The Indian education system is one of the largest globally, with over 271 million students enrolled in more than 1.5 million schools across the length and breadth of the country. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in 2020, education was affected too. But human resilience prevailed as teachers and students started to adopt learning methodologies as per the new normal. This massive adoption was being driven by smartphones and laptops mainly as they became the new medium for the average kid in the Indian sub-continent to attend his/her live interactive classes.
While there were complaints on whether children were learning as much in the virtual classrooms, teachers too found it difficult to deliver the same standards of education through the online medium. The booming EdTech sector of India, which received a significant shot in the arm during the pandemic, came to the rescue and delivered a more customized and personalized learning experience for the kids.
But now, there is a problem. Today in K-12, most big EdTechs speak directly to students by circumventing schools through laser-focused products on test prep and tuitions. This has undermined the majority of the learning that happens in schools. With the huge adoption of EdTech products, people seem to have accepted that schools can no more be improved. LEAD’s brilliant husband and wife-co-founders, Sumeet Mehta and Smita Deorah, thought differently.
LEAD’s journey began in 2012 with a single school in Areri village, in Kheda district, 35 km from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Today, LEAD is helping more than 3000 schools and over 1.2 million students across India.
The trailblazing EdTech is taking a fresh approach by empowering private schools in Tier 2, 3, and 4 towns in India through its solutions that are minimizing their operational costs while ensuring high-quality, affordable education to more and more students.
In January 2022, LEAD became the first EdTech and the second company of the year to attain the special unicorn status after raising $100 million in its Series E.
We recently got in touch with Sumeet Mehta, Co-founder of LEAD, to know more about the company’s splendid work so far and its vision for the future.
What inspired you to start LEAD?
I completed my MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and went on to work with Procter & Gamble in Singapore. I was, however, convinced that living outside of India and working in P&G didn’t seem to be my life goal. I come from a small town and both my parents working as teachers allowed me to see education up close and personal. I kept thinking about the gap in education in metros as compared to a non-metro city and how it affected children and their future.
Smita Deorah (Co-founder at LEAD and my wife) and I left our jobs in Singapore in 2012 and returned to India with the sole objective to do something meaningful for the country. We realized that the Indian education system had a problem that needed to be addressed and solved. And this led us to start LEAD.
What gap is LEAD addressing that others in the Indian EdTech space seem to be missing out on?
As long as a school has teachers, students, a building, and furniture, LEAD’s integrated school system provide everything else — software, hardware, curriculum, books, a school kit, and training sessions. Its uniquely-designed School EdTech system covers the entire breadth of schooling, from pre-primary through to standard X.
LEAD is the only EdTech of its size with a vision to make international standard education accessible and affordable to all. Most other companies offer peripheral digital solutions, be it test-prep, tutorials, or upskilling. LEAD, on the other hand, is addressing the core challenges facing the education system and transforming conventional schooling in India with tech-integrated solutions. By replacing the textbook-based ‘listen and repeat’ approach with multi-modal learning, LEAD is enabling children to learn in different ways — by seeing, doing, and listening.
We realized at the outset that piecemeal solutions such as a book, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), or LMS (Learning Management System) would not have a sustainable impact on school transformation. So LEAD created an integrated, highly effective, and holistic learning system for schools.
EdTech startups in India have largely focused on test preps and tuitions. What prompted LEAD to break the mold and seek partnerships with schools?
LEAD’s desire to engage with schools stems from the fact that this is where the child spends the most amount of time: 6-7 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. That is a lot of time available to make a difference. Also, it is LEAD’s core belief that supplemental education can only go so far. If we have to transform education, we need to transform core learning at school. And the only way to do that at scale is by the use of technology and data.
Through School EdTech, we wanted to address the challenge associated with low-fee schools. Parents choose to spend a significant portion of their income to send their children to a good private school, thinking that 10-12 years later they will be set for life. But by the time they realize that their child is not ready for the job market because the education they received was broken, it is already too late. This was the area of the largest unmet need that Smita and I intended to solve through LEAD.
Education must be accessible and affordable for all. How is LEAD helping with these?
LEAD specifically partners with affordable or budget private schools in Tier 2, 3, and 4 towns in India and is able to create access to quality education that is affordable. These students face a challenge of both geography and resources.
According to you, what’s the biggest challenge for students across India currently? How are you helping them overcome this?
One of the key challenges for students in India is the need to take ‘tuitions’ even after being taught at school. Another is the disparity of what small-town schools make available to students and what students from metros get. The way we solved this problem was to first run schools ourselves, figure out the challenges – first-hand, then build an integrated system while running our own schools. Running our own schools would get us to just a maximum of 70 schools in our lifetime. However, India has 1.5 million schools. We realized that if we truly wanted to make an impact at scale, we needed to take our system to other schools, and improve outcomes for everyone. And LEAD has done this with much success. Today, we empower 3000+ schools and 1.2 million+ students.
Secondly, English is taught as a subject in schools rather than a skill. We realized the gap in English learning and came to understand that once a child becomes proficient in English, they could learn Maths, Science, and Social Studies in that language. This led us to start ELGA (English Language and General Awareness). LEAD has revolutionized English learning with ELGA, which is based on skill-based grouping instead of the traditional age-based classes.
What is LEAD’s vision for the future?
LEAD aspires to reach 60,000 schools and 25 million students by 2026 through a sustainable School EdTech ecosystem.