Disruptive tech startup plans to revolutionize teaching in India.
By R. Chandrasekaran
BANGALORE: Children in Indian schools will soon realize that learning is a lot more fun thanks to ‘Funtoot’, an innovative technology from a Bangalore-based startup company, eDreams Edusoft.
Schoolchildren will also enjoy superior technology facilities at par with college students. The credit for changing the learning habit of schoolchildren in India undoubtedly goes to the founder and technology specialist Rajeev Pathak. His company has developed a product that helps everyone concerned, be it children, parents, teachers, and school management. It provides personalized learning to every child based on the capability and unique characteristics of each child.
While stating that his company’s technology is not going to replace the black or white boards from the classrooms, the CEO is confident that the software, named as ‘Funtoot’, will replace tuition and coaching to children and allow the teachers to provide a personalized attention, which is the most wanted aspect even as the school management is battling for skilled personnel to teach their wards. Funtoot is an intelligent and adaptive personal instructor teaching the children in a fun-filled, interactive and personalized manner.
The feature of the technology, Funtoot, is that it observes, evaluates, diagnoses, interacts, encourages and instructs each student based on his or her strength or characteristics. The idea of the software is to make learning more fun than a forced one on children. While the technology is targeting children studying between the Classes of 2 and 8 currently, it will be expanded to cover classes up to 12 in India.
Started in 2010, the technology is driven by innovations through Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, NLP and Speech processing. The company is a winner of Bloomberg UTV’s “The Pitch” Award for 2011-12 and a finalist at Marico Innovation Foundation Award 2012. The company was also among the top three of the National Association of Software Services Companies (NASSCOM) social Innovation Honors 2013.
Pathak has done a Master of Business Administration from IIM Bangalore after completing M. Tech from India’s renowned BITS Pilani. Before venturing eDreams, he was General Manager – Software Products Group at Wipro with business size valued at $100 million a year. He has more than 20 years of work experience and was rewarded in Wipro for business innovation and development, account and project management.
Five more persons, who have rich experience in the start-up projects, product development, quality, selling learning solutions and customer service, ably support him in the management of a digital revolutionary in the education field. While Suryaprakash Konanuru, an M.Tech from IIT Mumbai, heads the technology after having been a co-founder of Yos Technologies and Alopa Networks, Haris Poonthala takes care of product assurance with the experience from MindTree, Divitas, Cisco, and Wipro. Ram Jayaraman is a Director – Engineering, while A Jayaprakash and Ashok Kumar Rajaraman looks after Business Development and Customer Services, respectively.
Interestingly, of the 6 persons, five worked in Wipro. These apart, there are advisors, J. Sridhar for strategy and international business and Dr. Jawahar for academics.
In an exclusive interview to The American Bazaar, eDreams Edusoft CEO Rajeev Pathak explains what made him take up this venture and the road ahead for the company. Excerpts from the interview:
What made you start a venture like this?
There are three primary reasons. One is a deep desire to develop a disruptive technology in education coming out of India. Second is make a significant impact on society and third is that there is no big technology company focused only on children. These factors have influenced our thinking towards developing a product for children.
Could you elaborate?
We, in India, have developed a number of software products for global companies or communities. There is less India-focused software products innovated in India. Therefore, we thought of developing a software product for the benefit of our society. While we were exploring various possibilities, we have found that our children needed much attention in a changing world.
We (founder and other management) have come from middle class or lower middle class background. Therefore, our success is attributed to education and we thought of giving it back to the society in the best possible way.
Did you do any research?
Yes. We went to 100 schools in 2010. The fundamental issue was homogeneous teaching-learning in class rooms. We believe that every child is unique in terms of his IQ, his interest in this world, his attention span, and in terms of the issues he or she faces while learning. All children are taught in the same manner irrespective of their uniqueness. It is not possible to provide significant individual attention to each child in classrooms. We asked schools to outline solution for this problem. Their common solution was to reduce the number of students in a classroom. But the problem exists even if the ratio of students versus teacher per class is lower. For instance, even the schools, which had 15:1 as student/teacher ratio, also complained about this issue. Therefore, the solution to this can be found only if one human teacher is given to every student, which is not practically possible. Therefore, we have come up with an idea of technology called ‘Funtoot’ to help children in personalized manner.
Who are your target audience?
We approach the schools and explain the features of our product. We give them a demo and also train the teachers as to how to use the software to make their working easier and produce better results on every student. We don’t sell it to individuals.
Which are the classes you are focusing on?
Currently, we are concentrating on class 2 to class 8. We shall be adding class 9 and 10 in about 6 – 12 months’ time. In three years’ time, we will also cover up to 12th standard.
Are you covering all the subjects?
No, we are covering English, Mathematics and Science, as these form part of core group and are important for any career development. We will continue to invest in these subjects. However, if someone is interested in creating content for other subjects, we will offer our technology for a cost. For instance, if anyone wants to create an adaptive learning solution for Accountancy or Commerce or Economics, they can do so using our technology by paying us a fee for it.
How many schools are using it now and your what is your target in the coming year?
About 25 schools and a total of 20,000 students in four southern states are using them currently. This includes smaller places such as Chalakudy in Kerala and Chikmaglur in Karnataka, besides Chennai and Bangalore. Our target is to reach 100 schools by March 2014.
Is it premature to venture into this segment because of the adoption level of technology even in higher secondary level?
There is nothing like premature to enter the field. We are a pioneer and a first entrant. In India, there are about 100,000 private schools. Of this, we are targeting 20,000 schools only, which, I feel, is quite reasonable to venture into this. As we start promoting this, we are confident of reaching out to more schools and students.
How much do you expect from these 20,000 schools to use your Funtoot?
We are expecting at least 2,000 schools in 3 to 4 years’ time. This will translate into one million students, which should be quite commendable in a short span of time.
How will ‘Funtoot’ help in coaching and tuition?
Funtoot discovers different characteristics of child and adjusts itself uniquely to every child and observes children in the same way as human instructors do while they solve problems. The product interacts with children through voice and text in a unique manner on the issues that the children face and assist them.
For instance, a human teacher teaches to all the children in the same way. While one child may understand quickly, the other may have some problems. In a group of students, it is tough to find out where a particular child is having problem. Funtoot helps the children as well as tutor to fix this problem. A child may struggle on conception of division in mathematics, whereas another child may have problem with tables or multiplication or subtraction while doing division itself. When a child uses Funtoot, Funtoot will indicate where the particular child is committing error continuously. This allows both students as well as teacher to focus on fixing the issues to move on to next level automatically.
The salient feature is that the students don’t get bored as Funtoot provides question in the way students like. For instance, a child may be interested in sports; we use them to attract the child to make it interesting. Similarly, there are other options available to make it more fun for children and they don’t feel bored.
What benefits do students and teachers derive from Funtoot?
For the students, it improves grades with a personalized learning by allowing them to know exactly where they are on a daily basis and make sure they are ready for a competitive examination in future.
As far as teaches are concerned, while it saves at least 1 – 2 hours every day through homework automatic correction, the overall class performance improves through a daily reporting and the feedback on the effectiveness of teaching. More than anything else, it allows providing individual attention to all the students, which is what every parent expects. The school too benefits by improved performance from the students.
Given the infrastructure constraints, how do schools adopt this technology?
Yes, there are constraints and the schools will have to provide access to the PCs. Therefore, the schools have kept one or two days in a week to allow students to access PCs in the school during their time-table. In addition, students can also use Funtoot at home using same credentials. For schools, who do not have the infrastructure, we help them get it through our infrastructure partners.
The teachers can also give different homework to different students based on their strength and weaknesses. The homework need not have to be the same to all the students.
How do you generate revenue: one-time payment or subscription?
We do it through monthly subscriptions since Funtoot is deployed through private cloud in school and through public cloud at home.
How do you see this market?
In India, this can be seen in two ways. One is product and solutions, which is used inside classrooms and the other is the need of personalized learning outside classrooms. We want to be the technology leader in the latter and it is a very large opportunity.
What is the market size of these businesses?
While the expenditure for the inside-classroom product and solutions is about $1 billion, the expenditure for personalized learning in India is to the extent to $12 billion, which is what we are targeting currently.
How did you fund this project?
We have pooled in our own resources to start with and Mumbai Angels invested $500,000 in October 2011.
Are you planning to raise more money?
Yes. We may be raising $2 to $3 million from Venture Capitals in the next few years for product development, sales and marketing.
Is an IPO in the pipeline?
Not immediately, but maybe after five years we will plan an IPO.
As digitalization is growing, the education for children is not an exception and is all set to change in the coming years.