'We want to democratise education so that it reaches every nook and corner'

Mirror Now Dialogues with Vinay Tewari: Atit Mehta, Marketing Head, BYJU'S, shares insights on the exponential growth of online learning, key changes in the sector, impact of technology, and more

e4m by Ritika Raj
Updated: Apr 1, 2021 5:39 PM
Mirror Now Dialogues with Vinay Tewari

MIRROR NOW, in collaboration with exchange4media Group, is curating a series of video interviews, ‘MIRROR NOW Dialogues with Vinay Tewari’. In the third part of this series, Vinay Tewari, Managing Editor, Mirror NOW interacted with Atit Mehta, Marketing Head, BYJU'S on the topic “Will Online Education Become Mainstream in Future?

With the pandemic leading to the evolution of education from physical to digital, there have been certain changes in the sector. The discussion highlighted the exponential growth seen in the adoption of online learning during the pandemic. Mehta also explained how the relationship between formal education and the EdTech sector has evolved, how online learning provides a customized & personalized experience, how Byju’s is looking to democratize education and the road ahead for BYJU’S & the EdTech sector.

The session opened with Tewari asking Mehta to sum up how business has panned out at BYJU’s in the last year, considering it was one of the rising sectors amidst the pandemic. According to Mehta, while the last year was something that no one wanted, it could not have been better from a business perspective at BYJU’S. He added “What we realised is that in such a situation schools would be the first thing to shut down and the last thing to open, and that is exactly what happened. There was a lot of anxiety amongst parents and they were fearing a learning loss of a year. What we saw in the first five years of our journey, we saw that kind of exponential growth happening in the last year.”

Talking about the patterns in which the different segments of education are growing, Mehta states that they are growing very differently based on their addressable universes. “Out of pre-primary, primary, secondary and professional segments, primary and secondary segments is where the maximum number of students are there and hence saw the fastest growth as compared to the professional sector. In tier 1 and tier 2 markets, the top 10% of schools adopted digital learning. But surprisingly, the biggest segment to get hit was the belly of the population, so the big growth happened from tier 2 and tier 3 cities.”

The growth of the EdTech sector goes hand in hand with formal education. Talking about how closely BYJU’S looks at the growth of the formal education sector, Mehta explained “There is no better place than a physical classroom to get formal education. We need better schools, better infrastructure and schools need to build a better ecosystem. We closely follow everything in the offline world. We also partner with educational boards to ensure that the right level of education is imparted to the students. We believe that this is the golden age of teachers. If we are not able to get the right pedagogy that teachers provide, we will never be an educational powerhouse. Everything works in tandem now, digitisation has happened in the country, people have been exposed to the online way of learning. We are not saying that online education will replace school, we are saying it is a plus one. We are very closely following what happens in the next 3-5 years with a blended learning approach.”

In a country like India with non-uniform internet penetration, Television could be leveraged as a means to impart mass qualitative education. Commenting on the same, Mehta shared “One can certainly look at a broadcast medium like TV to impart education. But, the beauty of the business lies in the fact that education is highly personalised and customised. One can look at broadcasting education, and we did try BYJU’S sessions weekly, but students still faced connectivity issues while streaming. Over a period of time, the country should get connected and everybody will have access and that’s what we intend to do. We want to democratise education; we want to have education going to the nook and corner of the country. TV is an option, but we haven’t tried it.”

Elaborating on how BYJU’S reconciles with the fact that different boards operate differently, Mehta added “Our educational content is mapped to 14 state boards, CBSE and ICSE. The curriculum will be according to your board that a student registers with. It’s just about aligning the curriculum and creating content which talks to that relevant board and it’s already mapped in the paid version.”

Talking about which subjects gain the most traction on BYJU’S, Mehta shared “Over the years, we have offered Maths and Science as our key subject deliveries, and six months back we added Social Science with History and Geography. Certainly, Maths is the number one pain point for both students and parents. However, Spoken English can also become a big area of concentration, but right now it’s Maths.”

The screen time for children has significantly increased and parents are concerned about the same. Addressing these concerns, Mehta said “These concerns from a parent or a school perspective will always be there. But in today’s day and age, children are spending a reasonable amount of time on a digital device. The whole premise is that if I am using that time for learning rather than playing a video game or watching content that is not meant for me, it’s positive. There are concerns, but the positives are outweighing the negatives in terms of digital screen time. It’s not about spending 5-6 hours on online education, we are asking for 25-30 minutes every day and that is more outcome led than impacting health.

Commenting on whether AI and developing technology will lead to absolutely personalised education, Mehta added “It will, and in fact it has already started. The hardcore machine has learnt itself and the algorithm is working, and with more usage data we collect, it gets stronger. I wouldn’t be surprised if two years down the line it gets more and more customised and personalised.”

Talking about the insight behind leveraging associations with actor Shahrukh Khan and cricketing stars, Mehta shared “We decided to use a film celebrity who is well known five years ago when we launched the business and nobody knew us. It was about mass reach and being noticed. We wanted people to discover us and a celebrity from that aspect made sense. As far as cricket is concerned, we believe that education is not just about academics, it is rather a 360-degree development. Sports teaches you team spirit, respect, discipline and many other virtues. We turned to the most prominent sport in the country – Cricket. Fortunately, the critical availability of the sponsorship worked in our favour. As it is a single slot sponsorship; you are either there or not there, and the timing played well for us. We were also scaling up at that time. All of this put together, it was clear that it had to be the Indian cricket team.”

Elaborating on the road ahead for the BYJU’S and the EdTech sector, Mehta said “BYJU’S subscriber base is currently at 80 million, at an industry level it must be about 100 million. The school-going children that are our potential audience are stacked at 270 million. The penetration of online education is only one-third. The paid subscribers out of a 100 million base would be around 6 million, so we have only penetrated a 5% of the category. There is a humongous headroom for growth and we believe that YoY the growth should be at an exponential level, both in terms of top of the funnel and annual subscriptions. It will be a two-pronged approach, adding more people and more content and products like online music, coaching, coding, etc. Today online learning goes beyond just academic education.”

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