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Digital learning has great potential in govt. schools: Arshan Vakil, Founder and CEO, Kings Learning

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Arshan Vakil
 

Being proficient in the English language is an advantage, often unfair, in India. Not being fluent in it could mean losing out on the job you’re qualified for. One social enterprise is trying to reduce the gap. Focusing mainly on students and blue-collared workers who are at the bottom of the pyramid, Kings Learning is striving to upskill them and to improve their chances at getting meaningful jobs.

Established in April 2014, it is a for-profit social enterprise founded with an intention to deliver employability-focused English language and communication skills training. Its flagship product Enguru app has helped millions of Indians learn English conversationally and improve employability in areas such as retail, hospitality and IT. Kings Learning has been backed by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Village Capital.

Arshan Vakil, Founder and CEO, Kings Learning, was recently recognised by Forbes Asia in their annual ‘30 under 30’ list. In an exclusive interview, Vakil talks to The CSR Journal about how English learning could increase the employability of Indian youth and reduce dropout rates in schools.

What do you think of the 2% mandate on CSR spend according to the new Companies Act, 2013?

The companies we work with (Tata Group of companies, Microsoft etc) have already been engaging in CSR way before the mandate came into effect. It hasn’t impacted them directly. Having said that, now that we are scaling up and have a few successful projects, we are seeing other players who are interested in reaching out to us for partnering with them.

As an entrepreneur, I feel the mandate is extremely encouraging. Education is a focus area in CSR across the corporate sphere. It’s a big advantage for education enterprises like ours. Given the goals we want to achieve with Kings Learning, it’s fantastic news for us.

Our own CSR has grown considerably in the last 12 months. We also have a completely free consumer app which has 10 million downloads out of which 7 million downloads took place in 2018.

What does Kings Learning do?

Kings Learning is an edtech startup that focuses on English training. We are trying to help people learn English to improve their career opportunities. English is an important aspect in various customer-centric fields in India. We are trying to reach out to low-income users as much as possible. Basic support is available in 13 Indian languages, Hindi being the most popular.

How does English speaking increase employability?

Our belief is that the greatest gift we can give someone is to empower them to help themselves. Thus, we conduct training programs that instill employability skills and enable each individual to succeed in today’s society. Kings’ main focus is to improve a person’s English, which for so long has been an essential tool for mobility yet been restricted to an elite few.

With over 9 million learners on consumer app called enguru, we have completed over 100 app-based enterprise programs split across three main verticals – corporate training including with Trent, Bosch, TCS, Himalaya, Canon, Oberoi, Grasim; CSR and NGO trainings including with Pratham’s PACE centers, Dr. Reddy’s Foundation, Voltas and Trent CSR programs with vocational institutes; and government school interventions with pilots confirmed in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Haryana. We are using different models in each state to see what we can do for scaling and to gauge whether we can use the existing structure to roll out the program. The infrastructure itself is provided by the company engaged in CSR.

With blended learning programs in government schools, students are more engaged and teachers can actually pair students up based on their levels to make learning more effective and fun.

With so many companies investing CSR funds in digital learning for government schools, would you say it is the way forward?

Digital learning has great potential in government schools. A key element is the ability of smart classrooms to empower school teachers in rural areas. For digital learning to work, it’s important to use it as a tool for making classrooms more effective. From content to interaction to generating interest, it could do a lot to improve the quality of learning for school going children in villages.

There is no fear of distraction or stumbling onto inappropriate websites. The app works completely offline. The software is preloaded onto the tablet before being distribution so that kids aren’t distracted by internet connectivity.

Could digital learning be used in schools to reduce dropout rates?

There’s a variety of reasons for high dropout rates. Very often, the quality of teaching leaves much to be desired. Case studies have shown that the introduction of tablets in schools has improved attendance remarkably, which in turn could reduce dropout rates. Another tactic could be focusing on English training.

Parents understand that learning English through a digital medium will help their kids get jobs when they grow up. Most students do not have access to good English language training which we are trying to address by creating accessible English learning tools. This opportunity to work with government schools is extremely encouraging and we are very excited to run our hybrid app-based programs from the 6th to 12th standard at various government schools. Our program is aimed at improving the student’s spoken English along with their confidence and communication skills. We have developed relevant content for this program which is mapped to their curriculum.

How do you make it ‘fun’ for young students?

Gamified learning brings the video game setting into the class. Game-based learning or play-based learning refers to a type of game play with clear and defined learning outcomes. There are rewards and badges just like in video games. The beauty of play in the learning environment is that children develop autonomy quickly and can self-correct easily, with a minimum of emotional stress. There is a clear path of progression and kids can learn at their own pace.

What is your role as strategic partner in CSR programs?

We work with a number of vocational centres, associated with the CSR wings of companies, which are training young people to work in retail, auto, hospitality etc. The content is completely built based on which vocational course they are following. For instance, a skilling initiative by Tata STRIVE uses our platform in parallel to their training for teaching English to employable youth.

To give you an example of an education program, we have joined forces with Hero Motocorp CSR division and the government of Haryana. As part of the Saksham Haryana program, Kings Learning conducted an app-based blended English learning program using Enguru at 10 government schools in Haryana. We also conducted a special 3-day intensive teacher training program for the teachers in these schools to enable them to run the blended program including a 45-minute session every two weeks based on the app lessons completed.

Hero Motocorp is sponsoring this project starting from till May 2019 wherein 30 government schools have been brought on board for 6 tech pilots across various trainings. The 30 schools have been divided into 3 clusters of 10 schools each, with each cluster being given specific types of interventions.

The 10 schools allotted to Kings Learning have been provided with “Tab Labs”. Nearly 4,000 students from grades 6th to 12th have enrolled in this hybrid program. Kings Learning appoints a specialist teacher to conduct the pre-course teacher training session with the government school teachers. The training covers aspects such as app usage and language learning techniques. After the training, the Kings Learning instructors will regularly be in touch with the government school teachers in a mentorship capacity and will check in with them about the progress of the program.

What are your plans for the future?

Our biggest NGO partners are Salaam Bombay Foundation, Step Up and Pratham. On the vocational training side, we are trying to partner with more NGOs to make much greater impact.

Thank you for reading the interview until the very end. We appreciate the time you have given us. In addition, your thoughts and inputs will genuinely make a difference to us. Please do drop in a line and help us do better.

Regards,
The CSR Journal Team

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