ambitious start-up. His new venture, Spanedea, is an internet marketplace for teacher-led online learning and tutoring. With an impressive list of Indian and foreign teachers, Spanedea is catering to both students and professionals, in varied areas like competitive tests, learning music, specific programming sessions, professional skillsets etc. What this setup offers is the flexibility for learners to opt for end to end courses or just pick specific topics where they would like to delve deeper. It also gives a teacher, a larger platform to reach out to large set of knowledge seekers spread across the world. Spanedea, placed in between the two, is doing a brilliant job to bringing the right people from both sides and setting up a robust, intuitive platform to facilitate learning. Sanjay and his team, have aggressive plans of including wider courses and reaching out to newer target segments. Not long, before we will get to see India's Flipkart in the education space I am sure!

I recall a scene from 'The Matrix' (yes, referring only to the first one, the sequels were trash). Tank plugs in the device straight into Neo's plug at the back of his head and twelve hours later, Neo wakes up and says " I know Kung Fu!". Till the time we get such plugs, I am sure endeavors like Spanedea, will do just good.

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