Startup Adventure Friday: India’s push for improved educational foundation of its future researchers
Writing this on my way back from an amazing week at India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) sponsored EDUTECH CAMPUS event for exploring collaboration options between Finnish and Indian companies, non-profits and academia to innovate improvements to India’s education system. They have already done quite a bit. Majority of new researchers are already from rural areas, expanding the talent base to tap larger parts of the population.
On the science front, India has achieved already a major milestone, proving its advanced level, as its first Mars orbiter Mangalyaan has been orbiting Mars since 2014. Our LUPO Space Adventure team was lucky to be invited to the Team Indus facility in Bangalore, where they are developing India’s first privately funded moon lander, which is competing in the finals of Google XPrize along with teams from Japan, USA, Israel and an international team, launching in March 2018. The Indian team will carry a biotechnology experiment with soda can size test capsules containing live regenerating organisms and the beginnings of an oxygen generating ecosystem in space with the longer-term ambition of enabling space colonies in Mars in the future.
Progressive Indian teachers in the event saw the biggest challenge they face being the deeply ingrained hierarchy of people in their culture’s core values, beyond the caste system, with strict respect for the elders in family and society making it hard for the youth to challenge old ways and innovate due to resistance of the elders.
DBT’s visionary Secretary, Professor Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan has set up a government funded agency called Atal Innovation Mission (AIM, R. Ramanan), which has funded thousands of Atol Tinkering Labs in both public and private schools around India, fostering creation of an ecosystem of innovative and entrepreneurial problem solvers. This event was intended from the Indian side to complement this program, to co-create new innovations that AIM can distribute to schools to raise them to the next level. India is not looking to import the Finnish school system, but rather to learn from it and make its own school system equally innovative.
What DBT and AIM are looking to get from cooperation with Finnish companies are especially tools for fostering creativity, curiosity and out-of-the-box thinking in the next generation of Indian researchers currently growing through the school system. These are the 21st century skills that LUPO is focused on. As discussed already, this requires not only gamification of lessons, but also a change of attitude by majority of teachers and school administrations. The latter is the bigger challenge, as this program is not run by the HRD ministry responsible for schools but rather by the DBT ministry responsible for scientific research. DBT’s approach is to fund the tinkering labs as a spearhead of new thinking in schools, accompanied by teacher trainings, so an alternative to school teachers using tools like LUPO would be for the tinkering labs mentors to do so.
DBT also hopes that private sector innovation will lead to new tools being sold along with trainings to schools. The challenge here is that schools expect innovations proven by research before committing to them. The Indian private schools especially are very competitive and results oriented, driven by the expectations set by parents paying the tuitions. Parents expect value for money. Value for parents is typically their child’s school education leading to scholarships in top universities typically in the US. We saw lists of scholarship receivers in places like Duke University and UCLA at the CMR public school’s entrance, when we did a teacher training session there.
Dr. Shailja Vaidya Gupta of DBT pinpointed as another immediate private sector opportunity the growing home-schooling and large existing tutoring market in India. Currently, nearly all Indian students hoping for university education take private after-school classes, where students already tired after a full school day of rote learning get some additional rote learning hours in another location. This is clearly not very effective, but the parents invest the money, because they believe it will help their children in future university admission exams. More progressive parents are taking their children out of the rote learning experiences offered by schools into home schooling. There is a clear after-school and home-schooling business opportunity for companies able to create a consumer value proposition for parents of new easy-to-use tools and games for learning at home.
Based on these learnings, I expect that we need three streams of activities for India market entry:
- Pilots in various types of schools with early adopter teachers, which need to show evidence that using tools like LUPO will at least not worsen the scores in science subjects, but will rather add another skillset on top of the classical subject knowledge, creating better rounded and thus more competitive future researchers and entrepreneurs with curiosity, creativity, empathy and teamwork skills.
- Co-creating adaptations of LUPO for the Indian market, including both lesson plans adapted to local needs and optionally also an India specific edition of LUPO possibly with role cards derived from Indian culture, mythology and history. These adaptations could also include co-creation of learning packages, which could be offered directly to teachers and parents via consumer channels. The after-school and home-schooling markets are big also in East Asia.
- Partnering with Indian companies already in the school supply chain, e.g. on a revenue share basis if the partner acts as a value-added reseller offering trainings locally.
Luckily, we made many suitable contacts for all three streams, which we can follow-up after this trip in the coming weeks. Some, involving trainings and non-profits, may require public funding, but many can be taken forward on purely business terms at least after field validation in school pilots. Right now, we are exhausted and at the same time very excited about the opportunities. Next, we need to follow-through and not let these leads to fall through our fingers. More on the progress in later posts. Thanks for all our colleagues and hosts from Finland and India for the unforgettable experiences. Until next time!