Learning Matters: Building Foundations – Tech for affordable schools

Learning Matters team

To understand what Learning Matters – an EdTech start-up incubated by Social Alpha – is trying to achieve, one needs to go down to the first principles. Any instance of an education experience comprises of a student-teacher building block. Any education ecosystem comprises of millions of such well-executed building blocks. And good execution depends on solving the environment-specific challenges.

The Indian education environment poses some unique challenges. Its newly-achieved connectivity has made content accessible but also created information bombardment. Personalizing student experience is appreciated but if a solution doesn’t work at scale, it doesn’t work for India. On top of it, a solution for India needs to work within a fraction of the cost of the state-of-the-art. India also has some unique advantages. Willingness of stakeholders, especially parents, to invest in education and the availability of excellent India-centric education content together have brought the country to a point which if exploited well, can result in a massive education revolution. The key to making it work lies in the ability of the Indian society to keep the basic student-teacher building block motivated. That’s a big “if” and Learning Matters is trying to tilt the balance in India’s favour.

Learning Matters’s products are targeted at government and affordable private schools that cater to 200 million students in relatively low resources compared to the premium schools that cater to 50 million students. This is the disparity chasm that Learning Matters wants to jump over by using innovation in education and technology. The status-quo mindset would write-off the potential of government-run schools and the huge infrastructure they have created across the country. However, Learning Matters sees this as an opportunity and does not shy away from asking a  fundamental question – “What if innovation could dramatically improve the efficiency of government infrastructure? 

Learning Matters’s line of attack is to strengthen the last mile of the education delivery pipeline i.e. the teacher. Their four-pronged product bouquet creates a 360-degree enhanced upskilling experience for teachers and as a by-product, an enhanced learning experience for students. Star     Teacher, a customized teacher training program enhances the competency of teachers by training them in pedagogy and teaching and classroom management techniques. Tara, an Amazon Alexa-based, NLP-powered, virtual voice teacher is a machine teacher that mimics a human teacher. The StarTeacher Toolbox augments the teaching experience by providing activity kits for KG to 8th graders. This supports activity based, student-centered learning. Kengine, a repository of excellent education content from all over the world further immerses both students and teachers to revisit content learned from various angles. Each one of these products engages users in a structured manner, and handholds them to a wholesome outcome.

Students spinning concepts in Jain Public School, Chintamani, Karnataka

The co-founders, Moorthy, Saras and Gowri believe that no single entity holds the rights to knowledge and its dispersal. Moorthy comes from a middle-class background and believes that if he is able to keep the engagement deep and meaningful, education in India will change. “If thirty years ago, my siblings and I could learn in a resource-poor but motivation-high environment, why can’t India learn in today’s relatively resource-rich environment?”

Having dedicated a number of years to EdTech at Pearson and in other companies Saras and Gowri had a first-hand experience of the problems and gaps in the Indian education system. This helped them understand and connect with Moorthy’s vision almost immediately. Today, the three co-founders are together creating scalable, lean, world-class technology-based solutions to improve teacher competency and student learning outcomes. The team’s rich EdTech experience helps them anticipate their challenges in carving solutions targeting the underserved market. Every single order they win is not just a sale but an iota of change in the mentality of educators.

An EdTech start-up built to serve the underserved educational market at a time when the sector primarily targets premium schools definitely faces its share of hurdles. On one hand, convincing educational institutions requires showcasing substantial measurable impact. On the other hand, finding aligned investors is challenging. Moorthy points out the trend-chasing mentality amongst investors – “Very few are willing to be the first ones to invest in underserved markets. The question becomes – who is the right investor for us? Amongst the many other investors that Learning Matters approached, Social Alpha stood out in terms of their razor-sharp focus on impact and responsiveness.” Over a few months of engagement and due diligence, Learning Matters became an incubatee company at Social Alpha.

Tara used by students in Sri Kanchi Sankara Vidyalaya, Thiruvidaimarudur, Kumbakonam, TN

Why are we investing in Learning Matters

Social Alpha seeks to deploy India’s entrepreneurial potential to solve India’s complex socio-economic and environmental challenges. It invests in passionate, mission-driven teams that see these developmental challenges as a market opportunity and seek to address these market gaps that the wider startup ecosystem has not looked at.

“Social Alpha believes in the role of school and the power of a teacher in shaping the future of our next generation learners. In our investment thesis for K-12 education, we incubate technology startups that focus on supporting this teacher-school ecosystem to drive learning outcomes and help them transform these 200 million learners into responsible, productive citizens. The Learning Matters team brought to the table a unique mix of clear intent, great product strategy and innovation. That made a team which is well-placed to achieve this audacious goal. We are excited to partner with Learning Matters in helping them achieve their mission.” says Srikanth Prabhu, Social Alpha’s EdTech Portfolio Head.