Last week, ConveGenius, an edtech platform that caters to K12 students, raised USD 5 million to launch its conversational AI platform. They plan to spend a part of this amount on expanding their products on the WhatsApp ecosystem.
Yes, you read that right – WhatsApp. It surely is intriguing that a messaging application that was never created with education in mind has the potential to impact education and even claim market share in the EdTech sector. Considering its reach, WhatsApp has over 390 million users in India. During the lockdown, when schools were shut, education moved on to the available messaging application that was easily accessible to teachers, students and parents.
Why WhatsApp works
In a developing country like India, not every student has the luxury of a desktop or a laptop. In fact, Indians skipped the cycle of moving from desktop to laptop to smartphones. WhatsApp was already designed as a mobile app and works well without any other supporting app; it works on Android, iPhone, and even the widely popular JioPhones.
Unlike Zoom or Google Meet, there is no code required to create classes, hence making it easier. With parents and teachers controlled by being group admins, the education of students became easier to track. As the pandemic hit and schools got shut, students found themselves in classes created by teachers without them having to make any efforts.
Students also shared study videos or notes via WhatsApp for free, unlike other EdTech apps that needed subscription by both parties, and this led to educational content going viral!
Why it doesn’t
Imagine looking at pictures of 200-240 assignments a day and sending the feedback to each student back on WhatsApp for K12 teachers, who, on average, teach 5-6 classes a day, with an average of 40 students. This is where edtech companies gain an advantage. They use AI to track the student’s learnings, plan content for them individually, send assessments, and even show teachers a graph of their development. Also, WhatsApp could allow only eight people to connect via video conference, while something like a Google Classroom allowed 250 students to come together.
How ConveGenius created a solution
CovneGenius partnered with WhatsApp and integrated their API to build a conversational AI layer. Once parents/students sent a message through WhatsApp, they would start receiving course materials. The company created a chatbot-based teaching assistant that has the ability to send study materials, videos, questions, and gamified content over WhatsApp.
Starting in 2014, ConveGenius had half a million students till 2020. With WhatsApp integration, they ramped up to a whopping 14.5 million students in a year with 20 subject curriculums in 10 languages.
|Conversational AI needs to consider a few more things when made for children|
Since conversational AI has the ability to affect cognitive and linguistic development, there are a few things that developers must keep in mind. As children cannot decide where to draw the lines between what is to be shared and asked, privacy becomes a concern, and it is essential to safeguard their rights. There has to be great transparency in stating what the system is recording, when it is on, what data is being recorded and stored. Be alert about biases – children’s conversational AIs must be away from stereotypes around gender, race, age, and class, among others.
A boost for EdTech in 2020
Until 2019, edtech was an ignored segment with the least amount of funding. However, due to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian edtech startups have raised about USD 4 billion since 2020. The edtech market in India is now projected to reach USD 3.5 billion by 2022, which was earlier projected to be in the range of USD 2.8 to USD 3.2 billion. The size in 2019 was USD 735 million.
While Byju’s was the only Indian edtech unicorn by 2018, post the pandemic, Unacademy became the second Indian edtech unicorn in September 2020. In 2021, India saw two more – upGrad and Eruditus.
The question remains whether the fire for the edtech sector will continue to remain post-pandemic or fizzle out as students start going back to the traditional system of schools and whether, if WhatsApp integrated APIs grow more, if parents would be open to paying for EdTech as compared to the messaging platforms that are currently free. With the changes post 2020, WhatsApp can also evolve the platform and add capabilities to meet the demand of this emerging use case.