With the onset of the coronavirus outbreak and an unannounced lockdown, schools and educational institutions were shut down indefinitely.
The lockdown was further extended to keep a check on the transmission of the virus. Owing to uncertainty on the 'new normal', classes shifted to digital platforms and home, the new classroom.
However, thousands of students especially those belonging to the marginalised communities and the ones residing in rural and remote areas were severely affected due to the digitalisation.
Lack of smartphones made it difficult for students to continue with their online classes. Weak or no internet despite having smartphones posed another setback for the less privileged students.
On identifying the grass-root level challenges, Vedantu, a pioneer in leading online interactive tutoring and learning in the country, launched an initiative to make education accessible to all students in rural areas.
As a part of "Daan Utsav or the Joy of Giving" initiative, the company has donated 150 smartphones to students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, worth approximately ₹9 lacs in Telangana.
Describing the idea behind the initiative, Pulkit Jain, Co-founder and Product Head, Vedantu told The Logical Indian that the edtech startup's mission has been to focus on 'impact at scale' — which meant to leverage technology and bridge the gap between best teachers and students in far off places.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we started providing free online classes. However, soon we realised that a majority of the students did not have appropriate devices to access the lessons. One of our team members mentioned about the two government schools in Telangana grappling with the digital divide and soon, the entire team was on-board with the idea of helping the students," said Mr Jain.
He stated that the team members voluntarily pooled financial resources and the remaining amount was infused by the company to buy 150 smartphones.
"The impressive part was that the entire process was organic. The team had been aware of how severely certain sections of the society were hit due to the pandemic and how crucial it was to come forward to help them," he added.
Vedantu distributed smartphones among students of two government schools in Telangana - ZPHS Tekriyal Kamareddy and TSWR in Vikarabad District. The entrepreneur explained that the entire procedure right from identifying the children who needed aid to actual distribution was conducted in consultation with the school authorities.
On being asked if India was technologically equipped for a digital switch in the education sector, Mr Jain said, "The impact of good teachers in comparatively smaller areas has been remarkable. Good education has the potential to transform the lives of not just a child but the entire family and we have to consider both sides of the coin.
If we expect the best minds in the society to take up a profession as a teacher, locating to such far-flung places would be impractical since aspirations are involved. The brick and mortar school structure have limited scalability options. Therefore, technology could play one of the empowering elements in the process of delivering quality education to the grass-root level kids."
He said that in the past few months, Vedantu has been witnessing active participation from students from across the country. An analysis of the company's data has also revealed that consumption of both free and paid classes have registered a massive surge which implied that the penetration of technology to these remote places has been on the rise. Additionally, the pandemic has accelerated the process of digitising classrooms which can facilitate remote online learning.
"We need to continuously innovate and involve, because unlike classrooms that can accommodate a limited number of students, Vedantu has been dealing with millions of students," he added.
Sharing his thoughts on the post-COVID scenario regarding the education system, the entrepreneur said that on witnessing the effectiveness and efficiency, online education would be primarily considered as an option especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. These cities and rural areas mostly do not have qualified and trained teachers.
Highlighting the issues with the contemporary way of learning and why it needs to change, he said, "Vedantu caters to younger children. The ones preparing for entrance examinations or skill-oriented classes are aware that they need the education to have a bright career, however, the younger bunch would be interested in classes if they find the content interesting and thought-provoking. So, we focus more on making the learning experience joyful."
He also stressed on the importance of teachers in the cycle. Referring to them as 'teachers by choice', he said that utmost care and attention is paid to the selection and upskilling of the teachers.
At a time when thousands of students are struggling to get access to online education, this initiative has come as a huge relief for the underprivileged students.