Building Edtech in India: Go Slow or Go Home

From EdSurge, Tony Wan, Nov 15, 2013.

 

Talk about a true case of the little guy cleaning up the big guy’s mess.

For the past two years, Zaya co-founder and CEO Neil D’Souza has triumphed over astonishing odds in his mission to deliver digital educational resources to developing regions. He’s piped digital books to nomadic herders in remote Mongolia and Khan Academy videos to orphanages in Indonesia.

Now his sights are set on India, beginning with his hometown, Mumbai. But first he must overcome the pessimism in the wake of the muddle created by Educomp, India’s largest edtech company.

“There’s a lot of skepticism in India about education technology. Teachers and schools has seen so many attempts fail in the last eight, ten years,” says D’Souza.

He’s determined to make a difference. In January 2012, D’Souza, a former Cisco engineer, set up his headquarter in Mumbai to implement and scale affordable blended learning labs in schools and tutoring centers. All the equipment required fits neatly in a backpack. For roughly $3,000, the ZayaLabKit comes with Aakash tablets, earphones, speakers, a projector, a battery pack and most importantly, the ClassCloud, the server that delivers learning content, assessments, and a learning management system to the tablets in a local intranet network.

But educators, entrepreneurs and investors in India have learned that technology doesn’t always deliver results.

A recent report on the uses of edtech in affordable private schools in Hyderabad found that “many school leaders and teachers are unaware of how to use technology to its full capacity,” and as a result “techno-classes and computers [are] often used minimally or not at all.”

This was the case for Educomp, the country’s largest provider of hardware and digital technologies for schools. In 2003, it introduced the Smart Classsolution, a package of interactive whiteboards and digital resources installed in over 14,000 schools around the country.

In April 2013, Forbes India uncovered serious problems underlying this rapid growth. Among them: the company committed large capital investments upfront by installing whiteboards and other hardware that went unused. Many never paid for support and services. Without this revenue, the companydefaulted on paying some employees for months and recently let go of 3,500. This downsizing meant that some paying customers received lackluster service, and 200 of them recently filed a lawsuit against the company.

One analyst who has watched Educomp closely believes the Smart Class strategy “was built on a very hairy concept that simply putting multimedia hardware in front of teachers and students would work.” He estimates that nearly 10,000 schools currently have inoperable Educomp hardware. “One of the biggest negative legacies that Educomp will leave,” he says, “is that public investors and schools will be very wary and pessimistic about education technology.”

By contrast, D’Souza believes that building real change in India’s education system will take long and patient work. For the past two years, he’s been living that principle as he prototyped his mobile “Education Hotspots” in rural regions to prove the technology could deliver Khan Academy videos where little or no Internet infrastructure existed. His experiences taught him that proper training was just as crucial as the technology itself.

His customers are chosen carefully to ensure that teachers are willing to adopt not just new technology, but even new ways of teaching and managing a classroom. Every Zaya teacher undergoes a multi-day orientation on properly setting up and managing the ZayaLabKit and also learn about blended learning models in U.S. schools like KIPP and Rocketship. Weekly check-ins from company staff provide ongoing support.

 

Zaya currently runs ten labs: Six are set up in schools run by Teach for India in Mumbai and Pune, three are after-school programs in the suburbs outside Mumbai, and one is on the second floor of the Zaya office. Each lab operates on a rotational model where students split time between peer-to-peer group work, interacting with the teacher and working on tablets. Altogether, the labs serve about 600 students.

It’s a far cry from the thousands of schools where Educomp hoped to operate. But even with this modest number, Zaya believes it can do one thing that other Indian edtech companies have neglected: show improvements in students’ learning gains.

The Zaya tablets come with assessments that periodically measures students’ math and reading skills. Based on their performance, the system assigns them to different learning tracks (below, at, or above grade level) where they receive instruction based on their needs. As students work through the 600+ math lessons and books from companies like CK12 Braingenie andMangoReader, progress and performance are tracked and analyzed.

It’s still early days and initial results won’t be available until the end of the year. The goal for 2014 is to have 30 labs around the country, a number that D’Souza believes will offer a large enough sample size to measure aggregate learning outcomes.

“Our team [of 15] is well aware that it will take some time for us to prove holistic change. We will grow at a more careful pace while collecting data and refining our process,” says D’Souza.

In the meantime, financial sustainability is an issue for Zaya. So far, parents of students in the after-school labs pay 150-200 Rupees (U.S. $2 to $3) per month, and the company charges schools $2,000 per year for in-school labs. It’s currently not enough to cover operational costs, which D’Souza says can be as high as $10,000 a year for each lab. He’s reached out to local companies, investors and philanthropists for support, and so far has eight sponsors pledged for 2014.

The rest of the world is watching, too. Back in 2011–when D’Souza first started–he took second prize in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Global Education Challenge. This year he was a runner-up at the 2013 Gratitude Awards and was chosen as an Echoing Green Fellow in June. He’s also received encouraging signs from investors in the U.S. and India as he goes about raising institutional capital for Zaya. “These impact investors claim to be very patient,” says D’Souza. “I’ll find out in two years how patient they are.”

Patience from investors is a rare quality indeed. But given what happened to India’s biggest and fast-growing edtech company, getting real learning results may well be worth the wait.


Pearson Promises to measure and report impact on learning outcomes (after decades of reporting learning outcomes)

World’s leading learning company puts pursuit of efficacy at centre of strategy

TORONTONov. 15, 2013 /CNW/ – Pearson, the world’s leading learning company, today announces a series of unique commitments designed to measure and increase its impact on learning outcomes around the world.

As part of a new global education strategy which sets out to help more people make progress in their lives through learning, Pearson today:

  • Committed to report audited learning outcomes measures and targets alongside its financial accounts, covering its whole business by 2018
  • Shared plans to “institutionalise” efficacy across Pearson’s organisation, creating dedicated focus and incentives towards learning outcomes targets for all business areas
  • Published its Efficacy Framework – Pearson’s approach for ensuring its products and services enable students to learn what they need to make progress – for feedback and improvement;
  • Promised to develop a global research network to gather the evidence needed on the “path to efficacy”, and openly to share and broker debate around its findings.

The company’s ambition is to ensure that its work is driven by an ever-clearer understanding of how it can maximise and measure its impact on learning outcomes, drawing on the lessons of the healthcare industry to invest in research and development and build new partnerships that will address the most pressing unmet needs in education.

Identifying dialogue and collaboration with the wider education community as crucial to accelerate progress, Pearson also publishes two reports. The first, Asking More: The Path to Efficacy, sets out the imperative for measuring and improving learning outcomes worldwide. The second, The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes, shares in detail the company’s new approach to contributing to that goal and the progress it has made so far.

Asking More: The Path to Efficacy brings together some of the world’s leading education experts to highlight how research and data collection can enable a revolutionary degree of rigour in measuring and improving the success of learning products, educational programmes and institutions.

The report argues that efficacy in education is ‘as possible and as pressing’ as in healthcare, and includes contributions from global leaders in education and business including Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, Vicky Colbert of Escuela Nueva, Geoff Mulgan of NESTA and Jon Iwata of IBM.

Pearson will now extend this conversation by creating a new global research network, connecting Pearson’s internal research with outside experts, working together to address barriers to efficacy and big unanswered questions in education. The network will inform Pearson’s strategy and product development, and Pearson will share findings openly through a new online platform, Open Ideas.

Also published today is The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes. Authored by Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor, and Saad Rizvi, Senior Vice President, Efficacy, the report shares Pearson’s “Efficacy Framework”, a Review process designed to evaluate and improve impact on learning outcomes, and sets out the company’s strategy, initiatives and insights in applying it.

Efficacy now moves from a pilot programme in Pearson to the centrepiece of its global education strategy. Every part of Pearson’s new organisation will have a senior leader with a specific brief for improving efficacy, and product roles will be reshaped to focus on delivering outcomes rather than inputs. This new network of efficacy leaders will ensure that the Efficacy Framework and its lessons are applied throughout the company, reviewing all investments over a value of $1m and reporting publicly on Pearson’s progress and impact.  Pearson will also include the delivery of learning outcomes as a central pillar of its HR policies including recruitment, training, performance management and reward.

John Fallon, Pearson’s chief executive, said:

“Pearson’s purpose is to help people make progress in their lives through learning. So, we better be sure that we can demonstrate that progress, in all we do, in a meaningful way.

“Our aim is to ensure that every action, every decision, every process, and every investment we make will be driven by a clear sense and understanding of how it will make a measurable impact on learning outcomes. We need to institutionalise this process, and make it our natural habit.

“When we publish our annual report five years from now, we will, in a rigorous and externally audited way, be able to report on the progress we have made in improving learner outcomes.  To achieve this, we will need to collectively agree on the learner outcomes that we will track, measure and strive to achieve.

“That work is a priority starting from today and we will be reaching out across the education community to consult on where we should be directing our energies.”

Michael Barber, Pearson’s Chief Education Advisor, said:

“Education is so linked to the wellbeing of individuals and of the economy that we need much more rigorous systems in place to ensure it is working, urgently.  Thanks to the growing body of research and data, and the opportunity of technology, achieving efficacy in education is not only as pressing, but now just as possible as in healthcare.

“Global education challenges are too steep for any one organisation to pursue independently. We are sharing the progress we are making so that others can challenge and support us to move more rapidly. Collaboration, partnership, and co-creation are the only way to transform education at the pace the learners we serve require.”

Notes to editors

1. Asking More: The Path to Efficacy, is edited by Sir Michael Barber and Saad Rizvi and features contributions from nine global experts, setting out the progress which can be made through a renewed focus on outcomes.
The authors are:
– Geoff Mulgan, NESTA
– Barbara Chow, Education Program Director, Hewlett Foundation
– John Iwata, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications and Citizenship, IBM
– Vicky Colbert, Founder, Escuela Nueva Foundation
– Rukmini Banerji, Programs Director, Pratham Schools
– Professor Michael C Crow, President, Arizona State University
– Andreas Schleicher, Special Advisor on Education Policy, OECD
– Sir Ken Robinson, education, arts and creativity expert
– Peter Hill, assessment expert, former CEO of Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority and Senior Adviser to the Hong Kong Assessment and Examinations Authority

Geoff Mulgan highlights measureable impact as the emerging acid test for consumers and investors; IBM’s Jon Iwata on the huge potential to analyse Big Data to answer unaddressed questions and support real-time learning decisions; Vicky Colbert sharing her experience of building an outcomes oriented approach from ground up; and Professor Michael Crow on the role of technology in combining high quality educational experiences with wide access.

2. The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Learning Outcomes is authored by Sir Michael Barber and Saad Rizvi, with a foreword from former Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino and an introduction from John Fallon, CEO of Pearson.
3. The ‘Efficacy Framework’ scores across four areas considered critical to securing outcomes1.  An interactive framework version was published today on a new website for feedback from the education community at http://efficacy.pearson.com.
Reviews recommend how products can improve learner outcomes, for example by using data analytics, digital technology or by applying research insights. Pearson are now using the approach to determine how they invest and acquire, to drive innovation, product development and a new research agenda, and their recruitment, professional development and rewards for employees.
4. Pearson has also begun to build a new online research platform to provide a global bank of evidence on best practices in education. Open Ideas, a new website, has been created to make the latest evidence and ideas in education accessible to all, and to encourage an open debate about learning. It will be launched in ‘beta’ in the first quarter of 2014 at URLhttp://research.pearson.com.
5. To request an interview with John Fallon, Sir Michael Barber, or any of the report authors, or to receive any of the collateral below please contact: Marlene Olsavsky, Vice President of Marketing, Pearson Canada  marlene.olsavsky@pearsoned.com
– Copies of Asking More: The Path to Efficacy
– Copies of The Incomplete Guide to Delivering Education Outcomes
– Video footage of Sir Michael Barber and John Fallon interviewed about efficacy
– Video footage showing the framework in action at Pearson, in a product review
– B-roll learner footage
– Photography and biography information for Sir Michael Barber and John Fallon

About Pearson

Pearson is the world’s leading learning company, serving learners of all ages with educational resources, services, software and assessments. We operate in more than 70 countries around the world, employing more than 40,000 people and serving the school, higher education and professional education markets with a commitment to measure and improve learning outcomes. Our resources are available in print, online and through multilingual packages that help people learn whatever and wherever they choose. Pearson’s businesses also include financial information through the Financial Times and consumer publishing through Penguin Random House. For more information on Pearson, visit www.pearsoncanada.ca.

____________________________________
1 Outcomes, Evidence, Planning and Implementation, Capacity to Deliver

SOURCE Pearson Education

Common Core- What is it Really???

The three previous posts give a view of Common Core 4th grade standards measured by SmarterBalanced and PARCC assessment questions.

These questions show, I believe, the type of thinking essential to personal success and to cultural and economic growth. For more examples at more grade levels, check out these links and look at the rubrics for grading.

Smarter Balanced Sample ELA Assessment Questions

Smarter Balanced Sample Math Assessment Questions

PARCC Sample Assessment Questions 

Tech Companies Angle for Big Bucks in Education

 | August 12, 2013 KQED

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Enthusiasm to change education from an old-school, paper-based model that most adults are familiar with from their time in school, to a dynamic, personalized experience for kids is fueling innovative ideas and attracting a lot of money.

Both in policy and in practice, education leaders are calling for student access to useful tools and skills. At the same time, entrepreneurs and investors see a market ripe for penetration, in the same way that technology upended models for offering news, music, and retail purchasing.

“Education feels like the last frontier of the internet,” said Trace Urdan, a research analyst for Wells Fargo focusing on education markets. “Investors are excited for what they see as the inevitable transformation of education through technology and the use of the internet as a distributive tool in that process.”

The challenges to becoming a profitable and sustainable education business are formidable. Education is highly political and funding ebbs and flows in cycles that can be unpredictable. It’s a bureaucratic, slow-moving system, especially when public funding is involved. Purchasing power is dispersed across various levels of the system, from individual classrooms all the way up to the federal office. These are all challenges to any one business breaking into what has become a market dominated by three big textbook publishers with large, on-the-ground sales forces: Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Investors keep pumping money into products that seem promising. “Everybody is waiting for the Facebook of education to come along.”

“Technology alone can’t solve the politics,” Urdan said. “There’s this sense among tech investors that the politics and all this other process stuff will fall away the way that it has in some other consumer markets.” Urdan thinks that’s a naïve view, but he admits that the education market has changed since the dot-com boom and bust and that perhaps the time is ripe for innovative technology to lasting in-roads with schools.

What’s different now? Teachers are more comfortable with tech use than they were in the 1990s. Schools have also begun to catch up with the hardware, and are regularly making big-district wide purchases, as with Los Angeles Unified’ s announcement that it’s giving away 31,000 iPads to students at 47 district schools.

Integration of Common Core and the standardization of content goals also make it more possible for individual products to fit the majority of state markets. And perhaps most importantly, students are accustomed to using tech in all aspects of their lives and expect it from school.

David Hoverman, who’s focused on the education market at the Parthenon Group, also suggests that the tough economy over the last few years might have actually helped smaller companies get a foothold in classrooms. During the recession, many schools all but eliminated buying new materials from big publishers, he said. Instead, teachers went out looking for tools to serve their needs. They found start-up ed-tech products that have become staples in their classroom. And now, hooking teachers before trying to sell to schools or districts has become a common business strategy.

LESSONS FOR START-UPS

Many ed-tech start-ups are learning from successful commercial business strategies that preceded them. A common one is to seed the product for free with users and when a certain level of absorption has been achieved, try to sell an enhanced version to management. Another, similar model that many ed-tech companies like ClassDojo, Meograph and Tynker have embraced is the freemium model, where the basic product is free, but more advanced features come with a fee. A third is to simultaneously sell a product to schools while offering an advanced product to parents that unlocks supplemental material.

“The sense that I have in speaking to investors is that at some level the potential that they see is so large — in that you have this paper-based, old-fashioned way of doing things that could really benefit from reinvention — and they think that’s such a big opportunity that they are willing to give some of these companies a little bit of slack as they work out how they are going to attack the market,” Urdan said.

No one knows which product or model will ultimately strike it big. And in the meantime, investors keep pumping money into products that seem promising. “Everybody is waiting for the Facebook of education to come along,” Urdan said.

Investors are looking for real solutions to complicated problems — and there are many in education –  because that’s where big money can be made. Venture capitalists seeding the money for ed-tech companies often expect a return on investment that’s 10 to 20 times what they invested, in order to compensate for the risk. At the same time, most expect that some ventures won’t pan out.

“The problem that we often have in the education field is that investors see the problem, they see the solution and they figure it’s all going to happen really quickly and then they get frustrated when it doesn’t,” Urdan said. If that happens, he predicts the big publishers will swoop in and buy up innovative companies, further consolidating their hold on the market.

“The textbook publishers are absolutely paying very close attention to every little start-up that’s funded and every application that’s out there that’s going into the classroom, whether it’s directly related to content or is as far afield as bus scheduling,” Urdan said. “This is not that large a market and they are paying very close attention because obviously their future is at stake.”

Traditionally the two best ways to make the kind of money that investors want to see is to either take a company public or be bought by a bigger company. Many entrepreneurs say they’re in the business because they want to be part of changing education for the better, but despite their best intentions to remain independent companies, becoming part of a company with a larger platform and longer reach might prove irresistible.