Entrepreneurs hold a hallowed place in the society. Their ability to think differently, in an innovative and visionary way, sets them apart from others. With their missionary zeal, they are able to re-define what people believe possible and change the society for the better. Entrepreneurs come in all size and shapes – from billionaires to those that merely eke out a daily living. There are various definitions of entrepreneurship, but a common theme is that of providing a product or service that solves a problem in the society and creating value in the process. Not all entrepreneurs are successful, but those that are, are the happiest people on earth.
Another important point is that entrepreneurship is not only for monetary considerations. The enterprises they create may be for-profit, or nonprofit or as social entrepreneurship. The not-for-profit and social entrepreneurs hold the key to successful ventures in the education sector. These types on entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to improve the overall condition of society and measure their success in terms of double bottom-line – money and economic benefit.
India’s education sector is massive and riddled with problems. There are more than 200 million students in more than 1 million schools in the government and the private sector. With a median age of 25 years, India has over 550 million people below the age of 25 years. According to Census figures, over 32 per cent of the 1.1 billion population is between the age group 0-14. There are more than 500 universities with more than 30,000 colleges, both government and private. There are 1.5 million seats in the engineering sector and 1 million seats at the diploma or polytechnic levels. These are in addition to 350,000 seats in management and 150,000 seats in pharmacy.
But the sector faces severe challenges. As the number of institutions has proliferated, the quality has taken a huge dip. The sector is burdened with a baffling array or rules, governed by a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. There is a massive shortage of teachers – more than 200,000 in the higher education sector alone. There are about 10 million students that are failing in the 10th standard and another 8 million that are failing in the 12th standard. A recent cover story in a magazine suggested that the skilling or the vocational sector needs Rs. 5 lakh crore to train all the people entering the job market.
Put simply, the sector is over-regulated and under-governed. There are some very prestigious institutions but these are more like islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. The solutions lie in entrepreneurship. Einstein famously said that problems cannot to be solved with the same level of thinking that created them in the first place. The existing system cannot re-invent or disrupt itself – innovative entrepreneurs have to jump in to chart a new course, which can set India firmly on the path of growth and prosperity.
It is not easy – it is a massive system and small changes at the margin will not have any impact. The entrepreneurs need to think big and attempt to make big changes to big things for large impact. Even as the system is stacked against them, the one big ally they have today is technology.
Rapid growth of computing devices and connectivity has created enormous opportunities for potential entrepreneurs. The explosive growth in mobile telephony has provided phenomenal channel to access the hundreds of millions of learners who were otherwise not accessible. The rapid decline in prices of computers and tablets coupled with the fast rising connectivity means that the conventional trade-off between cost-quality-price is no longer valid. Everybody can now have a high quality education at a time and place of their choice and at a price that they can afford.
The opportunities are in both in the formal and non-formal sector. Traditional places of learning like schools and colleges can benefit enormously by leveraging the latest technology solutions. Then technology can be leveraged to provide supplementary services like tutoring, test-prep, skilling, professional certification and increasingly, on-line degrees.
We have a English learning product, English edge, that leverages technology in a very deep way to solve a big problem, that of lack of good quality teachers. Our product helps a not-so-good teacher to deliver a high quality learning experience. We provide the product on computers, internet, mobile and tablets to enable schools, colleges and other institution to help the students get more proficient in the language of success, English. Hundreds of entrepreneurs have used our product to provide solutions to their customers. We are delighted with the impact we have achieved with the learners and the entrepreneurs and are excited by the possibilities as we move forward.