Sizing up the Education Challenge

Sid Talwar
13th August 2014

The more I look at the kinds of things that the government wants to do with education, the more it occurs to me how important a role technology needs to be playing in the implementation process.

The more I look at the kinds of things that the government wants to do with education, the more it occurs to me how important a role technology needs to be playing in the implementation process. One of the biggest issues we’ve had in the past is not being able to deliver operationally on “visionary” statements made in the annual union budget. It’s tough. We’re a large, fragmented, under-penetrated, under-educated country. Reach is a hurdle; maintaining quality is a hurdle; infrastructure is a hurdle; the size of our population is a hurdle.

It’s almost impossible to overcome these hurdles without the support of technology –and I think this Government is realizing this . It was heartening to see the government’s initiatives to promote tech in rural and sub-urban India: improving tech infrastructure, improving power supply, lowering the cost potential of mobile phones and the $1 billion it’s allocated to setting up 100 smart cities.

All this helps set the stage to use technology. In education, the Government made a lot of announcements this year. For example, money is being allocated to help young girls get educated throughout the Country. It’s a small amount of money, but it’s still a start for a much needed initiative. It’s meant to help girls become independent, ensure their eventual employment and provide safety. “Save a daughter, educate a daughter”.

 But how? How will you consistently deliver high quality education across a country like India? How will you reach every girl in every city, town and village? How will you monitor success? Or even upgrade material over time? How will you consistently provide the right counsel? It’s vey overwhelming. But it’s also possible with the help of the internet, especially when powered by mobile technology. Reach, measureable quality, centralized support & administration, and scalability.

The government has set aside money for building several new IITs, IIMs and AIIMSs. That’s great but what will it take to make them as successful as the earlier ones? How long will it take? Great teachers, efficient administration, and access to content – all have technology solutions at some level.

I can see products being built that will be able to help provide this support. And part of the responsibility is up to our community of tech entrepreneurs and investors. We need to help cultivate a culture of developing more companies that not only make a profit but also help the community. Recently, Lightbox invested in what we believe is one such company in education–

Embibe is an online test preparatory platform. It helps students prepare for exams such as the JEE and the medical exam. These are highly complicated exams, taken under very high pressure at a very young age. Quality prepratory schools and teachers are hard to find and normally quite expensive. Embibe wants to create a level playing field for all students. How many worthy kids couldn’t make it to an IIT because they didn’t have enough practice? How many Einsteins have we lost? How many Stephen Hawkings or Nikola Tesla because of access?

I’m hoping Embibe provides that access. I hope that some child sitting in some far removed village in India is able to use Embibe one day, study on its platform, learn from its advice, improve their score, study at the school of their choosing and perhaps use that education to change the world.

Embibe is very much for profit and I expect our investment to make us a lot of money. But I also see it as one way of giving back to our community, democratizing education – making quality content and supporting analytics available at a low cost base to anyone anywhere (with the help of improving infrastructure). At the most recent JEE exams, 3 of the top 8 All India Rankers studied at some point on Embibe’s platform. That’s a big step in proving technology can help. Embibe knows we have a long way to go, and Embibe knows they have a responsibility to keep working on improving their product as much as the government has a responsibility to fix the infrastructure around us.