Interview

IScholar – Spreading the Education Net

The company that works to fulfil late Abdul Kalam’s dream, “… a good mathematics teacher teaching mathematics in a remote village like Chandipur school in Orissa, should be able to teach number of schools located in different parts of the country including Konkan villages in Maharashtra, interact with the students in sequence and be able to clarify the doubts…”, uses a model that enables quality education online for multiple nodes simultaneously. This could well be the future of education in a hugely aspiring yet financially low and geographically diverse country like India. IScholar engages experts and passionate teachers who teach from their state-of-the-art studios in Chennai and Bangalore and the live classes are streamed using the interactive tele-education delivery platform.

We speak with Mr. R. P Nadella, MD & CEO, iScholar Education systems on what the concept of online education means in the Indian concept and how it can be utilised better to leverage the Prime Minister’s policy on encouraging education in rural areas.

Tell us something about iScholar?

iScholar Education Services Pvt Ltd., is a an on-line education company, that uses the internet technology and engages with extremely high level teaching faulty to impart live classes that are streamed using the interactive tele-education delivery platform, to every knowledge seeker across the globe. The advantage w e offer is that a number of locations across the country can derive the benefit of the classroom at the same time. Delivered from our state of the art studios on Bangalore and Chennai, these classes cover educational as well a supplement learning options.  We intend to integrate technologies and systems to provide a high quality learning experience at moderate cost through committed research and product development.

Traditionally, in India, e-learning is pre-recorded learning programs. Ours is a live classroom, along with e-learning aids, being transmitted through the internet to different locations. For example, we have a good physics teacher teaching from a room or studio in Bangalore and the classes could be synced to any part of the world, even more than one at a time.

The transformation from classroom learning and tuitions to non traditional online learning aids is not easy. What challenges did you face?

iScholar provides education through the internet. When someone uses vSAT based technology, it brings its own challenges like the cost of infrastructure. Though the cost of the dish is reducing, streaming is still very expensive.

Internet is a much more cost effective way to do that. In the Indian context the speed of the internet is the biggest problem.  A lot of technologies that are internet based, work in other parts of the world, but they will not work here. CISCO’s   Telepresence , for instance, require steady and  high bandwidth to be effective.  That will be good enough for video conferencing between two IT companies because they have internet but in a real environment where you have schools and colleges, it usually doesn’t work.  Our USP is that we are able to achieve optimisation in the concept wherein if we have something like a 256 bits speed, we can have live video.

In terms of adoption, we have noticed that at the management level, the apprehension is more. Students   are digitally aware from the very young age and hence are far more comfortable with the concept. They are more open to the technology and they adapt to it very easily. But at the decision maker level, there is still a reluctance to see that instead of a physical instructor, will remote delivery work.

Keeping that in mind, in our teaching methodology, we make sure that the classroom set up is faithful to a real classroom for the student. So, in an online class, not only his face is being captured, but the whole body language is shown. Teachers can walk around; take questions, just like they do in a live class.  They can take a chalk and write on the board and the children can see it completely, even till the last full stop.  They can use the video, even stop and ask the students any questions. Students can also stop and ask a query; it’s living interactive, only that the classroom is virtually live, even though the teacher is not present in the classroom.  They can also see the students and interact.

How do you balance between technology access and delivery of a genuine classroom experience?

Depending on the segment, we design the studies. For instance, the K12 segment, kids need more than just a teacher. They need a mentor, guide, someone who will answer their queries, tell them how to plan their career as well.  So we are not saying technology can replace all of that. We do it as a supplement to classroom teaching at that level.

But when we go the college levels, we do it in a group, and what they would expect is high quality teachers. They would want to learn a new technology or an IT program which is a part of the syllabus or outside it, and we deliver through this media.

In school level, it could be as per curriculum or additional support for competitions like engineering and medicine or management and other professional courses.  Even I think, additional programs- language or robotics, additional programs really which are not in lieu of the teacher but supplement to the classroom teaching.

What’s your client list like as of now?

We essentially aim to cater to schools where lower income groups go, small towns and villages, because they need   help for even the intelligent the kids to score more. It could be tuitions for pre- matriculation students, or test preparations for Pre-University students. They are also keen on English language. When we come to little higher levels of schools, like international schools, there the aspiration is more for value added programs like robotics. As a clientele, we have a mix of both segments. We have clients across Karnataka, Kolar, Shimoga, and they are helping  the children do better, a supplementary services, like maths and sciences.

We also deliver training programs to Bhutan and are in talks with Myanmar. So our geographical reach is spreading quite fast. We started with Karnakata, TN, and now we have schools in Chandigarh taking our services.

In terms of brands, we work with Zee Mount Litera, the Zee group of schools in their international schools across India. It is additional studying to the curriculum, we are delivering robotics program for them. We mapped the robotics program to the NCERT curriculum, so while they learn about it, in class  XIth they get a practical study in robotics program as well.

In Tumkur a PU College for girls is bring run by Siddhganga Mutt, has very bright girls.  They scored well in maths and sciences but in half yearly only 23% passed in English. We took a 40 hour course, and had online classes delivered to them. In that we didn’t cover the syllabus, we just ran it as an English language course, the result was that in the final exam 99.2 % passed. Out of 120, only one couldn’t pass. That was dramatic achievement, in a short intervention.  We have some similar examples in CET space, where a school took the program in the last 2 months of the school year… and in the first year they got students in the 1000, which they never got.

Basically   the technology ensures that very good quality teachers are being shared with more students, who would otherwise never have access to high quality teachers. With our platform, they are getting that support now, irrespective of the location and at a very low cost.

Do you think there is adequate government support for technology initiatives for education?

We understand this kind of technology can be a boon to children in a government school and also the government spends a lot of money for them. They have thousands of schools, they are giving even free education. However, a lot of parents in India send their children to private schools with the belief that the teaching is better. So this can actually dramatically improve the quality of teaching that the government schools are imparting education at a fraction of the cost. Online classrooms with good teachers can actually up the quality of education in these schools.

I can see the change; the government is far more open to the concept of a distance education. We heard PM Modi speak about educational policy, the initiation will be through the state government with their own initiative.

Can you please tell us some Initiatives to look forward to?

Aspirations are growing; everybody wants access to high quality education. But overnight everything cannot change, even with initiatives like Train the Trainer or University for Teacher Training…that will take a few decades to show any effect in a country the size of India. In between millions of students will pass through the system. It’s only technology that can have immediate results in terms of access to higher quality education to student in the mass system. While training the teacher has to be an ongoing effort, but you cannot wait years.

In the meantime tele education is a good option.

What is your utilisation of e-Learning?

When we are teaching, we ensure the use of good e-learning content. Otherwise  they will only talk. Typically, there are some good e-learning companies that have developed good content which they are helping us with.

The only weak link is it depends on the specific teacher to use. So a lot of places even though the content is available, it is not used effectively. In our cases, we have trained our teachers well, so they use e-learning tools too- with content in the form of interactive animation, video and  presentations.

Is technology driving the distance education initiative? Symbiotic.

A few years ago, a model like ours could not have worked,. Now with very positive government intervention, fast internet speeds an plans of coverage of  every village with a broadband or wifi connection, we will surely go far.

In addition, mobility- Smartphones, tablets will be driven by the plans for higher coverage of  optic fibre for villages. In these plans, the biggest utilisation of this technology will be for tele medicine and tele education. And with support from the cloud, things will get more scalable and of course, more cost effective.

In terms of e-learning, going forward, there will be more personal devices that will make it easier to deliver learning on demand. So with  more tech, you may no longer be bound to classrooms. People can do their own time, on the cloud, thru tele education, at their convenience.

 

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