Lessons from India

October 11, 2019
Teaching & LearningJulia Winter

Goddess Parvati created her first son Ganesha from turmeric and her own breath. His early days of life were not easy and acceptance by his father, Lord Shiva, required some tough discussions with Parvati, and involved the change of his head to one of an elephant. Lord Ganesha is now one of the most revered Gods in India, and his blessing is sought before the start of new ventures, because he is the remover of obstacles and a master of intellect and wisdom.

I recently returned from a week-long immersion in the Indian educational market, organized by HolonIQ. We were told the story of Ganesha during a trip to the Big Bull Temple in Bangalore.

This story resonated with me for two reasons: 1) As a start-up, building something from nothing is what we do, along with overcoming obstacles and gaining wisdom along the way, and 2) One of my former students had given me a Ganesha icon when I started this business, so I knew there was something very special about the God with the elephant head.

The HolonIQ team, Maria Spies and Patrick Brothers, brought together 20 different business leaders, representing 13 different countries ranging in size from early stage startups to well-established multi-national corporations, to learn all that could be learned in 5 days of presentations and excursions.

A group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the cameraDescription automatically generated

Together we heard from thought leaders and entrepreneurs, we visited a school, and made site visits to educational companies. During the fourth day of the five-day symposium, we were part of the HolonIQ Bangalore Summit, a one-day meeting during which we listened to great one-on-one conversations with those making a difference in India and networked with 100 other entrepreneurs and educational leaders. On the fifth day, we mapped out our own strategy for moving forward with a plan for next steps in the Indian market.

It was truly an amazing week and below are just a few of the lessons learned.

1)    The market opportunity is about scale. India is projected to be the most populous country on earth by 2024, with 1.3B people, of which over 50% are below the age of 30. Securing good jobs through education is the key focus for families. The secondary education market, of tutoring and test preparation, has been fueled with VC investment into EdTech companies like Vedantu, Toppr, and Byju’s. (We heard from the founders of both Vedantu and Toppr during our immersion week.)

2)    Young adults coming out of the post-secondary system may have degrees, but do not necessarily have the right skills for employment. The upskilling market is driven by need for data scientists, machine learning specialists, software developers, and other services. We visited SimpliLearn and Great Learning in Bangalore, both of these companies have built learning platforms for online and in-person courses to train workers in the skills they need to be successful.

3)    The government has drafted an ambitious plan to transform education from pre-K to college and beyond, called the National Education Policy 2019, which calls for increased funding in education and a focus on core concepts and critical thinking to build higher-order thinking skills at all levels. For this plan to be successful, there will need to be an incredible shift in focus from attaining high scores on exams to skill-building and problem-solving. One of the presentations at our symposium from Harpreet Grover of CoCubes (an employment assessment platform, acquired by Aon Plc) presented a slide that stated the core problem succinctly:

“What is taught is what is easiest to teach, easiest to assess, and easiest to learn…education is basically slave to assessment…this needs to change.”

The collective effort of public and private entities can help to pave the way for more access to meaningful education for hundreds of millions of young people in India.

Returning to the story of Ganesha. In order for Parvati and Shiva to pave the way for acceptance of Ganesha, they asked for and were granted the blessings from the other Gods. It was a collective effort to transform the boy made from his mother’s love to become a source of comfort and strength to those embarking on new endeavors. It’s a heart-warming story with a happy ending.

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