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Educative business model

chandigarh Updated: May 11, 2014 10:33 IST
Madhusheel Arora
Madhusheel Arora
Hindustan Times

Internet is an interconnected network of networks that has transformed lives over the years, making it simpler, efficient, easy and convenient to communicate information and thoughts across geographies at the click of a button.

Businesses were slow to pick up the potential uses of the internet for trading. However, as the proliferation of electronic commerce websites have shown, it is now a given that what is available on physical shelves also has to be sold online.

In fact, sales volumes in the online segment have made physical retailers jittery and most are now ratcheting up the FDI bogey to stop or at the very least slow the march of e-commerce in retail. Besides retail which is a very visible business, the most important area in which the internet can make a difference is in educating our children and two passionate votaries of this are the ministry of human resources development and a Canadian smart phone manufacturer, Datawind. Making low-cost tablets, branded Aakash, exclusively for internet access, seems to be the life-goal for Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli, a Ludhiana-born entrepreneur, who supplied more than 100,000 such tablets to the Indian government around four years ago and has now applied for Aakash-4 tender.

What the tricity reader will find interesting, given the recent brouhaha over Class-9 failures, is the unique business model that he plans to use to produce the tablet and the revenue streams that he hopes will pay for the device, its usage and the subsequent benefits the customer will derive from it.

“At sub- Rs 3,000 levels for a tablet that actually works and gives us access to internet, we will make our money in two ways. One bundling internet access and content plans with the device and from advertisers willing to reach the rural populace,” says Tuli on a recent visit to the tricity.

So, in this sophisticated but effective business model what is actually being sold is a product far different from the one that is touted. Are advertisers subsidising education?

“Not really, it is a way for marketers to create demand. Remember that winning a new customer is far more tedious and expensive than retaining a customer, who is primed towards your product,” Tuli adds. However, those perceptive enough to see the big hole in the argument must be wondering, if there is in fact a direct link between improving education standards and access to an internet-enabled tablet.

This is where the arguments can be a little nuanced. Internet is a medium of exchange or a pot where you can put anything, anytime whenever and hope for a response from the other side, but as an education business model, it is still in its infancy.

As I wrote in my education supplement piece this week, the potential for distance education exists, but has lacked steam over the years primarily due to the absence of a personal touch between the tutor and the taught. Even TV, otherwise, could be a huge fount of education. It has failed to catch on as people have not thought of it as education medium that leads to qualification of any relevance. All attempts to bring course material on our screens seems jaded and uninteresting at best. Is an internet-driven tablet the answer to our education woes?