Indian EdTech - Open for Vernacular Education Play

Edtech industry has grown like never before in the year 2020.

"Preqin Pro data shows that venture capital-backed EdTech aggregate deal value in H1 2020 has increased 166% compared to the same period last year. Furthermore, as the number of deals rose to 219 (compared to 164 in H1 2019), average deal value more than tripled to $32mn."  

The boost could be due to emergency and the need that pandemic fuelled. Whatsoever may be the reason, the EdTech sector was blooming and continues to show growth. Two companies that stole the limelight amid the crisis were BYJU's and Unacademy. BYJU's, one of the global unicorns in the EdTech sector, secured $1.12 billion in 2020. Unacademy raised an undisclosed amount of funding that led to the company's soaring valuation to $2 billion. Unacademy's valuation had quadrupled from $510 million when it raised $110 million in 2020.    

BYJU's is the leading learning & tutoring app in India and with multiple recent acquisitions, it continues to be the preferred platform for learners across the country. The platform offers learning solutions for K-12 formal education across multiple boards, coding now via WhiteHat Jr and offers learning solutions for various entrance exam preparation like JEE, NEET, government exams and more.   

Also, Unacademy with its core and multiple acquisitions offers courses for aspirants of all entrances such as UPSC, SSC and bank exams, railway exams, defence exams, NET exams, JEE and NEET preparation, State PSC, GATE, ESE and IIT-JAM, NEET-PG, TET exams, Management & Foreign Studies, CA, CS & Law exams, CBSE and Personal and Skill Development. Both the platforms are a big hit among online learners and can capitalise on the regional language user base by offering solutions in vernacular. 

A report by NASSCOM on Vernacular Solutions put forwards stats that proves why language service is a potential hit in India. As per the report, 95 per cent of the country's population converses in vernacular, with a total number of 780 languages in India and approximately 122 languages have at least 10,000 speakers. Ninety-five per cent of video consumption is in vernacular language. Contrary to the user behaviour based on the report, India's language service market is less than 1% if the global market. With such diverse language needs and a population that communicates and prefers regional and local language, the industry is missing and ignoring the potential of bringing vernacular solutions to the table.   

Another article by RedSeer discusses the upcoming vernacular revolution in edtech. As per their research on learners across various edtech market segments (K12, test prep, professional learning), there is a strong need for vernacular education.   

"Based on our interaction with students, most Indian students are comfortable with another tongue, but in reality, most used instruction medium is English."  

Looking at most of the edtech platforms in the Indian market, most online and offline platforms do not cater to this need. Thus, it is crucial to address the gap and need for digital education in vernacular languages.    

Looking at the reports above, it is clear that vernacular solutions can change EdTech for the coming years. On the other side, let's understand the need for doing so. Since English is not "the language" for most people, it's prime to acknowledge the country's language diversity. To explore the potential of technology in education, vernacular solutions can address the existing language barriers and bridge them.   

While we are still offering "English" as a skill through enormous platforms that are helping learners acquire the skill of this fantastic language, we are also providing them learning content for almost everything in the very same language, knowing that most of these learners are not equipped to retain information in the default medium of instruction almost every EdTech platform has chosen.

Though English is a fantastic language, most professionals should learn it, considering how it is coined for globalisation and used for professional reasons. However, it is difficult to understand the need for using only this particular language as the medium of instruction for students in any education sector. This only widens the skills gap as significant platforms do not offer the option to choose the language learners to feel most comfortable learning from. For instance, a person who is not equipped to understand learning content in English may want to learn about coding or data analysis, but the language barrier may not allow the learner to take up the skill or course they want.  

Amid the pandemic, many edtech startups touched new heights. People embraced digital education with open arms, but many who weren't comfortable with the English language were left out of the digital wave in education. Looking at the opportunity, a few startups have recognised the gap and provided vernacular solutions.  

Speaking of EdTech in India, tier 1 cities make the most of the digital education, but it seems tier 2 and tier 3 cities lag in the changing education space. One key reason for this is the language barrier. Things are changing rapidly, but we still have areas where English hasn't taken a front seat as yet, and people aren't equipped with the language skills. Another critical reason for small cities in rural areas to not use digital education is unawareness of it. Again, vernacular solutions can increase awareness.   

Cities in tier2 and tier3 still prefer vernacular because they are familiar with the language and comfortable with it and because they simply do not have English proficiency. Despite having all the opportunities to learn new skills and upgrade, people cannot make the most of digital education. It's a vicious circle where the language barrier becomes the reason for the masses not to pursue and learn all they want to.  


Apart from the language barrier that vernacular solutions can eradicate, there are many other benefits that users and service providers can leap by offering them. Let's look at some key reasons and benefits of have EdTech solutions with vernacular:   

  1. Better Conceptual Understanding

The best learning happens when communication is seamless. One key element that provides for effective communication is language. Hence, when the user gets to learn from the language of their choice, learning happens effectively. Language and learning are interlinked, and it is essential that the language used in education must meet the learner's expectation.   

Conceptual understanding that is delivered in a regional language is extraordinary. Edtech platforms that acknowledge this and deliver content to the user in regional languages will be the next thing in the industry. Understanding, acknowledging and providing for the diverse user base can make your solution the preferred one among many offering the same solution. This multilingual approach to online education should not be limited to formal education but must be extended to skilling and training platforms. This will address the language barrier's concern in learning and help learners from diverse backgrounds learn and grow dynamically.   

  1. With Increasing Internet Consumption Vernacular Solutions Can Make Quality Tech Available for All

Increased internet penetration has made it possible for consumers to access social media platforms easily. Almost everyone with a smartphone is using social media platforms. In such a scenario, platforms like YouTube are offering them the information and knowledge they're seeking. Vernacular learning content has been a due demand by users, and edtech platforms can take this opportunity to create and offer this regional language content to users through YouTube channels.   

  1. To Capitalise and Provide Solutions for Regional Language User Base

People are more tech-savvy than they were before. There has been a swift shift to online activities. More and more people rely on and prefer online education, payments, shopping or anything that they can do online. Especially education, in times pandemic, forced us t make the shift, people have now embraced online learning and find it comfortable to do online courses. Video content is the most consumed content nowadays, and the regional language user base dominates video viewership in India. This domination of regional language content consumption is expected to grow extensively in future. Consumers are comfortable with the content in their regional language, and this preference and consumption are evident in Tier II and Tier III cities. Over some time, if the regional language content is made available to a user base that prefers and demands it, quality education could be made accessible for all.   

  1. Personalised Touch

It is essential to provide learners with content in the vernacular dialect of their choice. This option not only provides them with the ease of learning, but adds to the effectiveness of it. Learning from a language that you're most familiar with brings a personalised approach to education and helps the learner understand it many folds better. Multilingual access to learning will eliminate the language barrier, helping millions learn whatever they want to, equipping them with skills that will shape the future.   

  1. Voice and Vernacular Is Going to Be the Next Wave  

Mixing vernacular wave with the voice content holds excellent potential and will be the next level technology for the consumers. This will address the regional language user base's learning needs and change the game for companies targeting semi-literate people, increasing their business. With this, brands would be able to take up a two-way communication strategy, with vernacular being one crucial part. This could be a fantastic strategy to increase engagement, catch the audience's attention and start a dialogue with the clients.   

  1. Finally, To Challenge the Stereotype of Education Considered Regressive or Low Standard in Regional Language 

Education in vernacular has been proven to be more effective for learners. Most regional languages make up as mother tongue as children pick up that language from their parents and their environment naturally. It has been proven that kids who learn in their mother tongue develop critical thinking better. Globalisation has made us all connected, and to communicate effectively, the need for learning multiple languages arises. In India, children learn three languages from the beginning. English- the professional language, Hindi – the national language and third- the state's regional language or their mother tongue. In some cases, their mother tongue could be different from their regional langue, and kids would be learning both of these along with Hindi and English since they started communication.

The sheer ignorance of neglecting and looking down at regional languages is finally ending. We must restore and save our regional languages. To address the concern, the NEP 2020 includes the home language, mother tongue, local language and regional language as options for the medium of instruction.   

Another post on The Hindu about teaching science in regional languages quotes K Vijay Raghavan, the principal scientific advisor to India's Government, says, "In making English the sole language of intellectual discourse in science and technology in India, we have lost on many fronts. Your own language roots you to your society and environment and allows you to use your imagination in a manner that a second language does not."  

It's time that the EdTech industry also addresses the need and demand for vernacular content. By doing so, they can easily tap on the market that has been looking for the comfort and content of their choice for their learning needs. 


At last, let's look at the key players from the existing market bringing the change.

Brainly

The company was found in 2009 by Michal Borkowski, Lukasz Haluch, and Tomasz Kraus. The platform offers a learning community for students to discuss and solve their academic problems. The platform is operational in more than 35 countries, including India facilitating a global platform for exchanging knowledge. The platform is used by more than 150 million users monthly. It offers diverse languages, including Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Kannada, and Bengali, to make its material accessible to a broader audience. The company has raised a total funding sum of $148.5M in over six rounds, the latest being Series-D on Dec 17, 2020.  

Doubtnut

The company was found in 2017 by IIT Delhi Alumni Tanushree Nagori and Aditya Shankar. The platform aims to bridge the EdTech gap in smaller cities by offering 12 vernacular languages. By doing so, they have been able to tap into a vast market seeking such solutions. The company claims to have more than 1.2 million users daily. The app has built a large user base in such a short period because of its services ahead of EdTech offerings in the industry. Doubtnut uses artificial intelligence for image recognition and provides solutions to mathematical problems in multiple languages. It caters to students of classes 6-12, IIT JEE, and Bitsat. The company is based out of Gurugram and raised its latest Series-B funding in February 2021, amounting to $49.9 Million.   

Classplus

Looking at the scope of the standardising coaching sector in the country, Classplus attempted to enhance and organise the learning experience for students taking coaching classes. This Noida based startup was found in 2018 by Mukul Rustagi and Bhaswat Agarwal. It is a mobile-first SaaS platform that enables private coaching institutes and their tutors to streamline their content distribution, payments, communication, and online assessments through an app. As per the company, more than nine-tenths of the platform's content is vernacular, which explains their vast user base and presence around the country. Within 15 months of its launch, the company has built a user base with over 1,200 coaching centres as its clients in more than 50 cities across India. It has a presence in cities like Kanpur, Bhopal, Gwalior, and Srinagar and facilitates student and parent engagement, multimedia content distribution, payments, and online tests on a single platform. The company raised a total of $24.2M funding in over eight rounds, the latest being a Series A round on Sep 22, 2020.    

eDelta

eDelta is created by academicians and professionals catering academic needs of learners from school and competitive exams, future skills and professional courses, and global advantage. The platform provides STEM education innovatively and engagingly in English, Hindi and Kannada. The company's learning outcome-based and skill mapped education model has garnered much appreciation from NITI Aayog (India's apex federal planning body). The company primarily operates in north India and is based out of Noida. The platform's vernacular learning solutions are also integrated into a few organisations' delivery models in the country's southern and north-eastern regions. The company claims to have clocked up 100 School Partner Programs with AIC – BIMTECH and also collaborated with open network schools to deliver its e-learning resources to over 150,000 students.  

Pariksha

Pariksha is based out of Pune, founded by Deepak Choudhary, Karanvir Singh Shekhawat, Utkarsh Bagri, and Vikram Shekhawat back in 2015. The platform is reputed in the industry for its online vernacular test preparation services. Candidates preparing for government examinations will find the platform to be their one-stop solution. The languages available on the platform include Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Bengali, Kannada and English. The company claims to have around 2 million users currently, with 60,000 paid subscribers on its platform. The company has raised a total of $6.1M funding in over seven rounds, the latest being a Seed round on Feb 17, 2021.  

eSense learning

Based out of Mumbai, eSense Learning Pvt. Ltd is an initiative of Navneet Education Ltd, a digital education company providing e-learning solutions to India's schools and students. Reaching to communities at the grassroots level. eSense learning offers edtech solution in English, Gujarati and Marathi to over 3,500 schools in Maharashtra and Gujarat.   

eSense's flagship e-learning solution is TOPClass. It's an innovative Smart Classroom solution that comes with syllabus-based content simplifying the teaching process and adding value to the school students' learning experience. The solution is ideal schools with for Maharashtra State Board (MSB), Gujarat State Board (GSB) and Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Pattern and offers content in English, Marathi and Gujarati Medium. The product is presently being used by over 4,000 schools and has enabled the training of 75,000 teachers.  

Entri

Founded by Mohammed Hisamuddin and Rahul Ramesh in 2017, Entri is a Boston-based EdTech accelerator LearnLaunch. It is a local language learning app that provides varied learning content like mock/adaptive tests, flashcards, and video lessons in local languages for job aspirants. The app started from Kerala with the Malayalam language, now offers multiple languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, and Hindi on its platform. The company claims to have 1.6 million users so far, with an addition of 6,000 users every day. Entri has raised a total of $4.3M funding in over five rounds, the latest being a Seed round on Jul 23, 2020.  

TABLAB By iDreamEducation

iDream education is a Gurgaon-based social EdTech startup offering a unique product TABLAB, which is a plug and play tablet-based digital learning lab custom-designed for government schools. iDream education was started by Puneet Goyal and Rohit Prakash in 2016, aiming to bridge the gap between technology availability in the public-school sector and its usage. The company collaborates with CSR, foundations, governments, and non-profits on the ground, delivering a set of tablets stacked in storage and charging rack, which is pre-loaded with several categories of quality local language content aggregated by multiple creators and aligned with the state board curriculum. TABLAB has been implemented in 13 states, impacting 18,000+ students in over 100 government schools and across multiple languages, including Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Urdu, and Bengali.  

Their story is a must-read to understand the approach and impact of TABLAB.   

Kutuki

Based out of Bengaluru by Sneha Sundaram, Kutuki is an early age learning platform ideal for kids between the ages of three and seven. The platform differs from others in the segment by offering tailor-made content for Indian pre-schoolers. Their cute animated characters Kutu, Ki and Minku, the elephant is adorable enough to engage your child in exciting learning activities and content. The platform has a range of varied learning resources, including 100s of engaging, high quality animated children's storybooks, rhymes and interactive activities covering over 30 preschool themes such as Phonics, English and Hindi Letter Tracing, Physical Fitness, Animals, Space, Health and Hygiene, Safety, STEM, Colours and Shapes, Indian festivals, General Knowledge, Emotions and Feelings and more. The USP of the platform is the content that children will find familiar and relatable. Kutuki prides itself on creating contextual content that Indian children and families can connect with, moving away from characters with blonde hair, blue eyes, American accents and unfamiliar references. The content is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil and Kannada, with more languages being added soon.  

Subhe eLearning

Found by Vivek and Jagrit Gupta in 2018, Subhe helps people acquire new skills by offering video-based online courses in Hindi. The platform has Micro Courses with a duration of up to 1-6 months and Master's Program that are job-focused with a duration of more than six months. The course content is created with Industry Experts' help, which includes video lectures, quizzes, assignments, and notes. The Delhi based platform raised one round of funding in January 2018.   

Vidyakul

Founded in 2018, Vidyakul is one of its kind interactive vernacular e-learning platform. The platform allows educators to create online courses for K-12, JEE, NEET, AIIMS in tier-II & tier III cities. Vidyakul offers live lectures and pre-recorded courses (from Class 9th- 12th in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, and Hinglish) to help state board students learn academics. The company witnessed that State boards Students are ten times more skilled than CBSE students, but when it comes to the quality of education, both in School & Online learning, they are far behind others due to the language's mismatch. With this concern at hand, the core principle of founding Vidyakul is to target these students by offering a vernacular online problem-solving solution. The startup brings teachers, professionals and experts from different fields across India on their platform to contribute to a bigger vision of scalable literacy rate in the country, making educational resources available to all students. They are also preparing study material, video lectures, study notes & online tests by analysing the last ten years' exam papers & NCERT books with the best teachers across India. Up until now, Vidyakul has raised only 1 round of funding. This was a Seed round raised on Aug 20, 2019.  

GUVI

This online skilling platform is helping learners acquire programming skills in the language of their choice. Founded in 2014 by Arun Prakash, Bala Murugan, and Sridevi Arunprakash, GUVI stands for Grab Ur Vernacular Imprint and aims to deliver programming courses to Indian learners in their vernacular. They offer in demand technical skills in major Indian languages making learning more effective and meaningful. Their courses are conducted via videos in Indian languages such as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Bengali. GUVI has raised a total funding of ₹70M in over 4 rounds latest being a Seed round on Apr 24, 2020. 

3rdFlix

Found in 2018 by Subbarao Siddabattula, the company is changing the paradigms of EdTech. Their innovative approach toward including new age technology for learning needs of students makes it effective and engaging for students. The company is based out of Hyderabad and uses latest visualization technology to make education engaging for students. They use augmented reality, virtual reality, VFX, mixed reality, simulations with 3D models and advanced technology in all major languages to ensure that students learn while having a real time experience with their education. The company has raised a total funding of $5.7M in over 2 rounds, latest being a Seed round on Sep 4, 2019. Their userbase comprises of customers from Delhi, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh including Dr KKR's Gowtham Educational Institutions, a chain of 28 schools. 

Teachmint   

Fund in 2020 by Anshuman Kumar, Divyansh Bordia, Mihir Gupta, and Payoj Jain, Teachmint is democratizing online education by making it accessible for all. The platform removes language barriers and offers vernacular and proprietary video solutions for teachers in 10 Indian languages other than English. The platform enables teachers to create a digital profile of every classroom they take. The company is based out of Bengaluru and has raised $40M funding over four rounds. The last round was a Series B raised on Jul 7, 2021.   

NxtWave   

NxtWave is a training platform for anyone aspiring for a tech career. The platform has used vernacular content to make it accessible for users who face language inhibitions. The platform offers vernacular training for 4.0 Tech Careers through Continuous Career Building Programs 4.0 (CCBP 4.0). With their courses, anyone can build 4.0 skills and get high-paid jobs centred around 4.0 technologies like AI, ML, Full Stack Development, Cybersecurity, IoT, VR/AR, Blockchain and more. Based out of Hyderabad, the company was found in 2020 by Anupam Pedarla, Rahul Attuluri, and Sashank Reddy Gujjula.    

 Braingroom   

BrainGroom was found in 2015 by Madhula Sathyamoorthy and Naleine. Based out of Chennai, the platform offers multilingual online learning services and a jobs ecosystem for educational and skill development classes to make students job and life-ready. The platform features over 2000 hours of job-ready and technical skills courses in multiple languages, including Hindi, English, Tamil and Marathi. Students can also learn with bots in a gamified learning mode. The company has raised ₹15M in funding in a Pre-Seed round on Jul 19, 2021.  

 MicroDegree   

MicroDegree offers online learning courses for job-ready skills in vernacular at an affordable price. Students and professionals can learn coding and other job-ready skills from industry experts in multiple languages. The platform is based out of Mangaluru, Karnataka and was found in 2019 by Manikanta Nair. The company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding in a seed round on Jun 22, 2021.  

CareerAnna   

CareerAnna was found in 2013 by Varun Saxena. This Bengaluru based platform enables students and professionals to learn in the language of choice and offers over 200 courses across MBA and UPSC Preparation and IPM for Test Prep. At present, the platform offers courses in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, with more native languages in the pipeline. The company has raised a total of ₹70M in over two rounds. Their latest funding was a seed round raised on Nov 30, 2018.  

Padhio   

Padhio is a microlearning platform that offers bite-size video learning content in vernacular. The platform aims to provide good quality and affordable education to one and all. The platform aims to help students grow holistically. Therefore, it allows educators to teach non-academic topics like critical thinking, life skills, general knowledge, etc., along with academic subjects. The platform covers over 200 topics and has a repository of over 1200 videos. More than 150 educators are on board, with a regular increase in the number. The platform is based out of Maharashtra and was found in 2019 by Anup Savale, Parul Sood, and Dhruv Goel.   


Government Initiatives In The Direction

National Digital Library of India (NDLI)  

This is not an EdTech platform offering learning solutions in vernacular but a portal that offers learning resources in more than 70 Indian languages. The National Digital Library (NDLI) is developed under NME-ICT by the Ministry of Education through NME-ICT. It is a virtual library with a vast collection of academic contents across multiple disciplines. You'll find varied content from school to post-graduation level. It is an all-purpose platform designed for students of all ages, teachers, learners, researchers, librarians, professionals, and anybody seeking knowledge. The platform offers eBooks, videos, thesis, manuscripts, documents, and many more.  

DIKSHA

Launched in September 2017, the initiative was taken by the NCERT under the Ministry of Education. The platform aims to facilitate digital learning for teachers from grade 1 to 12. The platform offers training courses, worksheets, lesson videos, curriculum, and assessment tests for teachers. Students can also benefit from the portal as it offers learning resources for school education. There is a plethora of learning materials and eBooks. More than 80,000 eBooks are available for class 12th students in multiple languages. At present, it supports 18+ languages and various curricula of NCERT, CBSE and SCERT pan India.    

All in all, living in a country with cultural heterogeneity, language standardisation as a medium of instruction in education creates many problems. Many vernaculars are still outside the education system, and living with a "No Child Left Behind" policy doesn't go hand in hand with the situation. It's a relief that things are changing and ground issues are being addressed. With vernacular solutions at hand in the EdTech industry, education would be accessible for all and people from varied regions, class, and backgrounds would effectively use the technology for the best. 

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About the Author
Author: Priyanka Gupta
Priyanka is a blogger by profession and has an increasing interest to write about the edtech space. While writing she keeps in mind the educators to come up with right resources and ideas which might be relevant for them in relation to effective use of technology in their profession and institutions/classrooms.
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