Digital Technologies Transforming Classrooms of India

A high school student answers grammar questions on Destination Success, an S Chand digital learning product used in more than 1,000 schools across India and the Middle East. ©Veena Ranjan

When Shyam Lal Gupta founded educational publisher and IFC investee company, S Chand, in 1939, the market he entered was very different from today. India was part of the British Empire and UK-based publishers dominated. The school book market was far smaller and a large share of school-age children did not attend school.

Fast forward to 2017, and the transformation is huge. India, an emerging economic giant of 1.2 billion people, has made steady progress in the intervening decades on access to education, although there is still has a long way to go. Attendance at primary level is close to universal. The secondary school enrolment rate is about 50 percent, while 27 percent go on to higher education. Demand for high-quality education materials is rising rapidly with expanding numbers of middle-class parents and public policymakers determined to equip their children with the skills they need to succeed in a modern, globalized economy.

For textbook publishing, the most dramatic change is technological. As with so many other sectors of the economy – from journalism to photography to entertainment – educational publishing is adapting to the emergence of digital technologies. IFC, which invests in curricula and textbook publishers to promote higher quality education in emerging markets, saw in S Chand a potential partner for using technology to expand access to education across India. In 2015, IFC invested 1.1 billion Rupee ($17 million) in equity. More recently, S Chand got another infusion of capital when it successfully launched an Initial Public Offering in April 2017.

“While India has many densely-populated cities, most of the population still lives in more remote, rural areas, where there are more digital connectivity and infrastructure challenges,” said Gaurav Jhunjhnuwala, Director, S Chand.  “Still, the desire in rural areas to deploy digital teaching tools is greater because education needs are so great.”

Regulators gave a nudge to the industry to go digital in 2010 when the Central Board of Secondary Education (a board of education for public and private schools) issued an advisory requiring schools to have a minimum number of digitally-enabled classrooms. The goal was to encourage schools to introduce more digital content such as videos and animations into classrooms to supplement books. Digital products can be especially useful in explaining more difficult concepts to children.

With close to eight decades of experience in educational publishing, S Chand is no stranger to adapting to new methods of teaching and learning. The company has embraced digital technologies by a strategy that combines building in-house products and services with acquiring innovative educational technology startups.

The company has invested in five edtech startups specializing in fields including online test preparation, device-based learning, and augmented reality products. Online test generators are a major growth sector. As more and more competitive and entrance exams are digitally administered, S Chand has seen a spike in student demand for online test preparation tools. It has created own-brands like Destination Success, which partners with more than 1,000 schools across India and the Middle East providing digital content and services for classrooms. It has developed its own mobile app, Mystudygear, which provides students with a digital platform for ebooks, videos and assessments.

Digital textbooks offer advantages both for students and teachers. For starters, they lighten the load that students carry around. They allow teachers to move from a one-to-many teaching model to one-to-one model, making it easier for teachers to give their students more individualized feedback. Nearly 40 percent of S Chand’s books are now enabled with digital content. For example, most of their K-12 textbooks today provide access to videos and animations via QR codes/ CDs, making them hybrid books. In addition, the company has a library of 7,500 hours of pure digital content.

S Chand increasingly is combining offline content with online platforms. For instance, it markets a test preparation book that includes a coupon of Testbook, an online test prep tool. The student can use the coupon to log in to the Textbook platform and access 10 mock tests free of cost.

S Chand has survived and thrived through the changing times. It has transformed itself from being a family owned enterprise to now being a professionally managed publicly listed company, with founder Gupta’s grandson Himanshu at the helm, alongside Dinesh Kumar Jhunjhnuwala.  The company’s book sales exceeded 35 million last fiscal year. It has contracts with almost 2,000 authors and its books are read by over 15 million students.  With a robust investment and expansion plan underway, S Chand is poised to continue growth of its digital education products and reach more students.

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Published in September 2017