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On 5 September, celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India, the country’s second-most valuable edtech firm, Unacademy, held its flagship event in Bengaluru. 

Some last-minute changes were made and media persons were asked to attend the event on YouTube livestream and not in-person. The $3.4 billion, SoftBank- and Temasek-backed company made several announcements in a span of two hours. It launched fifty new YouTube channels, and made public its acquisition of test prep firm GATE Academy. Many Indian YouTubers with millions of followers but no connection to the world of edtech also joined in. 

Educators who would run the new channels were introduced by Vivek Sinha, chief operating officer (COO) at Unacademy. He also touched on their achievements, which were mostly about the number of watch minutes and subscribers on their website as well as YouTube channels. 

A screen grab from the YouTube stream of the Unacademy One event.

But away from all the glitz, a sordid reality awaits educators. 

An acute dearth of funding and slow revenue growth have turned up the heat on Unacademy’s, and its rivals’, teachers. Marketing budgets are being slashed as the Covid-induced sales boom is clearly history now. Educators have been pulled up to the frontline to get more students—no matter what it takes. 

A chemistry faculty member who quit Unacademy in May when the pressure “hit the roof” says the teachers were getting emails every month with revised sales targets. A teacher with a monthly basic salary of Rs 1 lakh ($1,300), for instance, was expected to make sales of Rs 30,000-40,000 ($380-$500)–none of this was mentioned at the time of hiring last year.  

These figures would inch up every month. 

At some point, the target was over 5X the basic salary, says another teacher who resigned from Unacademy after nine months on the job. The teachers have to pitch individual referral codes to students, and for each sale, they could get a commission of up to 20%. But this was the case in 2020. In 2021, the commission dropped to 10-15%, and is a bare minimum today. 

What’s worse, salary cuts await those who don’t hit sales targets. 

Similar monthly targets and perks exist at the Tiger Global-backed Vedantu, which became the country’s fifth edtech unicorn last year. Successful sales play a role in promotions and salary hikes here, but there are no pay cuts. Yet, sales are hard to come by. 

“Teachers who were making sales of Rs 15-18 lakh ($18,830-22,600) are struggling to make even Rs 3-4 lakh ($3,800-5,000) now,” says a former YouTube manager at Vedantu. 

The clickbait world of social media has teachers taking cues from team leaders and social media managers on how to present content, make more promotional  videos, and latch on to trending topics with shorts on YouTube and reels on Instagram.

AUTHOR

Shruti Sonal

Shruti is a Delhi-based reporter who looks at India's clean energy ecosystem through the lens of the intersection between businesses, policy and environment. She has previously worked with Reuters and Outlook Business.

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