Indian edtech's global future is on its way

Tina Mehta
10th September 2018

AI in Indian education technology is probably the most advanced in the world. It is challenging traditional western models as well as integrating effectively with public and private systems in India.

AI in Indian education technology is probably the most advanced in the world. It is challenging traditional western models particularly in integrating effectively with public and private systems in the country. The result: we're seeing glimpses of what the future of education may be.

That our portfolio company Embibe, an AI platform, got a commitment of $185MM from Reliance, India’s internet superpower, only puts a number to the infinite possibilities. This is the largest AI investment in edtech any where in the world.

To put that number in context, it is roughly equal to the combined investment of Liulishuo, a Chinese language learning company, Osmo, an American company that uses physical blocks and music to teach coding and Yixue, a leading AI platform for K-12 students in China —the next three biggest AI investments in edtech globally, at $140MM combined.

The pace of adoption of new products is incredible. Four year old Byju’s is India's largest. With a focus on quality content and lectures, it already has 15 million users. Every month a million new students join and yet the current number of users is just 5% of the total student population in India. The World Bank, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Tencent have invested in Byju’s. Their biggest achievement has been in attracting students beyond India's big cities. About 70% of Byju’s users come from tier 2 & 3 cities.

Easy scalability coupled with vast amounts of data to work with and deploy AI systems into, allow Indian edtech products to spread quickly in a fast growing market with low quality options.

The Indian education market, currently estimated at $100 billion, is expected to reach $180 billion by 2020. India has one of the largest education systems in the world, and the largest population attending classes at school, between the ages of 6 to 17 today – at 310 million (Technopak).

Educational challenges are at an all time high. With a 2.5 million churn of students, only one out of 10 MBAs and 7% of engineering graduates are considered employable. The need to move away from memorization and rote learning to prepare students for the future is urgent.

As education policy heavily leans towards digital and urgency trumps bureaucracy, companies like Embibe are experimenting with the most radical solutions.

The traditional class lecture model has proven to be unscalable, inefficient and worst of all, ineffective. Embibe jumps straight to the antidote of rote learning: personalization based on the student’s needs and learning style. Conversational AI gives students 1:1 learning support via data & stats, improves learning behavior and bumps test scores up – by 50-70% on the IIT-JEE Mains, the toughest Indian engineering exam. After only 20 hours on the Embibe platform, a girl in a tribal school in Rajasthan recorded a 90% score improvement in the exam.

With Reliance as a partner, Embibe can now scale up on the Jio platform to reach 1MM schools in India, positioning the company to change the face of classroom learning in India.

Almost unintentionally, the Indian education system has integrated technology to a degree that western companies can only envy. It starts early with pre-school educational activity boxes for early childhood development, with companies like Flintobox creating a love for learning. It is woven into K-12 classrooms in the form of fun videos, animations, games, quizzes that supplements students' official curiculum. It is linked directly with tution classes to prep pre-college students via personalised and measured learning outcomes for what are probably the world’s most competitive exams. Bodhi.Ai, a Jaipur-based startup, is a AI-based test creation engine that instantly creates customized tests for each student based on previous performance and learning abilities.

Even more interestingly, edtech products aren’t restricted to academics. A new breed of products use the same AI mechanisms to teach musical instruments via an app. The pushback on the traditional educational system comes from every direction.

Whether its WaterBridge Ventures exiting online learning platform Unacademy with 5X returns, or other global edtech players such as California-based Springboard, Japan-based Progate, or Udacity entering the Indian market, it’s becoming evident that India is breaking away from an antiquated learning system. And companies are being rewarded for taking very risky magical leaps.


Written by Tina Mehta & Karishma Galani

Karishma has been in the edtech space for about five years now. Having worked at the American School of Bombay’s R&D department, she’s published two books on ways to innovate within the space of education. Post graduating from Harvard’s Masters in Education program and working at an edtech startup in San Francisco, Karishma moved back to Mumbai to spend time discovering what impact edtech is making in India.