There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. Amit Mahensaria and his cofounders are determined to prove the saying wrong, at least in India’s edtech space.
Mahensaria, Manish Kumar and Alok Choudary are the founders of Impartus, a Bangalore-based video learning company that has raised $4.1 million from Kaizen Private Equity. Impartus is a video learning platform that allows teachers to expand their reach beyond geographic constraints and enables more students to access quality materials.
“When I was student 15 years back, I used to go into the classroom, learn from teachers, and have to photocopy notes after,” Mahensaria said. “Fifteen years later, it’s still the same.”
But the education industry in India and throughout Asia is slowly changing. Mahensaria, Impartus’ chief strategy officer, and his cofounders are doing their part to move it along.
“Videos are going to come into the edtech space in a massive way,” Mahensaria said. Impartus’ primary service at the moment is lecture capture, enabling instructors to record, annotate, and distribute their lectures quickly and broadly. The technology provides students in remote areas or second-tier campuses to access quality materials, a critical issue in parts of India.
Literacy rates are particularly bad in rural communities, with only three out of four eighth graders being able to read grade 2 materials. School enrollment among 6-14 year olds is strong, but the quality of education is low and enrollment drops substantially among older students, according to a 2015 report from the ASER Centre. Those who make it to the college level recognize that they are often receiving poor quality educations, Mahensaria said. They’re then faced with the choice of dropping out of school or moving to a city with better university prospects.
“There’s already the problem of having few quality teachers, so I thought, ‘How can I take their lessons to the masses?’” Mahensaria said.
Impartus is working with a state government in East India to connect more than 3,000 schools to Impartus’ platform, 80% of which are in rural and violence-prone areas. The objective is to bring quality lectures to people in these areas via teachers who speak the local language and can use Impartus to enhance their courses.
Teaching the teachers
Before bringing lessons to the masses, however, Impartus needed to get teachers to use the technology. Teachers are often wary about new tech platforms, viewing them as burdens rather than opportunities to streamline their workloads, Mahensaria said.
“They are apprehensive of technology. I think, for this, edtech companies are more to blame than teachers,” he said. “In India, software is booming, everyone wants to be software developers. A lot of these software developers, including us, with no background in education, created software solutions for for teachers. A lot of these edtech companies with virtually no background in education developed software solutions, sold it to management, and pushed it to teachers, which was not really serving the teachers. It was increasing the work of the teachers.”
Mahensaria and his cofounders failed with a previous attempt at edtech for this reason.
“I realize this is a lacuna for us — our DNA is not in education,” he said.
Before Impartus, they launched a learning and school management systems that allowed students to submit assignments and administrators to track attendance, learning outcomes, and other metrics. However, the approach was too broad and missed the mark on educators’ needs, Mahensaria said.
“The problem was that we were trying to do everything that a school needs and were not doing anything the best,” he said. “Also, we were developing the products from a developer’s perspective and not from the perspective of the actual pain points of customers.”
But they learned from their past mistakes and built Impartus with teachers in mind. That’s why Impartus requires minimal set-up and maintenance. Programmed cameras are installed in classrooms, and they operate based on the lecture schedule. The cameras switch on and off automatically, capturing lectures that are edited by a computer program as soon as the class ends. Lectures can be live streamed to students who study at other campuses or cannot attend in person, and they’re also available for watching later.
Impartus in action
The flexible viewing options made it a particularly attractive option for the Institute of Finance and International Management business school in Bangalore. Sanjay Padode, the secretary of the Center of Developmental Education and a member of IFIM’s board of governors, helped pilot Impartus at the school. The platform was used to connect with working business professionals who wanted to attend classes but were often away from campus for work.
Padode introduced Impartus in one class initially, but has since expanded it to 10. Despite fears that Impartus might not work in smaller cities or remote regions, Padode said Impartus has worked well for IFIM’s students.
“In a country like India, the quality of service of bandwidth and internet is a very large variable,” Padode said. “When you admit a student from one of these areas where the internet is not good, there are a lot of apprehensions, like, ‘Would they be able to see the video? Would they be able to participate? Would this be effective as a solution?’ Impartus as a whole delivered on all kinds of bandwidths. In fact, those who used it on 3G could attend class while stuck in traffic.”
Padode said IFIM’s faculty welcomed the technology because they saw the need for it among students. Rather than feeling as though they were being forced to adapt to an irrelevant platform, they embraced the tool, which made it easier to integrate into the learning management system.
“The faculty took it in the right spirit,” Padode said. “Soon they realized it was working well for them and they started relying on the system themselves.