What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Scientists

By Soma Vajpayee, Co-Founder, Zaya Learning Labs

Soma Vajpayee, Co-Founder, Zaya Learning Labs

Founded in 2012 through a non-profit organization, Zaya Learning Labs is an e-Learning startup that aims to transform the education landscape around the world. Highly expertise in terms of developing learning models, the company had raised an undisclosed amount from the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund.  

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Isaac Newton’s famous line sums up the foundation of the incredibly fertile period of scientific advancement that changed our civilization forever. It is a simple thought collaboration among individual and group that drives nearly magical advances.

Solutions to some of the most vexing social problems of today, including effective education, are being challenged by several stakeholders. Governments, non-profit bodies and for-profit social entrepreneurs are putting vast time and resources to the task, yet solutions continue to elude them. On the other hand, the education system is breaking down at infrastructural, structural and implementation levels and it’s important to understand that the problem is too complex to be solved by one group alone. Hence, finding solutions that work across a broad spectrum of students, parents, teachers and curricula is imperative, if we are not to failing our next generation.

Current Landscape in Education Could Do With More Collaboration

In today’s landscape, there are too many players with different skill sets and strengths thus, it would be a waste of resources, time and money to reinvent the wheel – so why not start where the other’s left or even better, do it together by working on our core skills? There are three clear groups within which innovation around education is rife, yet these groups are not collaborating effectively with each other, and indeed, within themselves.

Governments understand the need to solve for the huge dearth of teachers, their absenteeism and pace of upgrading infrastructure required in their schools. Here, we see initiatives such as the ‘Virtual Classroom Program’ of BMC (tablet based education in Mumbai’s civic schools). Elsewhere, public-private partnership programs encourage NGOs and other private groups to take ownership of entire classrooms in civic schools. 

Social entrepreneurs and large corporations are all at work in the field. Many of these entrepreneurs are able to recommend solutions that are smart and innovative. Yet, they also appear hobbled by the immensity of the task. Some have developed content, others the hardware to deliver that content, while a third group has gained on-the-ground experience in implementation in school premises. Yet, in the absence of collaboration between groups, many seem bent on solving the problem all by themselves.

Lastly, cross-pollination of ideas from other countries provides a way to speed our way to solutions, but not enough is being done here. Transporting these solutions will need local expertise specific to India, but these tweaks are a small price to pay for meaningful results. For example, in Africa, Bridge International Schools have been able to implement tablet based teaching in remote locations in a cost effective way. Can this not be replicated in India?

Collaboration Demands Trust, Patience and a Focus on Actionable Solutions

The commercial, strategic and social ambitions of collaborating partners need to find common ground. Bigger and smaller groups can collaborate where there is protection of intellectual property, reduced fear of failure, a mindset that keeps the objective central at all times, and most importantly; the humility to realize that the problem is too vast to be solved alone.

Patience is the key to success in this process as it is a problem beyond our lifetimes. Therefore, we need to be patient with various stakeholders (schools, students and teachers), we need to aim for action and not perfection - the latter is as evolutionary as a technological gadget. However, we also cannot fix the issues sequentially, we cannot work on parent engagement one year, teacher training the next year, look for a new principal the year after that and then, expect a four year high school student to see any real benefit. Change must be comprehensive and have multiple impact points, because it takes 12 years to graduate, but only one to drop out!

It is time to join hands and act together!

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