Sunday, March 27, 2016

Forget about the grades, find students’ interest and help them succeed

By Priya Mohan and Jaroslav Mašek

Priya Mohan had been working for an investment bank in India but was itching to start something of her own. She was interested in education and wished to devote her future career in this field. She felt like being suitable for it. But she did not want to influence just one class or school but all students in her country and in the whole world. Moreover, there has also been another area which Priya Mohan was enthralled by and it was data. In business she learned about its power and effect on any domain. She discovered that data can help people be successful if it is collected and interpreted in a right way. And so she decided to quit being an investment banker and together with her colleague, Navin Balan found a startup called Vidyartha. 

Introducing Vidyartha 

Vidyartha is primarily focused on empowering direct and indirect consumers of learning products and services with highly validated data to directly impact decision making. It is a data driven company that tries to showcase how students and parents can use the well-organized data points to make decisions in learning. It is aimed to be the single window learning platform that acts as an independent advisor to parents and students in identifying student's learning gaps and seamlessly linking those learning gaps to applicable services and products (paid or free) that best address the student's gaps. But more importantly, Vidyartha becomes a personalized learning environment and platform for schools, students and parents through discovery of individual student's learning data, style and interests. It targets on students between Grade 8 and 12 who are confronted with many learning-based decisions related to their professional skills and future career.

Vidyartha has the rich experience of working with schools across boards in India such as The Doon School or Utpal Sanghvi School. It is also the only company to have designed and implemented the assessment and student data intelligence system for the country's largest Board across more than 2,500 schools and 180,000 students around the world. Heretofore, Vidyartha has on-boarded and created learning profiles of over 300,000 students. Using the learning, Vidyartha 2.0, a new data engine was launched a few months ago with live insights, relative ranking and automated recommendations with over 10,000 students involved. The company is also administering a 7-school chain order in Saudi Arabia and is now (March 2016) working towards an international expansion. 

Context, Challenges and Dilemmas

Before Grade 11 students in India need to choose a specialization with a fixed subjects. For instance Science with Maths have 2 options: Physics, Chemistry, Maths, Biology, or Physics, Chemistry, Maths and Computer Science. Some schools do not even offer subjects like Economics or other. And this choice becomes a critical benchmark for most of the Indian students’ credit and future profession. And when the students decide not to take Science (Physics or Chemistry) in Grade 11, they can hardly change their mind later and can only opt for non-science courses after graduated from the school. 

In this rigid system the general tendency is to push students to take Science and Maths because these are considered to be the secure subjects so that no one could go wrong taking these combinations as it may open up more options. In such a system three essential challenges and dilemmas arise. 

First, when students are not interested in these subjects or, though very interested, they are unable to score well in these subjects or when the students are clear that they do not want Science or Maths and would like to try other subject fields.

Second, when the students have chosen a set of subjects which may or may not be suitable for them and correspond with their interest and long term learning goals, and in Grade 12 are thoroughly confused about the after school options or how they should prioritize them.

And finally, the eternal dilemma is when students across classes from Grade 8 to 12 are even unable to prioritize their learning, often asking questions such as what is my subject strength, should I invest more in my strengths or weaknesses, how do I improve my overall scores across subjects, or where do I put in more time. 

Like with other industries, optimizing effort is very important for students as well. How does one create an optimized learning plan has been the fundamental question. Vidyartha aims to solve these challenges and dilemmas through systematic compiling of data, analyzing it and converting it into meaningful information, and finally delivering authentic and real data based on the recommendations.

Data driven recommendations or how Vidyartha works

With a data engine platform tuned to the needs of K8 - 12 students, Vidyartha concentrates on 2 basic things: 
  • collecting, mining and analyzing validated student performance data to different Boards (CBSE, ICSE, State Boards & IB, IGCSE etc.) 
  • offering predictive analyses and recommendations to students on:
    • subject-wise live and relative ranking (region-wise, school-wise and country-wise), 
    • which group to choose in Grade 11, 
    • most suited courses that tie up each student's interest, aptitude, academic outcome etc. 
This recommendation logic has been repeatedly fine tuned after 3 years of working with thousands of students.

Every student’s unique learning profile and recommendation is created with his or her own data, the subsequent analysis and also in context of peer data such as demographic data, academic grades and trends, and results of Vidyartha’s administered assessments capturing student’s interests, learning style, personality traits and aptitudes.
The strength of the system is in understanding of collecting the data and in the challenges involved in this process. In Vidyartha they currently cater for both schools and individual students and the data comes in bulk from schools as well as from individual students. Part of the data is supplied by the schools (on academic performance and demographic) or by the students, and the rest is discovered through Vidyartha’s own proprietary assessments.

On the one hand, by showing a typical student his or her learning needs, exactly where they stand among their peers and hence where they need to get, right down to subject-wise scores, the platform points out the gaps and seamlessly addresses this gap by connecting the students to service providers with directly impacting outcomes. 
On the other hand, for those high spending education service and product companies currently spending so much money to acquire and sustain student users in their own areas of expertise, the Vidyartha main effort is to significantly reduce the cost of acquisition (being increased by companies that struggle to reach the right students) of the students and improve targeting on students.
As Priya Mohan finally adds: “Vidyartha is a student focussed company that builds a detailed student learning profile and knows which student to connect to which service or product, based on their needs and not on compulsion. By matching the right learning buyer with the appropriate service provider, costs and efforts on both sides are reduced.”

The best way to understand how Vidyartha collects, assimilates and analyses the data for students is explained in the following video.

Vidyartha as a standard platform (Conclusion) 

Vidyartha is a sanskrit word. It is also a blend. Vidya means education and Artha stands for meaning. For Priya Mohan and her team the meaning of education is not the grades, standardization or uniformity but a meaningful process that creates the best environment and conditions for students and which is based on their personality, interest, passion, school approach and decisions through rightly interpreted data that helps them do what they are suitable for to be happy and successful. 

From the moment Sir Ken Robinson presented his ideas about bringing on the learning revolution on TED we have been continuously discussing the possible ways of revealing students’ talent. We could be much closer to this mission if we are able to integrate Vidyartha into our educational systems and make it as a new standard platform. 

During the conversation with Priya Mohan, she confirmed that Vidyartha could tailor their program to our educational environment and also implement it to the curriculum as they have done in other parts of the world. Then we will be able to provide it for our schools and specially for the students to help them be successful in future. This is a huge opportunity and a unique chance we should not miss.