With education across schools, colleges and coaching classes moving to virtual platforms amid the coronavirus pandemic, homegrown mobile apps, many created by young tech entrepreneurs in Maharashtra, have found an opportunity in adversity.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in March, founders of Pune-based NGO Vowels of the People Association decided to create a free website (ssc.vopa.in) for Class X students, especially those studying in Marathi and semi-English medium schools.
Teachers of Beed Zilla Parishad were trained to create qualitative content, subject-wise and chapter-wise, in a simple-to-use format that could be viewed with limited Internet bandwidth. The app — created by youngsters Aakash Bhor, Rutuja Seema and Prafulla Sashikant — has been funded by teachers themselves and a few volunteers. It was officially launched on June 11 by Beed administration.
“We had received some calls from people saying that learning platforms in the local language were close to none. When we tried available apps to deliver education, we found that free educational apps made available by the government can be monotonous because of the long videos, and have proved to be less engaging to students. Most are also designed keeping English medium students in mind. On the other hand, companies providing qualitative content are expensive,” said Bhor, adding that the platform was launched to provide equality in quality education.
While four lakh users have registered on the site, one lakh among them are regular users, said Bhor. The creators are now in the process of designing a relative app, and a similar platform for classes I to IX.
For Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC) and other aspirants of competitive exams in rural Marathwada and other parts of the state, Jalgaon-based Darji Foundation has subscribed to an app ‘Classplus’, apart from using social media platforms. The foundation provides subsidised coaching to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Our live sessions on the app are automatically recorded, and the app is easy to use. Because I’d engaged with it earlier, the imposition of lockdown did not worry us much,” said Gopal Darji, president of the foundation. It was a moment of pride for Darji when around seven children residing in Betawad Vadgaon village in Jalgaon showed improvement in performance in tests taken through the app.
Working women with children preparing for MPSC exams, majority from pockets of Kolhapur, Aurangabad and Nagpur among others, have turned regular users of the app. Sixty per cent of users of the app come from tier-2 and tier-3 cities, said 29-year-old co-founder Mukul Rustagi.
Abhishek Indulkar, who runs Kanad Coaching Classes in Ratnagiri, said the CleverGround app created by Pune-based Siddharth Pathare – originally from Ratnagiri – has made teaching online economically effective too. While work on the app had begun in 2018 and by the end of 2019 it was ready, the lockdown has made its subscribers understand its varied uses and also challenged 28-year-old Pathare – CEO of CleverGround, who runs a team of 15 – to keep evolving it.
“Before the lockdown was imposed, we were just using the app to create online multiple choice question tests for students. But since the lockdown, we can save lectures delivered by teachers, correct homework, monitor attendance and it is economically also more beneficial for us,” said Indulkar.
Pathare said that in rural areas, where Internet connectivity may often be poor, some students may miss out on live lectures. But on CleverGround, the lecture is saved on the app 15 minutes after it is over and students can access it when they come to better connected area. “Even when students revise their lessons, they can keep going back to the lecture if they want because the lecture is saved on the app,” said Pathare.
He added that over 100 educational institutions have subscribed to CleverGround that offers packages starting at Rs 200 per student per year.
The fact that most apps are created for objective assessment is, however, a concern for most coaching class owners, said Sachin Karnavat, owner of Mumbai-based Karnavat Classes that has multiple branches.
For state board students, subjective questions comprise a major chunk of their examination question papers. For the last three months, the classes, along with some others based in Pune and Nashik, have subscribed to Oxloop app founded by Mumbai-based entrepreneur Mcenro Samdani.
“This app helped us administer subjective questions to students through weekly tests, wherein the question paper would be available between a set time, the way it works in usual exams. The teachers are finding it easy to assess and give feedback,” said Karnavat.
While the app was launched about two years ago, it gained substantial traction in the last couple of months, which saw an addition of over 6,000 users without any marketing, said Samdani, adding that the user base earlier used to be 2,000 annually.
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