4 Things Every Indian Ed-Tech Entrepreneur Should Know About Teachers

There is no doubt ed-tech entrepreneurs work in a tough sector. They face the challenges of B2B sales and scaling up in a fragmented ecosystem. At the same time, their product must cater to multiple expectations in a school. Usually the biggest hurdle is ensuring product adoption by teachers. This is where understanding the hurdle at a granular level will help them.

Ed-tech entrepreneurs are a self-selected lot, with one thing being in common - a passion for learning and social change. Most ed-tech entrepreneurs have the following backgrounds - tech folks who have developed a solution based on their childhood experience in a school. Or as parents, they have observed a gap and started product development based on their beliefs. In many cases, young entrepreneurs would have worked as a passionate teacher in a school for a few years. They have had a first-hand sense of the tools that would appeal to them, and then they take the entrepreneurial plunge to make them. A few years will be spent perfecting those tools. And then when the implementation process starts, they find adoption rates to be really low. They get discouraged and label the interests of teachers as very narrow, eg the focus on syllabus completion as opposed to true learning. Or they will attribute product failure due to lack of teacher motivation. 

This familiar narrative can have a better ending if we understand the ground realities of teachers. This is very important, as many passionate entrepreneurs are entering the education space and genuinely want to make a difference.

Let us take the persona of a typical teacher, Ms Latha, teaching grade 3 in a budget private school in a Tier-2 city like Mysore.The intention of this profile is not to normalize the gender-based roles, but to share the reality of millions of women teachers in India, as of today.

Latha is 28 years old and post-marriage, she has moved to Mysore. She teaches to supplement her family income as well as ensure her availability to her child, Kiran. Kiran also studies in the same school. Latha gets a subsidized school fee for Kiran, and can pick up and drop him without any hassles. She has an experience of five years working in schools in her hometown. Though Latha studied in a Kannada medium school, she has recently learnt English through the Hello English app on her mobile phone. She recently got her smartphone and is in constant touch through WhatsApp with her friends and family.   

On most days, she wakes up at 5 am. Her mornings are spent doing household chores and helping children get ready for school. In school, she works six days a week, with Saturday being a half-day. Daily, she stands in the class (often a noisy one) and teaches for around five hours. The school has multiple service providers for textbooks, exams, digital content, and parent communication for homework. She must go through all those and figure how to integrate them for classroom teaching. Any spare time in school is spent in correcting homework, helping in school events and completing administration formalities like updating the registers for lesson plans. There is a lot of pressure to ensure the exam syllabus is finished else parents complain. Post reaching home, after a quick break, she will help her child finish homework. Though tired, she will finish her household chores like dinner preparation. Towards late night, there will be a little bit of time spent with family including television watching. And the next day begins. 

Once we understand the micro-schedule of a teacher, three key aspects come to light: - 

Teachers want better tools but teaching in a school is a very hectic activity. If the product requires the teacher to spend additional time beyond her choc-a-bloc schedule, it will be met with resistance. Every ed-tech entrepreneur should ask the question – How much additional time and effort does the product require from a regular teacher? What can be done to eliminate it? 

A reason for the prevalence of paper in schools is its reliability. Most tech tools in schools need basic connectivity to ensure the reliability of service. But teachers are focused on their teaching and want tech tools to have Whatsapp-like simplicity and reliability. Else it creates frustration and increases the workload. Ask yourself the question – How reliable is my product? How often does it fail to do the main function? 

Staffroom meetings and parent-teacher meetings in schools are dominated by two aspects –exam outcomes and classroom behavior. The proxy of a ‘successful’ teacher is completing the syllabus while ensuring true learning. And s/he must do all this with top-notch classroom management on a daily basis. Teachers ask of ed-tech products – Will this help me achieve high exam outcomes with true learning and proper classroom management? Entrepreneurs should demand the same from their products.

Like all professionals, teachers also yearn for professional development and recognition. The staffroom is often a very limited place for professional growth. Teachers would like to have tools that they enjoy learning, and can immediately apply to their classroom. And can share the successes with their peers. Ed-tech entrepreneurs should ask of their products – Does this product help the teacher have immediate success in her classroom teaching? How can s/he have recognition from her peers for her initiatives?

In summary, ed-tech entrepreneurs should understand the life of a teacher in school and at home. And design products that fit with their behaviours, goals, motivations and challenges. Because of our mental model of an ideal teacher, we often design products the other way around. We should design products that ensure teachers save on time, are high on reliability, ensure academic outcomes and provide professional recognition. Products which hit the nail on the head in these four aspects will cross the mythical hurdle of teacher adoption. It is the responsibility of every ed-tech entrepreneur to rise to this product challenge or risk startup oblivion. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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