Interview

90% of the Schools are still Grappling With Basic Excel-based Systems

 

Says, Pravin Gandhi, Founder of startup venture, School Vita,  providing mobile app as service for schools, has 36 years’ experience in new technology product development of which 17 years have been with TCS and its subsidiary CMC limited.

As entrepreneur he has created a branded personal Investment software “nVEST” and www.juskeepingtrack.com on SaaS model and now he has come up with SchoolVita a mobile app as service for schools and parents.

Gandhi completed his Mechanical engineering from V.J.T.I in Mumbai. Then he did masters in Industrial engineering program from University of Wisconsin-Madison and from Georgia Institute of Technology he did his MS in Industrial Engineering. Pravin Gandhi, in an interaction with Ekta Srivastava, Education Technology.in

About  SchoolVita. Its concept and journey so far

I have been an Information technology professional for 36 years now, half of them with the venerable Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). More specifically, I became specialised as a Software Products expert in the 90’sbecause of my experience as Head of the Business Unit that developed, marketed and distributed ready-to-use, off-the-shelf, shrink-wrapped software products at a time when “services” was the only focus of all software companies. I even wrote a serial column on Software Products marketing. After leaving TCS, I started my own software product company and created a Personal Investment software product which was widely appreciated by users and get rave mentions in the print media and provided my consultancy services to several companies, small and big. I returned to the TCS fold again for a product-as-service initiative.

Having crossed 60, I thought “I want to hit sixes in my sixties!” I delved into my products experience. A lot, well actually everything, has changed: there is internet; there is e-commerce; physical models of distribution and marketing are vanishing; there is no time to do anything: one must adapt one’s product to, say, demonetisation, and overnight! But there is venture funding for start-up ideas, innovation and risk-taking is rewarded rather than discouraged.

I spent a year thinking of, and discarding, several ideas. Then, in the government’s Digital India mission I saw an opportunity to create something of value which could not only be a great business idea but also work towards nation-building. I identified the existing scenario as growth drivers:

  • Evergreen Education-Tech domain
  • Mobile Revolution and penetration
  • Certainty of Digital Payments (a year before the recent post-demonetisation thrust)
  • Large number of schools-parents-students
  • Increasing keenness of parents in their children’s education and job-qualifying skills

I then embarked on doing research on our school system, met many people who ran schools and parents, and identified pain areas that could be addressed, how I could deliver a meaningful value to the student-parent-teacher system.

I found that some elite schools had their own resources to deploy systems like smart-classes and School ERP with a messenger-like mobile app thrown in, which could justify their high fees. However, 90% of the schools are still grappling with basic Excel-based systems, or none at all!. This vast majority of schools cannot invest in capex, and were suspicious of software vendors and consultants.

Schools want to reduce unscheduled, ad-hoc footfalls of parents into the school, to reduce stress on teachers and admin staff.

Parents are increasingly participative in their child’s education and development and concerned about their job prospects at an early age and want to be in touch more regularly than the off-line, once-in-a-quarter PTA meeting. Today, both parents are very active with various activities, both may be working, they travel a bit, so keeping in touch with what’s going on in school is a challenge. It is not possible to meet teachers at the drop of a hat, and even the school frowns on that. In fact, management and teachers, at least for now, are not keen for two-way communication with parents as that would put tremendous pressure on them.

Some schools were considering enhancing their website to include a parent log-in to give parents information. However, a website is a passive property which waits for a parent to come to the website and login.

Parents are increasingly getting used to making mobile payments, yet they have to visit the school or bank to pay fees, spending half a day off from work or other activity. On the school’s part, it takes 10 minutes for the school to accept fees from a parent at the counter.

Children are doing a lot of activity after school, be it tuition, classes, sports training, and so on. Parents always want to know where their child is.

From this study of the pain areas of school and parents, and with the desire to provide more meaningful value to schools and parents than just a whatsapp-like tool, it was clear to me that my solution would

  • Provide a nominal subscription-based software-as-service so that the school does not incur any capital expenditure; which will be plug-and-play, and would free the school from all hassles of owning, running and managing the solution.
  • Complement, and be agnostic to, any school-ERP and e-learning solution that the school may have, or go for in future, but would work on top of even rudimentary excel spreadsheets in the school’s back office.
  • Not be merely a messenger wrapped as an app, and that it will provide new-age functionality and new-age-technology, delivering more value and meaningful experience. At the same time, it will allow schools an adoption process that is manageable, incremental, not overwhelming.
  • Will “push” school communications to mobile phones of parents, and alert them, anytime-anywhere, without having to login. Moreover, parents will be reminded of scheduled events including exam timetables automatically in advance, something that whatsapp-like messengers cannot do, as the latter can only send out manually entered – not data driven – communication.

Thus was born SchoolVita, a mobile app-as-service for easy and meaningful School—Parents engagement.

Today, SchoolVita is successfully piloted in Mumbai’s suburban schools, with several schools in pipeline. Several schools are planning to use SchoolVita as their fee payment engine as the SchoolVita fee payment facility allows them to define their respective fee heads and amounts and give the parents the choice of mode and frequency of payment. Thus schools know who (which child) is making the payment and for what heads and what period.

SchoolVita is a Commercial as well as Social Impact play. SchoolVita has the potential for Digital Inclusion of the Indian population on a massive scale through the Schools-Parents-Students system,

SchoolVita is in active talks with the investor community for Angel Funding.

What are the different features that you more? How it is convenient for parents to use?

SchoolVita offers MANY FIRSTS:

  • SchoolVita is the first mobile app in the Indian Ed-Tech domain to provide Fee Payment from the App with such features: Schools can define their heads of fees, reduce footfalls, and save time and long queues at their office; while Parents can pay anytime, from anywhere, and choose the heads to pay, period (month, quarter, year) and mode (card, wallet, net-banking, etc.)
  • Subject-wise Performance Graphs over the academic year, not just a printed report card. Parents “see” the aptitude of their child(ren) and weak/strong areas;
  • SchoolVita is the first mobile app with a “Where Is My Child” child-tracking through a GPS device, which shows the location on a map in the app. While rfid solutions work only in schools, and bus-trackers work only in buses, SchoolVita tracks child anywhere, delivering a feeling of assurance to parents and school
  • Multi-Child, Multi-School, Multi parent-guardian. Parents can view more than one child with same login (and the children could be in different schools), while multiple parents can view the same child on their mobile phones.
  • To support the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Education Coalition philosophy to improve competitiveness in science and technology development, SchoolVita informs parents and schools about selected announcements on workshops, competitions and activities in the region for skills and ability development, e.g. Math Olympiad, Talent Contests, etc.
  • To provide more value from use of SchoolVita, parents can see offers from regional vendors of school-related goods and services in the vicinity of their residence.
  • Schools send instant communications to parents of all students, of a particular class or a student, via Push Notifications replacing hand-written notes and SMS. Parents view calendar events, class and exam timetables but also get automatic reminders.
  • The Cloud-based back office works on any existing school management data and can import student and marks data in simple steps. Thus, school can on-board the SchoolVita platform in no time.
  • The app works on Android and Apple phones and integrates a popular payment gateway and Google Maps. SchoolVita has tied up with Vodafone M2M for pre-activated SIMS so that parents do not have to do KYC before they can use the GPS child locator facility.
  • The App can be used by Parents even if the School is not On-board. Thus, SchoolVita works on an B2B as well as B2C model

What’s your take on parent engagement? What importance does it holds in a student’s life?

Parents are taking parenting more seriously than before. Today, Child’s schooling is top priority for parents, overriding social and extended family demands. Mothers are increasingly not being stay-at-home-mind-the child-and-family types, and lead quite an active life. Many children have both parents working. At the same time, Schools are bearing brunt of parental pressure, footfalls, and would want some control. Schools organise formal days for parent-teacher interaction, while Parents want connectivity with schools beyond PTA/Open Day. SchoolVita provides the digital-mobile connectivity which helps both: Parents know about goings-on in school via school notifications, get automatic advance reminders of calendar events and exam time-tables, view child’s performance in graphs, get information on relevant school/student participatory events outside the school, pay fees, and so on.

Parents are also more worried about the child’s where-abouts. If a child is half an hour late where he or she is supposed to be, parent makes frantic enquiries.

This makes a difference in a student’s life as his or her academic journey, aptitude are better monitored and channelled towards acquiring right education for getting better job. Illiterate or semi-literate parents are even more concerned about their child and want to ensure that their child has a “proper/higher” job different from theirs. Digital Connectivity via Schoolvita is a way they can be in touch throughout their child’s passage through school.

How can learning experiences be designed that require that interaction?

From our experiences with SchoolVita at different schools, we have seen that the child teaches the parents how to download Schoolvita, register, navigate and get regular information. As a by-product of the SchoolVita mobile app, parents are learning English too.

Of course, there is great sense in making vernacular language versions ahead for greater digital inclusion.

What systems can be put in place to respond when the communication–for whatever reason–doesn’t happen?

Technology in Indian schools is at a stage when manual system will continue in parallel until 100% adoption by schools and parents as a way of life. That day is not far, with the thrust on Digital India.

 

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