Vedantu, one of the leading EdTech start-ups has launched Help India Learn programme and pledged Rs. 15 Crores to support children not able to afford education in the new normal.
Pulkit Jain, Company’s Co-Founder talks about the details of the programme in an interview with India CSR. Excerpts:
Please tell us about the background and the genesis of this program?
Our quest to help children is the entire reason why Vedantu exists. It is to create impact at scale, taking education to the villages, that was the whole idea behind how Vedantu came into existence, with live online teaching way back in 2014. We have been doing this over the last few years and have been observing that there is a large part of this country, our children, to whom institutions and for-profit education bodies without the right will not be able to reach in the immediate vicinity. Over the last few years, we have been continuously reducing the price of our courses with the help of technology, but still, the majority of India does not have access to it.
We have been in touch with multiple NGOs and through them, have continued to help children across regions such as North-East, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. When the second wave of COVID hit and we saw so many children affected, that is when we started thinking about it in a very systematic way. The kind of technology, content, and processes that Vedantu has, can be leveraged to reach out to children, which the for-profit arm of Vedantu and other institutions, in general, will not be able to reach.
With this vision, we started planning the initiative called Help India Learn. The precursor was that we have the technology, the right resources in terms of the best of the society as teachers, and top-notch personalized content. We can reach out to children in the far-flung areas. But the challenge was that we did not know who these children were who needed our support. That is when we started talking to NGOs who are working at the ground level, in different parts of the country and partnered with like-minded people and organizations.
These bodies have the information of these affected children and have already identified their problems. We connect with them and then start adopting these children academically in terms of providing them education, resources, content, mentorship, etc. The underlining thought here is that Covid or no Covid we need to support them enough so that they can become part of mainstream India which will take multiple years of working with these children.
Through this initiative, we want to begin supporting approximately 12,000 – 15,000 students. We want to help through these organizations. We have segregated a fund of 15 crore rupees, which is where we are facilitating education for them at zero cost. We will incur the cost that we have internally budgeted this amount of money, and the portion of this amount is also being given in cash to some of these NGOs and government bodies like the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) who are working on the ground with these children.
How are you partnering with these NGOs?
We invest a lot of time in interviewing these NGOs and analyze the kind of work they are doing on the ground. We talk to families or the children, they’re supporting. After building trust, we see the alignment with them in terms of the philosophy and the vision, and then we connect with them. As of now, we are working with DCPCR, Bal Utsav, Indian Express Foundation, HAQ foundation, PII India, Dharma Bharathi Mission, Sattva, and Kolkata Rescue who have already started working with us. What we are doing is that we’re not very eagerly jumping into it and following the complete systems and processes.
Internally, we have created a Help India Learn team, where a lot of volunteers are helping in creating systems and processes so that we can help onboard these children seamlessly. While we do that, it is very important to keep in mind that these children might not be able to study, not just economically but even academically. So, for example, the child might be in class 8th but probably his level of class might be of 2nd/3rd grade. We are working with these bodies in such a way that we also oversee such development of the children and become co-parents. We are building all the data in the reporting structures, very transparently.
Among all the stakeholders, we can showcase the improvement progress of each child against various parameters such as their engagement level, to what degree are they learning, etc. We have benchmarking testing mechanisms through which we will assess the level after periodic intervals. The idea here is that we should be able to evolve and continue to build this over the next 5-6 years so that these children will have some meaningful impact.
How many children have you covered in this program?
We have onboarded around 500 students and have dispersed amounts as well for some scholarships. One crore worth of scholarships has also been dispersed, and we have shared some amount with these NGOs as well. Some of these NGOs have received amounts in cash so that they can support the student in many aspects like food, shelter, and care. We have also started a fundraising process. See we can do a lot of things in kind, in education, but we’re a funded start-up, so we cannot keep giving a lot of money in cash. We have recently initiated a fundraising process with Give India. It’s just getting live now, so the key is that with all the like-minded, companies, bodies, individuals we can create a fund that can be dispersed directly to these bodies for supporting the children.
What are you short term, medium term, and long-term goals?
In my mind, education is the only leveller for us humans. So, we can educate them in two ways, when a child has reached the college level, then we do the skill preparation or train these youngsters for certain skills for them to get employable in certain industries. But if fundamental education has not happened, then the options are very limited for these young people to get absorbed in the industry. We can help many such children, by providing them the resources so that they can reach a level where they can become a part of the mainstream growth story of India.
If children don’t receive resources, how can they be ensured that no child is left behind? So, this is the vision. There are tens of Crores of children in India. If we can reach out to some of them in our capacity, and maybe start a movement in the country where you know many companies like Vedantu, starts doing this with not-for-profits, private companies, and government agencies like DCPCR and others, I’m confident that we will be able to uplift that portion of society that is devoid of resources.
How do you monitor the organizations, as well as the learning processes of the children that you adopt?
At Vedantu, we have very deep learning outcome measurement mechanisms already in place, which are there for our paid students. We’ve created a separate team for Help India Learn at Vedantu, within which there is a data team who is working with some agencies like Sattva. Through Sattva we are in working with many other NGOs, and together we are trying to create a reporting mechanism. From the past two months, we have been working on that. We are creating a reporting framework and transparent academic auditing mechanism for these children with this thought that ‘How will the child evolve’, because that’s something we don’t know either as they haven’t been a part of mainstream education.
We have our internal team, which is segregated, and their work will be to monitor these children. We are very conscious about onboarding only those agencies who want to see the progress. That is the whole idea. Our vision is by the end of one year of doing this, we will publish a transparent report to the industry to the entire ecosystem, stating we have onboarded so many children, these many children were engaged while learning and so many were not, and so on through this transparent report.
What are your milestones?
By December end, we’re looking at onboarding 10,000-15,000. The NGOs that we’re working with have done a detailed assessment that 10,000-15,000 is a practical number. Internally as well, we have assessed that these many children, we should be able to support without any limitations.
What is the cost per child?
The courses we are providing the children are upwards of Rs. 30,000-20,000, and they are year-long courses. We are making these courses free for the kids. As for us, the costs we have are the teacher cost, because the teachers will be teaching them. Then we have the content creators, doubt solvers, academic mentors. So, we will be incurring these costs for the children through the 15 Cr fund budgeted by the company. We will spend this money sanction for Help India Learn.