Entrepreneurship in education: the way forward?

Nupur Hukmani

The answers capitalism doesn’t have
In the past 20 odd years, capitalism and the free market economy have swept the world. Leading from the front, Europe and America have shown us what is possible under a free market economy in the form of abundant wealth. These countries have been pioneers of scientific discovery and innovation. Add to that the educational and social progress these nations enjoy. The emergence of capitalism some 300 odd years ago made possible the kind of material progress never witnessed before. However, in many parts of the world, the disillusionment might finally be setting in and the limits of capitalism in solving the problems of society are being felt.

Make no mistake, capitalism is still thriving. Everywhere, even in developing countries like China and India, businesses continue to grow, in tandem with technological advances in leaps and bounds. However, not everyone is benefiting. If you look at the global income distribution, the patterns will tell you a different story. According to the most recent World Inequality Report, 2018, the top 10 per cent of the population owns close to 50 per cent of the total wealth. This pattern is seen across the world. The Global Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index report has found that in 2018, 1.3 billion people all around the world are living in multidimensional poverty, 83 per cent of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Sadly, along with economic progress, capitalism has brought the worsening of social problems as well as a drastic pollution of the environment. The decree of “the most powerful takes it all” must be replaced with “an equitable space for everyone on a level playing field”. Otherwise, we run the risk of falling prey to the control of financial imperialism.

Social entrepreneurship – the answer to capitalism’s social evils?
Against this context, the world is now looking at a possibility that creative and innovative thinking can be applied to solving social problems of our times which ostensibly seem impossible to tackle. The exciting part is that there are already many people around the world today who are trying to do just that and they fall into a very distinctive category – the social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs trying to solve the problems related to health, education and environment with the same entrepreneurial zeal and focus that a business entrepreneur might. The only difference is that social progress is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. In India, we now see a growing breed of entrepreneurs in the education sector who are trying to better the system and provide quality education.

The scenario in India
India’s current ecosystem of education is humongous, to say the least, with multiple stakeholders (public, private, and some in between) – all with the singular aim of educating and eventually developing India’s youth. It is essential to recognize schools in India through the lens of possession. Overall, 75 per cent of schools in India are run by the government and 25 per cent by the private sector. Of the 25 per cent privately run schools, six per cent are aided by the government. Currently, there are 1.5 million schools that cater to over 260 million students.

By 2031, an estimated 350 million children (0-14 years) will enter the school system in India. The questions we must pose as a nation are: Are we prepared for the future of our children? Will we be able to deliver to them the education they need to live self-sufficient, independent lives?

As of now, things are rather bleak: ASER 2016 shows that only 63 per cent of class 5 rural private school students can read a class II text. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has found two of our states – Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh – second from the bottom on their assessments. On one end of the continuum, we can boast of our Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and our Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and universities that produce globally competitive graduates. Sadly on the other end, we are still grappling with problems like finding staff in our primary and secondary schools, particularly in rural areas.

Entrepreneurship in the education sector
Clearly, the social entrepreneur has a colossal potential for transforming the education system especially in a country like India. Today, within education, social entrepreneurs have created many different types of organizations that pursue their ideals to have a positive impact on the larger system. Some are doing this by creating a new supply of public and private schools and school systems. There are others trying instead to create organizations that seek to enhance the capacity of the existing public school system. These include developers of alternative capacity building or support programs for teachers and school leaders. And finally, there are those who are creators of products and services that help teachers and leaders with better instruction, administration, and management.

Whether they are creating new services, building better schools or developing enhanced tools, education entrepreneurs – particularly those who seek to eventually disrupt the system itself – are worthy of our consideration. They are motivated by a novel vision for how education can be a different and enhanced system. They are a rare type of innovators whose characteristics and activities may lead to a revolution – not merely the slight improvement – of the education system.

Trends in education entrepreneurship
Sir Ken Robinson, renowned educator, staunchly believes that we need to focus on refining three main aspects of education if we are to ‘school’ our children better: teaching, curriculum, and assessment. Here, I outline some current trends in entrepreneurship in the education sector. This list is by no means exhaustive.

1. Content, curriculum and teaching aids: These are resources that can be used by teachers in classrooms to support instruction. While there is no dearth of learning resources, teachers have been assigned textbooks that they must follow as part of the prescribed curriculum of the Central and State Boards. However, teachers do want the freedom to choose textbooks that best suit their students. Some upcoming entrepreneurs in this space are trying to replace the traditional method of teaching in silos by providing an overall integrated solution for the teacher. Organisations in this space provide books and apps based on competency-based content and also provide support to enhance a teacher’s pedagogy and content knowledge. For example, IMAX is a startup that offers end to end services of textbooks, workbooks, assessments, exams and teacher manuals. According to an article in the Economic Times, they have now reached 300,000 students across the country. Another organisation, Mindspark, is a computer adaptive solution for children to learn English and Maths. Mindspark, according to this article can be used at home and at school and is aligned to the school curriculum.

2. Building teaching capacity: This mainly refers to enabling teachers to upgrade and improve their competence. More recently, service providers which include publishers, teacher training entities and ed-tech companies among many others, have started developing products and services or interventions customized to meet specific needs of teachers in the private as well as government schools. The variety of teacher solutions ranging from subject specific tools to systemic support that exists today because of these entrepreneurs is overwhelming. Entrepreneurs in this space include Meghshala, which focuses on developing teacher capacity by providing kits called “Teachkits” aligned to the stateboard currciculum for math, English, social studies and science. According to this article in the Business Line, “The Teachkits, which are a part of the app, contain multimedia lessons divided into two primary components – student slides and teacher instructions. The student slides include images, videos, text and questions that students can directly engage with.” There are others, like Math Buddy, founded in 2010 which has 1500 activities and 800 interactive math worksheets and assessments. It is now focusing on targeting low-income schools. These products and interventions are important to the teacher because they identify existing skills and mindset gaps and encourage working on them in a holistic manner. They also help in the career mobility of teachers.

3. Addressing distinct learning needs: In a survey conducted on the perceptions of teachers on assessments by Chrysalis, it was found that only two per cent of the 700 odd teachers surveyed, realized the importance of assessments as a tool for student feedback, support, and further planning. The rest look at assessments as merely a stock keeping exercise. The right curriculum and improving teacher quality are only half the battle won. Education Initiatives, another organisation, was set up in 2001 with an aim to work in assessments and personalised learning space in education through their benchmarking test called Asset which has been taken by 3,50,000 students. It is a scientifically designed skill based test and it focuses on how well the students have grasped the various concepts and provides a detailed assessment of the child in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Entrepreneurs in this space, customize learning based on the child’s current level of knowledge, his/her preferred pace of learning as well as their style of learning. There are many others who offer technology which helps the teacher analyze exactly where the breakdown in understanding has occurred and how it can be rectified – in other words, continuous remedial feedback. Some other entrepreneurs in the field of assessments have recognized that the majority of a teacher’s class time is spent on assessments. Hence, these entrepreneurs are providing end to end solutions right from customized content to personalized assessments. This leaves the teacher with ample time to plan for pedagogy better.

4. Transforming the whole school: A school is a complex social and political space with multiple stakeholders and structures. There are many innovators, who are now embarking on transforming the entire school because they believe that every stakeholder in the school is essential to a child’s holistic development. Mantra4Change was conceptualised in 2013 with an aim to improving the quality of education in existing schools through a two-year complete school immersion program. Their eventual goal is to create multiple proof points of success for the larger system to emulate. Entrepreneurs in this space believe in the theory of change that spans varied levels from collective culture and beliefs to a solid instructional leadership approach. Many of these entrepreneurs have their own checklists based on which they coach the various stakeholders in the school. They also have a deep focus on data-based intervention. Often, readily visible markers such as the use of technology, good infrastructure, assessment results are employed to assess the quality of education in schools. However, the more intangible indicators of quality are reflected in the shared values of the school, in its culture, the structures and processes that support the institution. There are various organizations that are working on providing tools for measuring and improving these indicators.

Way forward
There are currently more than 4,000 companies and entrepreneurs that are trying to solve challenges in education in India, through any of the above solutions. Needless to say, like any entrepreneurial space, this too is a highly competitive space. Only the most ground-breaking and impactful solutions which can sustain funds, as well as scale, will survive. What is extremely appealing about entrepreneurs in the education sector is their ability to combine business with values. It is apparent that we need to move towards meaningful change and build an education system that empowers a child with skills and belief to thrive in the future. Thankfully, India has innovators present across the system; be it teachers and academicians who are investigating with pedagogic styles; school leaders who are being coached into taking the lead to transform their schools; aware parents who are encouraging their wards to explore multiple sources of knowledge or entrepreneurs who are introducing breakthrough tech solutions or policymakers who are receptive to innovation in the education system. Unriddling the problems with the education system will require innovation at all levels, combining the efforts of every stakeholder and incentivizing behaviours that are aligned to the end objective providing an excellent education for all our children.


The author is based in Pune and has a Masters in Psychology from Fergusson College. She has been a Teach For India Fellow and has an experience of six years in the education sector. She is passionate about early childhood education, gender, and education management. She can be reached at nupurhukmani12@gmail.com.

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