Get full access to one story every week, and to summaries of all other stories. Just create a free account

This newsletter has been discontinued. But you can read The Stack which includes our newsletters around cleantech, fintech, personal finance and e-commerce in India!

Inside the workings of the India Edtech Consortium

The one stop to understand the biggest shifts in education, written by the best edtech journalist in the country. Someone sent you this? Sign up here

Good Morning [%first_name |Dear Reader%],

It’s been seven months since the India Edtech Consortium (IEC) was set up. A body that aims to self-regulate India’s edtech industry, its current chairperson is Mayank Kumar, the CEO and c0-founder of UpGrad, and its steering committee has some of the most influential players in Indian edtech, including Byju’s co-founder Divya Gokulnath and Sequoia Capital’s managing director GV Ravishankar. Its 22 signatories are a mix of K-12, test prep, and professional learning edtech solutions.

For the better part of these seven months though, the IEC has found itself in the midst of a perfect storm. Business models have popped, funding is down, layoffs are happening everywhere. And the flow of complaints—from parents and students who feel duped by missold, overhyped products—hasn’t ebbed.

It’s the worst of times. Ironically, it’s also the best of times. 

There are certain advantages to having an IEC. It’s been an effective buffer between individual edtech companies and a trigger-happy, reactive government machinery that’s always itching to regulate. It has also absorbed some of the public vitriol directed at edtech companies, and created an official mechanism which claims to have settled “100%” of complaints that have come its way. 

More than anything though, the IEC aims to be a “stamp of trust and credibility” for any edtech that’s a member, says Kumar. And like any self-respecting, semi-officious body, the IEC has created enough layers of chubby bureaucracy to demand respectability.

But how does it really work?

I called Kumar this week to chat about the first seven months of IEC’s existence.

TK: How often does the IEC meet? Who is in the managing committee?

MK: The management committee has representatives from five companies. We meet once a week or once a fortnight. We have a locked calendar. We discuss various issues in the edtech ecosystem. We are soon planning to do one meeting in person. There’s me from upGrad, Divya from Byju’s, Mahesh from Careers360, Krishna from Simplilearn, and GV from Sequoia. The management committee drives broader strategy and vision, ensures day-to-day activities like getting new members to join the IEC.

TK: What are the IEC’s goals, other than grievance redressal?

MK: Our approach has been to protect consumer interest. But we’ve been fairly reactive so far. There’s more to IEC than grievance redressal. We also want to do proactive things—take edtech to scale by launching a scholarship scheme, offering services to the government or ministries. We want to work on multiple fronts, with any other body which has relevance to edtech. 

It may also involve collaborating with relevant stakeholders and other self-regulatory organisations for creating a joint task force to ensure consumers’ protection. We have shared job creation data, distribution of learner data, and the impact of edtech on non-tier 1 markets with various media publications.

TK: Let’s come to grievances, since that’s been a major theme. What does the IEC’s grievance redressal process look like?

MK: We can say that a complaint has been resolved when a consumer says so. It works like this. The complaint is first addressed by the edtech company in question. If it’s not resolved, then it moves to a screening committee formed within the IEC. If the complaint persists [i.e. the consumer’s not satisfied with the outcome], it goes to an Internal Grievance Redressal Board (IGRB).

When we started, there were fewer complaints. Now, we are actively promoting the two-tier redressal mechanism. Every edtech that’s a part of IEC has appointed a grievance officer (GO) internally to address and offer remedial action. Every IEC edtech also needs a compliance officer (CO) to ensure that they’re aligned with the code of ethics (CoE) laid down by the IEC. Plus, they need to have an IEC link on their website that consumers can access.

I need to take a quick detour here. The IEC has a 37-page document detailing how this complaint mechanism works. Kumar is quick to clarify that there are built-in checks and balances. For instance, if there is a complaint against WhiteHat Jr, then no one from Byju’s (which owns the platform) can be part of the IGRB or the screening committee that deliberates on the complaint. The governing document also says that, to the extent possible, no edtechs with competing interests should adjudicate on the fate of a fellow IEC member against whom a complaint has been made.

The IEC document has a landing page full of logos of IEC members. I rearranged them a bit to visually represent just how hard it’s going to be to avoid a potential conflict of interest.

Original picture:

Clustered picture (the arrows link competitors):

There’s a big centre of gravity here. Four IEC members belong to the same group (Byju’s, in case you were wondering) which increases the number of competitors and, in turn, makes it harder to find neutral IEC members to adjudicate on complaints. And what if Byju’s decides to acquire other IEC members? The tiered system dips back into a slim pool of candidates, most of whom are competing outside the IEC for venture resources and customer attention.

One way to guard against this is to recruit more diverse members, and rapidly. The IGRB’s composition also helps—it has a smattering of non-edtech players, like a retired Supreme Court judge, senior bureaucrats, and advocates who can interpret laws around advertising or mis-selling. 

Which brings us neatly back to the last question I asked Kumar: 

TK: Still, is it weird to have a representative from Byju’s on the managing committee when a majority of complaints have been against the company?

MK: The largest guys have to be part of the consortium since they have the largest number of learners. When the complaints come, the steering committee does not have members of the edtech company against which the said complaint has been made.

Prudent and proper, yes. But only time will tell if IEC can live up to its promises.

Back Bench

How much language is too much language? 

I came across a tweet this week where a parent was questioning the wisdom of teaching the boring intricacies of an unfamiliar language to students—grammar, syntax, and all the other stiffness that sucks the fun out of language learning.

The tweet is about teaching Hindi to a non-Hindi speaker, but the sentiment is largely applicable to learning any language. The thread goes on to argue that a student can pick up much more through informal conversations and social interactions than by learning conjugation for a test. 

It’s definitely an intriguing thought. Could schools teach in a manner that accounts for how the human mind actually works? Most Indians have the unique gift of speaking multiple tongues, though their proficiency in each might vary. Is there a way to bring that into classrooms, through peers?

Thank you all for supporting and reading us through 37 (!) issues of Ed Set Go. As we near our 40 mark, are there issues/topics/discussions that slipped our radar? Let me know at [email protected].

Till next Thursday,

Olina

This newsletter has been discontinued. But you can read The Stack which includes our newsletters around cleantech, fintech, personal finance and e-commerce in India!