Why bankers, engineers, researchers & other pros are turning teachers on edtech platforms

Why bankers, engineers, researchers & other pros are turning teachers on edtech platforms

While a job in a school or college would require a B.Ed. or a NET/PhD qualification, edtech platforms don't insist on them. They demand for specialised knowledge in their teachers.

Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint

Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint

New Delhi: In the past two years, as Covid-19 pushed the world to look for virtual alternatives to real-life experiences, routines, tasks and services, one of the sectors that has benefitted from the push to digital living and learning has been edtech or education technology — a term that refers to the system of online education services.

According to a report published in India Brand Equity Foundation in November 2021, the edtech industry in India, which was valued at US $750 million in 2020, is projected to reach US $4 billion by 2025. Another report, published by the Center for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), claims there are 4,530 edtech start-ups operating in India currently, of which 435 have come up in the past two years alone.

Teaching on these platforms covers five major fields of education — school education, higher education, skill education, preparation for competitive exams and learning non-academic subjects (like singing, playing an instrument and speaking a new language).

What’s interesting, however, is that not only do these edtech portals allow students to brush up on their skills and knowledge from the comfort of their homes, but the sector has offered job opportunities to many, and not only those from a teaching or academic background.

Many from previous corporate or other professional backgrounds have been encouraged to make a shift to teaching on these platforms, said those associated with these edtech portals.

While a job in the formal education system in the country would require teachers or professors to have a B.Ed. (for schools) degree or a NET or PhD qualification (for colleges), edtech platforms do not see the absence of these qualifications as a limiting factor while hiring faculty.

Rather, the qualifications sought for in a faculty member depends on the nature of skill/learning offered by the particular platform. Those associated with major edtech platforms told ThePrint that a large number of people engaged in teaching for them are from non-academic backgrounds and have not taught professionally in the past.

The edtech sector in India is currently not regulated by the government, though Minister of Education Dharmendra Pradhan said last week that the government is planning on bringing a common policy that governs these platforms.

In its absence, remuneration too varies greatly — Rs 30,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh or even more per month, according to the administrative head of one such platform — but the fact that it has drawn bankers, engineers and researchers to make a career switch suggests the pay is satisfactory.

‘Many join for specific skills, knowledge base’

Thirty-five-year-old banker Sandeep Vardhan made the switch to becoming an edtech teacher last year, after a decade of working at various investment firms. He teaches banking and finance to college students and helps them prepare for entrance exams.

The faculty pool at another edtech platform, UNext, that caters to college students and working professionals, is a mixed bag, including both former teachers and non-teachers. Bhaskaran Srinivasan, Chief Academic Officer and faculty member at UNext said, “A majority of us are not from an academic background. Many people are from other industries and join the platform for their specific skills and area of knowledge.”

Bhaskaran himself is an engineer by qualification, with over 28 years of experience in product development and 11 years of association with the Manipal Group of institutions. He had never taught professionally before joining the Manipal group and then UNext.

While a B.Ed. or any other similar training in teaching can be an added benefit, its absence is not held against a possible candidate while recruiting.

“As such we don’t have any rule that candidates should have B.Ed. or PGCE, but of course, it works as an extra advantage during interviews if they have B.Ed. or BTC along with some technical degree,” said Anurag Gupta, co-founder, STEMROBO Technologies, an edtech platform that teaches skills like coding and robotics to school students.

“Since we are into robotics, AI, engineering courses, usually, we look for candidates who have experience or qualifications in their fundamentals, and good communication skills, along with having the capability to handle kids. He or she should also be able to understand child psychology,” he added.

The reason for the difference in choosing criteria for faculty between traditional educational institutes and edtech platforms, according to a teacher on one of the platforms, is the  “difference” in the nature of teaching involved in traditional and online education.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the teacher said, “Teachers at schools and colleges prepare students for life, enabling them to take on any role in their future. Whereas, teachers at edtech platforms are imparting a very specific kind of skill or knowledge.”

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‘Was nervous about first day’

While the relatively relaxed recruitment criteria may allow those with a passion for teaching, but no job history, to make a transition, first-day jitters are common, and something that the years spent at another job do nothing to ease.

Lavish Madan worked at a corporate job in India for two years after received his master’s degree in economics from UC Berkeley. The job did not satisfy him, however, and in 2020, he joined an edtech platform that helps students prepare for GMAT and CAT examinations.

An introvert, Madan’s transition to teaching was not a smooth. Recalling his first day of teaching, he told ThePrint, “I was really nervous. Although I was supposed to switch on my computer camera and introduce myself, I did not do it and told my students that there was a problem with my camera. I realise this is a luxury I could not have got had it not been an online teaching platform.”

More than a year later, one continuing challenge for him is figuring out “whether students have understood a concept or not”.

“They switch off their cameras, so I can’t see them and the extroverts talk a lot, but the introverts don’t talk. That is a part of teaching I am still trying to figure out,” Madan said.

Gauging student understanding is something that often even the most confident and experienced among the faculty confess is a challenge.

For Vardhan, quoted above, interaction was not a challenge. “It was more or less like a boardroom presentation,” said the 35-year-old former banker. “On my first day, I told them about myself, why I made a career switch and how they can also become successful in the financial field like me.”

But as he began teaching, he was often left doubting whether his students were able to follow him. “Breaking down complex concepts into simpler ideas for the students was a challenge. What is simple for me might not be simple for the learners and that is what I had to understand,” he said.

His words are echoed by Divyajyoti Mishra, senior innovation engineering teacher at STEMROBO, who has a B.Tech in electronics and communication engineering. In his initial days as a teacher — he started in 2016 — he said it was challenging for him to simplify complex concepts for young students.

“I teach concepts like coding, robotics, and artificial intelligence to young kids. The module that we develop has to cater to the level of understanding of young children… that was a challenge initially, but now things are more sorted,” said Mishra, who now has 10 others working under him.

Perhaps what’s important to realise is that “whether it is physical or online teaching, the core of it remains the same i.e. teaching”, said Sankar N. Krishna, teacher and VP Product Development at BYJU’S, who has been associated with the platform for around seven years now.

Krishna, who has a PhD in life sciences from Northwestern University, said he “came back to India to pursue my passion for teaching”. “Today, I teach biology and chemistry for higher grades and science for grades 6 to 10 on the BYJU’S Learning App. The ongoing pandemic has proved to be an inflection point for the education sector,” he said.

‘More flexibility, better pay’

While the edtech boom has given a whole new career opportunity to those from non-teaching backgrounds, it has also given more job options to choose from for teachers.

Smriti Desai, a 39-year-old school teacher from Delhi joined an edtech platform in 2020, after teaching in various private schools across the country for 15 years.

Desai, who works at a platform catering to K-12 education (kindergarten to Class 12) said, “Even regular school teachers had to shift to teaching online, make PPTs and change the way they interact with students, so I thought why not get into a role that gives me flexibility in terms of my work hours and also pays me more. I joined the current edtech company I am working with in September 2020.”

One of the main reasons Desai made the transition is the flexibility that the platform accords. Since her job is to prepare students for entrance exams, sometimes she records her lectures in advance when it’s not possible for her to take a live class.

The financial perks that came with the job are an added bonus, she said.

“Salaries of teachers depend on a few things, the company that they are working for, the role they are employed in (full-time or part time) and their qualification,” said the senior administrative head of an edtech platform quoted above.

A senior faculty member at another platform told ThePrint that those teaching specialised subjects like robotics and AI may earn up to Rs 4 lakh in a day.

“But that’s at a very senior level…such examples are few but they do exist,” this teacher said. “When people leave their corporate jobs and join these platforms, there is definitely a financial gain for which they are coming.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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