Published: 23rd September 2017
The BYJU interview: How this one man is making alternate learning app-solutely easy and interesting
From holding live sessions at jam-packed auditoriums to transforming himself into an app, Byju Raveendran, the man behind the BYJU'S app, changed the face of the modern education in India
Most children in India would know him as a teacher who appears very often on their mobile phones, tabs or computers with just a click of a button. He explains anything and everything that is given in their school books in the most innovative way and that too in real-time. BYJU'S - The Learning App has come a long way since its launch in 2015. Known for being a disruptor in the ed-tech field in India, the app has been used by millions of kids across the country. Byju Raveendran, the man behind the app, describes himself as an entrepreneur by chance and a teacher by choice and is enjoying every step of his journey.
Could you tell us something about yourself?
I did my schooling in Azhikode, a village in Kannur, Kerala. My parents were teachers in a Malayalam-medium school where I studied. As a kid, I was quite active and used to play multiple sports. I played six different sports in school and pursued my interest up until the university level. I still play football and badminton regularly with my colleagues. Apart from being a passionate teacher, I also enjoy travelling and experiencing new things.
What sparked the idea to start BYJU'S?
The main idea behind starting BYJU’S was to make learning accessible, effective, engaging and personalised for everyone. We noticed that there was a huge gap in the way students learn and how concepts could actually be learned. In a conventional classroom, access to high-quality education and personalisation of learning has always been an issue. Children are still being trained to solve questions but not ask questions. Learning happens because of the fear of exams and not for the love of learning. We need to bring the child-like curiosity back by creating products in a format that they will like.
The advantage of integrating technology in education is that it not only enables you to take classes from the best teachers, it also personalises the way students learn. Technology today allows a combination of teachers, video lessons and interactive games to engage students like never before. The use of technology can help make complex concepts visual and contextual, which will help students understand not just the what, but the why and the how as well.
At BYJU'S, we have developed learning programmes that address these pressing needs along with making students love learning. Use of real-life teachers with technology as an enabler makes the delivery of concepts easy, effective and engaging. Overall, the programme is a complete integrated learning experience. We are our biggest competition and the focus is to outplay ourselves every time with new innovations which make learning more fun.
The unique combination of media, technology and content has helped us create a holistic learning experience for students
Byju Raveendran, Founder of BYJU's app
Would you like to be known as a successful teacher or entrepreneur?
I am an engineer by profession, entrepreneur by chance and teacher by choice. In fact, I never planned to start this as a business; I just pursued my passion and capitalised on my strengths, it later turned into a business.
From teaching massive session at stadiums to delivering one-on-one sessions, how has BYJU’S’ transition been?
During our initial workshops, we realised that there was a huge gap in the way students learn and how concepts can be actually learnt. The focus has been on spoon-feeding and rote memorisation, rather than encouraging children to learn on their own. The challenge, therefore, has been about changing the perception of how children should learn. While stadium sessions were a hit, truly personalised learning can happen only if a student is offered customised feedback and recommendation based on their performance.
The one-on-one experience appeals to students as they are guided through the entire learning process. To ensure a better learning experience for every student, we launched learning programmes targeted at the K-12 segment. We strongly believe that students should take up the initiative of learning on their own, while parents should take up supporting roles. If you want to make a real impact on the way students learn, you need to start early.
Online learning is not just offline learning taken online by simply digitising content; technology is used extensively to make learning better and more effective online. We wanted to inculcate their love for studies through the use of technology and that led to the launch of BYJU’S- The Learning App in August 2015. We continue to focus on making learning engaging by creating high-quality learning modules, videos, and interactives across segments or grades.
Our teachers have access to varied tools and technology to make learning more interesting and impactful for students thereby adding a whole new dimension in the way teaching and learning takes place
Byju Raveendran, Founder of BYJU's app
Personalised coaching for each student is one of your key advantages. How do you manage it?
The backbone of BYJU’S personalisation engine is the rich learning profile that is built for every student. This is powered by deep Knowledge Graphs of over 50,000 concepts that have been created to design personal learning journeys — videos, questions, adaptive flows, quizzes, flashcards and so on. Additionally, the learning content is also tagged to multiple other properties and parameters.
The content is tagged at the sub-micron concept level and this helps the algorithms create a smooth learning curve for the student so that they feel challenged yet motivated. Whenever they make a mistake, we identify the right remedial method to strengthen the student’s learning experience. This is similar to how a personal tutor would try and tackle their student's gap in learning.
Big shot: Byju is a two-time CAT 100 percentile holder and National Math Olympiad winner
Also, how do you manage a large pool of teachers? What are the prerequisites that you look for in a teacher?
Teaching is one of the most creative and powerful jobs. Teachers have a very significant and lifelong impact on children from shaping their mindset to giving them the launch pad for their thoughts and imaginations. Education in India has witnessed a paradigm shift with technological innovations in this space. Today, teachers can redefine the way children learn by combining their teaching skills with tech-enabled tools.
At BYJU’S, we look for teachers who are passionate about the subject, have strong subject matter expertise, are enthusiastic and also have the strong screen presence to deliver the lesson in a format which students can relate to. It is also important for the teacher to be a real motivator who believes that innovative teaching can create better learning experiences for children. The role of a teacher at BYJU’S is more of a ‘performer’ than just delivering a lesson conventionally. They need to combine their subject matter expertise with technology tools to explain concepts in an easy and interesting manner.
Apart from the teachers in the video lessons, we have a strong 200-member content and research team of highly qualified teachers and Learning Science experts who research and develop the lesson structures.
What makes you different from your counterparts?
At BYJU’S, our focus is to create the best and most unique learning journeys for every student. Our learning programmes are designed to make ‘every’ student fall in love with learning and is not only for toppers. We are their learning companion. We believe that we are our own competition and strive to be better every day. We are constantly working on creating systems and learning experiences which will make learning even more simpler and much more fun.
We are pioneering personalised learning based on the style of learning of every student. The app merges videos and interactives, and teachers bring concepts to life. With an average time of 40 minutes being spent by a student on the app every day, the app has become the most loved and preferred education app for students across age groups. We are leading the ‘better learning’ space by using original content. Our core strength lies in creating high-quality learning modules across grades.
Today, with a wider bandwidth, we want to create similar products for the international markets, starting with the English-speaking market. We see a potential for our product globally as, so far, we haven’t seen such a product available in the global market which can reach out to such a large number of students and create great engagement at the same time.
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BYJU’S mainly caters to children from urban areas. How do you ensure that kids from rural areas also make use of your app?
BYJU’S can be used by students across grades irrespective of their geographical locations and proficiency levels. In fact, the app has been at the forefront of addressing issues like access to quality education and teachers for students in smaller cities and towns in India. Students from remote locations like Kehsod (Gujarat) to Berhampur (Odisha) are increasingly adopting learning from the app.
India today has the largest K-12 education system in the world, with over 260 million enrollments. 70 percent of the segment has access to a smartphone and this percentage is fast increasing. The Government of India has launched several initiatives like SWAYAM, eBasta and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) that have been driving the adoption of online education across the country.
The internet is quickly penetrating every nook and corner of the country. A recent KPMG report suggested that by 2021, India will have over 735 million internet users. Semi-urban and rural areas are seeing significant uptake in internet usage and therefore we see tremendous growth for online learning and education in these regions.
What not: Byju is an Engineer by profession, entrepreneur by chance and teacher by choice
What are your future plans for BYJU’S?
Global expansion is on our cards. In the last one year, our app has seen great adoption along with it successfully foraying beyond the metros. We have helped India learn better. We have a strong and diverse investor portfolio. At BYJU’S, we have been fortunate to have investors who have always played a crucial role as partners in our growth story. Armed with the funding we have received till date, our focus will now be to create similar learning products for the international market. We want to capitalise on our core strengths that we have developed in the last four years.
Currently, there are no other products like BYJU’S which can reach out to such a large number of students. We strongly believe that such a product can come out of India. We have the required talent and capabilities. Our product will revolutionize the way students are learning across the world today.
It is encouraging to see an increased adoption from 1700+ towns and cities in the country, but there is still a long way to go before we call this a learning revolution. Currently, we have reached out to less than 1% of the total student population in India. Going forward, there will be a strong focus to further accelerate our reach and create awareness in deeper parts of India. This is one segment where the real fun is in helping millions of students learn better and there is no better day than today to create a better tomorrow for our country.