India: Disney-esque app BYJU’S hungry to take over online learning
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India: Disney-esque app BYJU’S hungry to take over online learning

India: Disney-esque app BYJU’S hungry to take over online learning

With a population of over a billion, it’s no wonder India’s education system is the world’s largest, with 1.4 million schools, some 227 million students enrolled and more than 36,000 higher education institutes.

But with a population that size, challenges abound and, as suggested by a recent Forbes article, the world’s fastest-growing major economy will need to look into ways to transform its “one-size-fits-all” approach to educating its population.

For tutor-turned-technopreneur Byju Raveendran, the way forward is through personalised learning and bringing Disney (yes, Disney) into the classroom. Rote learning, he says, doesn’t work.

“I want to Disney-fy education in India,” he told Bloomberg Technology

“I want to do for education what Walt Disney did for entertainment.”

“I want to make it engaging and fun not just for the Indian kids, but kids everywhere.”

And this is exactly what Raveendran is doing. Two years ago, he founded BYJU’S for smartphones, a K-12 education app that teaches maths, science and English through fun and engaging ways. Today, BYJU’S is the largest edutech startup in India valued at over US$700 million, backed by Mark Zuckerberg and giving older online education platforms like The Khan Academy a run for their money.

The secret to BYJU’S meteoric rise – The boom in smartphone proliferation and Internet connectivity in India. E-learning and distance-learning methods have been gaining ground in recent years, making India the second-largest market after the United States, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation.

BYJU’S’ current reach in India is less than one percent of the student population, but Raveendran is ambitious to increase that figure ten-fold in the next few years, a goal experts say is realistic.

According to a Google KPMG Online Education in India report released last month, the country’s online education industry is projected to grow five-fold to 9.6 million paid users by 2021, fuelled by India’s tech boom.

Google India industry director Nitin Bawankule said the industry would become a multibillion-dollar opportunity in India.

“Even if we cover just 10 percent in the next years, we’ll be setting off a learning revolution.”

As it is now, the subscription-based BYJU’S is a heady mix of video, animation and interactive tools that bring difficult academic concepts, like geometry and fractions, to life.

In one video titled “Introduction to Circles”, tutors use pizzas and Ferris wheels to teach about radius and diameters – a two-and-a-half-minute clip that took 100 hours of post-production work by hundreds of millennial filmmakers, musicians, animators and graphic designers.

The app feeds the hunger of students and their parents for education in a country that lacks good teachers and whose methodologies are outdated.

“The sessions have to be compelling and fun or the kids will simply tune out and switch off the device,” Divya Gokulnath, the video’s tutor who is also a biotech engineer, says.

Such entertaining and personalised videos are BYJU’s strongest points, attracting students and investors alike. Apart from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, other investors include Sequoia Capital, Verlinvest, Sofina and Lightspeed Venture Partners.

“I’m optimistic about personalised learning and the difference it can make for students everywhere,” wrote Zuckerberg in a Facebook post last September to announce the investment in BYJU’S.

“That’s why it’s a major focus of our education efforts, and why we’re looking forward to working with companies like BYJU’S to get these tools into the hands of more students and teachers around the world.”

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