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No One Left Behind, Education For All!

I, like so many others, believe that education is a basic human right. The reality is that there are so many roadblocks preventing hundreds of millions of people from getting access to the world’s repository of knowledge

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What does it take to make our dreams, ambitions and desires come to fruition? Fundamentally, we know that a better education leads to a better job, which can then lead to a better life. However, depending on where someone is born in this world, he or she may not have a clear path to the quality education that is required to start them in the direction of a better life.

I, like so many others, believe that education is a basic human right. The reality is that there are so many roadblocks preventing hundreds of millions of people from getting access to the world’s repository of knowledge. In emerging markets, specifically, these barriers are even more abundant. That is why, in 2008, I decided something needed to be done to ‘equalize education for all’. Focused on India, my journey to learn more about the country began. By submerging myself in their culture, I began to understand the underlying issues around affordability, technology and Internet connectivity, physical location of people, cultural differences, language barriers, difference in social classes, global payment method limitations, uncertainty of content and the availability of one’s personal time due to work and home life. My research and development efforts continued for many years, all while being funded by a shoe string budget. Once I figured out what the solution would look like, ‘betterU’ was created. I knew from the very beginning that if we only took the time to truly understand the root challenges for supporting education across emerging markets, a solution would be possible. A critical part of this process was understanding the value and importance that education had within each household.

A parent’s priority is to ensure that they can provide their children with access to the best education available; however, in countries like India, where there are over a billion people, the educational system is strained and under pressure to support their growing population. The reality is that there are not enough qualified teachers and brick-and-mortar facilities to support the needs of the country. In 2013, the Prime Minister of India called for international educators to help support the education needs of his country. Many International educators and Ed-tech companies alike have since been flocking to India in the hopes of tapping into the mass population opportunities. In addition, many of the educators trying to penetrate the emerging markets are facing the challenge of small international departments with little understanding of the requirements and constraints of the country.

As such, many of these global educators ultimately face unexpected barriers, eventually pushing them to abandon their pursuits. Aligning expectations of international educators has been an ongoing commitment for my team at betterU. Through conference appearances and speeches multiple times a year, betterU has been working to educate other global leaders who are simply trying to duplicate their educational programs in India or other emerging markets. They are quickly coming to realize that without a localization strategy and structure their efforts will be fruitless. Those who expect to simply enter an emerging market with their programs and start generating registrations and revenues, will be disappointed.

Many of the world’s leading companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Alibaba, Amazon and more are investing heavily into companies who can help contribute to solving the ‘education for all’ challenge. These efforts are important towards making a global difference, but are they enough? Many of these tech giants seemed to be focused on singular parts of the solution, namely the technology and connectivity side of the puzzle. While this is critically important for the delivery of content, the other equally important part of the puzzle is the education required to support mass learners. When solving the problem of ‘education for all’, we must look at the solution from both sides. ‘Delivery’ and ‘Content’ are the two key pillars from which the solution can be built out.

‘Delivery’ is how and where to connect the potential learner to the relevant content. It would include such things as the use of technology, classroom facilities, internet connectivity and associated infrastructure, training, people and operations. ‘Delivery’ should also include a combination of online and offline infrastructure as online is in its infant to growth stage for many emerging markets.

‘Content’ is the Who, Why and What which encompasses all the materials required to support educating the masses, including all ages, demographics, education levels, industry requirements and cultural diversities. ‘Education for all’ must include content which runs across the variable needs and requirements of each person. This part of the puzzle is far more difficult to solve and is the reason why so many have not even attempted to focus on it.

The main hurdle to overcoming the building of ‘education for all’ challenge, is that there is not one institution anywhere in the world that can provide ‘Content’ across so many age groups, educational categories, industries and that can also overcome the multitude of country and personal barriers. There are simply too many environmental challenges and educational variables from country-to-country and person-to-person for one educator to be everything to everyone. So, while many of the world’s largest Ed-tech companies are focused on the ‘Delivery’ side of the problem, the educational side is still fragmented, disconnected and confusing for the world to embrace.    

The only way to solve the mass education problem from the ‘Content’ perspective which meets both the variable needs and constraints of different countries and specific learner needs, is for educators to be working together. While many educators typically do not work together directly, either for competitive reasons or their target audiences are not aligned, the value of bringing them together onto one platform would be significant. This integration would provide an opportunity to centralize the flow of educational options into a country, organize the data in a centralized knowledge repository and then map that data against the constraints and requirements of the emerging market. This repository would also be integrated into a ‘recommendation engine’ that would pull content across multiple global educators automatically building customized learner solutions for individuals, mapped against their specific requirements. While one educator might not have the solution for all individuals, hundreds of educators would, and betterU is working to make this happen as illustrated in their ‘leaders to learners’ model.

By also leveraging the efforts from the ‘Delivery’ side of the equation, betterU will be able to create the total solution for access to ‘education for all’ in only a few short years. Working with leading educators is only part of the strategic collaboration required to meet the needs of the masses. Aligning betterU with organizations focused on the same goals is an important step towards achieving optimal results.

The betterU model just happens to mirror a combination of several successful global business models that have grown quickly within emerging markets. While unintentional, the model mirrors a combination of Amazon’s marketplace model and Uber’s asset light model.

When you look at Amazon’s model, they are providing access to products from around the world, to the world through a single platform. For the most part, Amazon does not own the products that they are representing. When a consumer enters Amazon’s marketplace, their user experience from Amazon’s localized marketplaces in India, USA, Canada or elsewhere for example are always the same or similar. The consumer seeks out what they require across over 60,000 suppliers and millions of products that Amazon has brought together. If the consumer is looking for an iPhone for example, Amazon’s marketplace provides the marketing details of the product, localized prices and payment gateway that facilitates the completion of the transaction and delivery of the iPhone to the consumer within the territory. Amazon does not manufacture the iPhone, but is the intermediator between the consumer and the supplier. So why would a consumer not go directly to Apple to purchase the iPhone? Amazon’s model also provides quality ‘choice’ to the consumer. While the consumer might be looking for an iPhone, Amazon provides other options for the consumer to search through. The consumer also understands that the selection being made available through Amazon has gone through quality validation and that their purchase would be met with confidence. Amazon is helping to remove the world’s noise and confusion surrounding thousands of similar products that are available for purchase, while minimizing the risk of counterfeit products, poor quality and/or the absence of guarantees. They help make a consumer’s decision for purchases easier, secure and have become a marketplace that is trusted. betterU is an online marketplace similar to Amazon, meaning we can open up territories quite easily and leverage their online store front from country to country. Whether this is or their backend partnerships and offerings make up their base for world distribution.

Uber’s model has scaled across the world to include emerging markets so quickly because it leverages the local infrastructure to support the service they provide. Uber’s dependence is on the network of local drivers using their own vehicles, which creates a network of drivers for Uber that they do not own. Instead, Uber provides the technology that connects the passenger with the driver while facilitating the local transaction. Unlike Amazon, who carries and manages much of their inventory as well as the marketing of the products they also represent, Uber has an asset-light model that only provides the access between to the two key points of the transaction, with no vehicle or driver overhead. Marketing for Uber consists of awareness to the available service they provide and the enlisting of partners to support their model.

The Uber type model became important to betterU after spending years meeting and speaking with education leaders from around the world to communicate their vision and bring them together to create this single focus point of access. In the initial planning stages, a significant challenge was met by betterU. Educators were unwilling to allow betterU to host their content; in other words, to carry their inventory like Amazon does with their partners’ products. Additionally, it was realized that for a learner to receive certifications or credentials from the educator, the institution would need to proctor and manage the learner directly. This is when betterU realized that a marketplace would only work if it also introduced a model to support the needs of the educators as well. The introduction of an asset light model, like Uber, made the most sense. betterU would become a marketplace with localized operating ability, marketing support for individual programs and the point of connection to facilitate the entire transaction between the learner and the educator. This combined model also provided the opportunity for betterU to scale much quicker across the multitude of global content partners, education categories and expanding the ability to address the variable education needs of all. In just over a year, betterU has grown its education base from 235 programs to now over 10,000 and still growing, across pre-school, KG-12, exam prep, university, job prep, skills development and life learning with affordable options from free, pay-per use and subscription based.

betterU’s growing number of education partners is aligned with what is required to support the hundreds of millions of people in need of skills development across India. Under the Minister of Finance, the National Skills Development Corporation was established for managing the skilling needs of the industry. This is one of the country’s main priorities commonly known as ‘Skill India’. This initiative is ambitious, yet very important and forms a big part of what betterU has been working to solve. The skilling up of hundreds of millions of people across 37 industry sectors would require educators to be aligned not only with the industry, but also with each specific job role and industry standards put in place by NSDC and Sector Skill Councils. The educator would then also need to understand the educational and skill level for each person to be able to provide an effective learning path that could help the learner achieve their desired skill outcomes. When you drill down even further into the skill requirements of an individual, this might also include the need to advance a combination of their aptitude skills, soft skills and technical skills. Each of these skill variables are compounded further by individuality. Some may require a full set of new skills, others have beginner-levels skills or advanced skills across anyone of the categories. This level of complexity makes it even more difficult when you compound the problem across hundreds of millions of people and thousands of jobs roles.

Without enough qualified teachers and brick and mortar facilities, the ability to address the skilling of the masses must be moved to the cloud for support. As you can see with the level of complexity involved in the skilling of individuals across so many sectors, unless an educator has access to all the variables, there is no way they can service ‘education for all’. betterU is addressing this problem; aside from the breadth and depth of education required which betterU has been putting in place, by working on the integration of each job role in the betterU system. This includes all the educational and skill requirements defined and outlined by industry. This becomes important because through the combinations of partnership with global educators, assessment organizations, industry, job banks and more, betterU can create individualized programs mapped against job interests, specific learning requirements and the individual’s level of education and skill.

‘Education for all’ is getting closer to becoming a reality and betterU is excited to be pioneering this global initiative that will help improve so many lives.

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. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Brad Loiselle

President and CEO, betterU

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