The elephant in the room the schools need to see now, on why the schools in India need to play the long game

Ekta Grover
Founder, Shunya
November 11, 2020
7 minutes

Uptil COVID ‘19 happened, most of the schools long lived tucked on a different island, occasionally making a few digital investments to power digital learning.

The landscape of product offerings itself was largely flat, with no core innovation, apart from the access to education as a singular focal point which was being chipped on from the sides since 2012. 

Largely, digital was only a small part of the overall scheme of things on how things got done at school. The interventions mostly ranged from smart digital boards, digital classroom, whitelabeled/bespoke apps to drive better parental engagement and real time communication.  

This was fair, because k12 learning is meant to be a community driven, offline first and the social fabric of the school is where long term meaningful cleaning will always happen. 

Except that the fundamental premise of which it was based is starting to be questioned with the disruptions in EdTech product offerings, rise of bespoke and independent content creators, need to adapt for the future of work, and the mounting parental expectations. 

Due to this, a few critical gaps in digital investments such as teacher productivity, Operational efficiency, assisted hyper personal learning outcomes and deeper parental engagement - started to become glaring. This post will cover a few themes that schools can capitalize on the current wave and set themself as the trend setters, rather than playing a catch up in the irreversible trends we will see in time to come .

It's there and it's more real than ever has been.

Schools need to look at the history to predict where the future will follow. 

As the world becomes more and more flat, information arbitrage and premium “content” augments the paradox of choice - the edge will no longer be the brand the schools built yesterday. And the pace of this, has accelerated much like the demonetization wave. 

Traditionally, thus schools have relied on Technology only when it was the “real choke point“- admissions, bus tracking, payments, and digital content/smart classes. At the same time, schools, often notoriously known to “not pay” in the secret corridors of all firms who were choked into “not innovating enough” has created a spiral cycle of death by thousand cuts. 

To innovate, these firmms need stable revenue streams and for stable revenue stream they need adoption. The fall of EduComp itself was partly because of these nuances. 

See user demand patterns from adjacent categories to predict the impact in yours

Take ecommerce, for example  -  shifting to user centricity, better disposable income, shifting  patterns of better choices and a willingness to participate in the new economy, Schools only relied on Inflation as the primary index for increasing the price of services offered. Looking back to the Edtech wave, this was a missed opportunity of the pent up “value added” demand. 

While other sectors in India continued to blossom - schools were left behind, partly also by the incentive & monetary structures within which the governance operates. Only in a competitive economy, with unfair risk-reward model - does an incentive for change lies. This needs a bigger nudge on Governance norms, centrally. 

Software is eating the world 

To illustrate this point - consider this, 63% of parents worry about their children spending too much time with “Technology” at while, while only 38% worry about doing so at School.

This means that schools are well poised and even default mode of acceptance when it comes to safe and productive use of technology. A Yougov + Microsoft survey in 2018 revealed, so. 

While pent up consumer demand existed, which was being serviced primarily by the fragmented Tutions & Private Coaching classes  - the ecosystem accepted that as a reality. Rather than capturing this piece of pie, schools left that, more like consolation prize. Often the same teachers teaching the Tutions & private coaching, it was long a win-win for both. And this is changing by a third very disruptive wave - the rise of independent content creators. Creating more relevant, localized and tuned to the changing study patterns with more freedom, flexibility and “fun” way of teaching - content creators is market no ones saw till it became the Elephant in the room. 

This wave started to see altering patterns in 2012, when the market slowly started getting organized. And with the rise of Byju’s and other categories, it is becoming more real than ever. Even if that means race to the bottom for other contenders in the category, demand patterns will change - and will change sooner than they ever have, before. 

This all is set for a massive overhaul driven by 3 main demand shaping forces -  access, affordability, and aspirations

The inflexion point 

The moment couldn't be more appropriate with NEP2020 and COVID '19 to break the shackles of old world and transition into 3 uber themes - productivity, operational efficiency & assisted hyper personalization.

For the first time in history schools are sitting at a true inflexion point where they will either make it to the new wave, or be left behind.  With EdTech having 4x the amount of funding in India up till 2020 Q3 compared to 2019, rising parental expectations, awareness and fear - an average Indian parent for the first time is sitting as the real choice maker, as the future of work continues to be even more hazy.

As more and more choices emerge - parents are more open to alternative ways of education. What used to be pushing kids to extracurriculars of all kinds, has transformed as a society to EdTech choices across coding, speaking, even General management & Leadership. 

And the reason this is important, is that no one knows, where this will land. The only thing we know for sure, a post COVID world will be very different than it had been before and schools can’t revert to the comfort of the traditional world. Another force that comes into mix is Reliance’s foray into this space. Slowly & gradually as with everything, it will create unidentifiable consumption patterns and just looking at the growth of the Jio story and how it has become a bare bone of the infra which carries India on it illustrates the real threat. 

Schools will not go away as an institution for a very long time, but they will become more redundant as places where children get educated . And to stay relevant, the top school will have to try the hardest to justify. Traditionally, schools used to be institutions of privilege & social status, which again as a society is shifting towards 

Schools will need better 

  • Teacher productivity - Liberating teachers off teaching related non-core activities, including grading assignments. That's for machines !! (Bonus, we already do this & many more for you!)
  • Operational efficiency - No more punching between systems & registers. Better governance, visibility & reduced costs
  • Better parental confidence & engagement, even when the school re-open there is a lot more reassurance that the parents will need. And you need to work backwards.Now.
  • Long term distinctive student learning outcomes & assisted hyper personalisation
  • Deeper offline + online understanding of engagement patterns per child at micro & macro level 
  • Mass assessment & foray into preparatory & up skilling market - which will give them a piece of the pie 
  • Diagnosing, prediction & recommending for distinctive learning styles
  • Long term differentiating MOAT given where EdTech as an industry is headed (More on this in assessments space, and discovering tiered offering much like an A/B test)

Defense is not a sustainable strategy. And schools, more than now, need to adapt at a neck breaking pace. They need partners they can trust. Partners, who can help them implement hybrid models, and do so by co-creation and keeping their best interests at heart.

Firms, who create products & services not in vacuum, but grounded in reality and free of the fear of copy-cat model. Fearless, relentless, soulful firms, who want to co-lead innovation as equals, not fight land grabbing wars with schools and create an ecosystem where there is palace for everyone to thrive. Schools in that world would do everything that they do best, BUT technology. 

All of this will be powered by a futuristic technology and my bet is that this technology will be co-created by Teachers. Because not one of the software out there is created for the users it is meant to be used by. 

At Shunya, we take partnering & co-creating with teachers very sincerely, so after a lot of focussed discussions , we are now launching our Teachers for Teacher’s community program. Details will shortly follow ( Shoot an email at if you are interested to partner)

It is something we have discovered, faltered and perfected, as we choose to not rush into creating yet another LMS in vacuum. Personally, before we even wrote a SINGLE line of code, we spent 2+ months, just talking to teachers & Educators PAN India. Of everything we have done, it is something we are very proud of.

We spoke to NCERT, folks who had worked in AIM, NITI Aayog, made & influenced Education policies, ran ASER reports on ground. We spoke to foundations, we spoke to Govn school teachers, private, public school, coaching institutes.

And from that Sagar Manthan - was Shunya born. Partner with us to create a futuristic Technology, built by teacher's for Teachers. Onwards!!