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Amazon makes entry, Byju’s eyes expansion: Ed-tech cos see boom amid pandemic

As a result of the growth witnessed due to the pandemic, India’s education segment saw a record inflow of over $2 billion during 2020.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi | January 14, 2021 3:05:08 am
The development comes the same day Blackstone-backed Aakash Educational Services confirmed it was in talks with Byju’s in an acquisition of the former reportedly worth $1 billion.

Internet giant Amazon became the latest entrant Wednesday to India’s booming education technology, or ed-tech, segment with the formal launch of Amazon Academy, a service for students to prepare for competitive entrance examinations. The development comes the same day Blackstone-backed Aakash Educational Services confirmed it was in talks with Byju’s in an acquisition of the former reportedly worth $1 billion.

As a result of the growth witnessed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s education segment saw a record inflow of over $2 billion during 2020 from private equity and venture capital (PE/VC) firms, with majority being cornered by startups like Byju’s, Unacademy, Vedantu, Toppr etc. Analysts said interest in ed-tech firms has been mainly due to the pandemic, which forced schools and colleges to shut down and prompted people to upgrade skills.

In a statement, Amazon India said its online preparation offering will equip students with in-depth knowledge and practice routines required for the JEE, through curated learning material, live lectures and comprehensive assessments in math, physics and chemistry.

The e-commerce giant had already marked an entry to IIT-JEE coaching space with a limited launch of JEE Ready app in 2019, which allowed candidates to test their preparedness for JEE Mains.

Globally, in 2013, Amazon had acquired TenMarks Education — a California-based provider of web-based solutions for teachers and parents to deliver mathematics curriculum to students. It later shut down TenMarks and absorbed some of its employees in various roles across the company.

“Amazon Academy will offer students a range of JEE preparatory resources at launch, including specially crafted mock tests by industry experts, over 15,000 handpicked questions with hints and detailed step by step solutions for practice. The mock tests include chapter tests, part tests, and full tests that simulate the JEE pattern, helping students manage exam preparedness at their own pace,” Amazon said. As per information on Amazon Academy’s website, all content is available for free, “for the next few months”.

Other large internet firms including Google have placed bets on India’s education sector. Last July, Google said it has partnered with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to deliver a “blended learning experience” across 22,000 schools. It also, through its VC fund Capital G, invested in Bengaluru-based ed-tech firm Cuemath last month.

In the same month, Facebook too tied up with CBSE to launch a certified curriculum on digital safety and online well-being. Earlier in February, Facebook had participated in the series E funding round of Unacademy.

For startups like Unacademy and Byju’s, acquisitions of smaller firms has been a key strategy to expand their presence. In the test-prep segment itself, Unacademy made six acquisitions last year, with the last one being NeoStencil, a test prep startup. In July 2020, it also acquired PrepLadder, a postgraduate medical entrance exam preparation platform.

Meanwhile, Byju’s is looking at acquiring Aakash Educational Services (AESL), which operates more than 200 tutoring centres in the country — indicating the potential for a hybrid model combining digital and physical presence. Byju’s did not respond to a mail seeking comments on the deal.

In a statement, AESL said it is “Aakash Educational Services Limited is in talks with Byju’s for building a strong partnership. The Chaudhry family and Founders, Mr JC Chaudhry & Mr Aakash Chaudhry remain committed and will continue to run Aakash Educational Services along with its management team with the same passion and commitment”.

“Putting these speculations to rest, we would like to state that AESL is on a mission to build India’s largest digitally-enabled, omni-channel education company. We will accelerate our digital transformation and deliver phenomenal value to our students. We will rapidly expand our omni channel & digital offerings, as we embark on the next trajectory of quality education & growth,” it added.

With this acquisition, Byju’s would surpass itself in making the biggest deal in the ed-tech segment, leaving behind its acquisition of online coding platform WhiteHat Jr for $300 million last year.

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