Achin Bhattacharyya, a Chartered Accountant, whose last stint was with Deloitte as a director is the brain behind Notebook – a digital content portal that allows children and parents to learn topics in their respective school syllabi through engaging videos and notes. Earlier Bhattacharyya has worked in India and abroad in various senior roles in GE, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte.
After taking a sabbatical for three months he traversed the length and breadth of the country and spoke to all the stakeholders in the education system to understand the challenges that they face and the need for creating a more engaging and immersive learning experience which can help in shaping up the young minds during their formative years. Further, he took this up with acclaimed academicians across various globally renowned universities and institutions to understand the exciting irreversible transformation of digital education across the world.
With a responsibility to let every child learn, he launched Notebook which covers all the major boards and subjects of education in India and caters to urban, semi urban and rural markets. It also focuses on providing extra learning facilities for the dyslexic and visually challenged students and will soon include vernacular languages to overcome regional barriers to make learning easier and efficient.
In an elaborate interview with stoodnt.com, Bhattacharyya enunciates his ideas and plans in making Notebook a platform for most engaging content.
A selected excerpt –
What is unique about Notebook?
As a brand we believe in core intrinsic quality of a product, hence we have always believed in building content bottom up, which has all the ingredients of traditional education including thorough domain knowledge backed by creative visualization and robust technology. However, we believe in the maxim that “Technology at its best is only an enabler and can never be a substitute for human acumen” thus we are very particular about the thought process that goes behind our content creation and invest a lot of time and resources on literature surveys/pilot content watching sessions/ alternative approach evaluation etc. We have a simple motto which reads “We are only as good as our students think us to be “and hence anything and everything has been done keeping their best interest in mind.
Since we started working on Notebook, we have been driven by our confidence in our ability to create more engaging content than anyone else. Notebook is a self-learning environment designed to facilitate the student’s engagement with the curriculum. At the heart of the brand is good storytelling. It’s the first effort of its kind in India, where complete subjects like English and Hindi literature have also been presented to students in an engaging audio-visual format. We believe that we can bring back the storytelling culture of joint families which the kids have lost to the fast-paced world of nuclear habitats where they hardly get to spend time with their grandparents and extended families.
Besides the unquestionable content quality leadership, Notebook also offers a very personalised experience. This follows the ‘inverted classroom’ paradigm, where the student learns outside classroom, and the teachers in schools better utilise their time in honing the knowledge and skills further. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence is used to deliver the best learning experience, tailored to every individual student.
Notebook is also unique in the way audio-visual content and text material have been used in conjunction to help students internalise topics better. Truth is all learning is self-learning. Notebook makes it stress-free, personalized and fun.
Parents – who shoulder the economic burden of our layered education system – would also see a unique benefit with Notebook. We are the only edtech brand that offers the freedom and flexibility of paying per month, per subject. This means that the parent pays only for subjects where the student needs help and that too for duration that serves students need, as opposed to other brands that only offer expensive annual bundles with a pre-determined set of subjects.
While Notebook is a for-profit venture, Achin believes that education is far too important to be commoditised and oversold. With this thought as a guiding principle, Notebook is absolutely free for the first 30 days for every user. The idea is that the student and parents should experience the product, use it, and pay for it only if and when they are convinced of its value.
What was the idea behind launching Notebook?
Back in 2017, Achin left Deloitte with a vision to do something to improve the state of education in India. Convinced that not enough was being done to engage students meaningfully, he travelled across the country and abroad, meeting students, teachers and parents to identify gaps that existed in the digital education infrastructure of the country. He realised that all edtech portals put together have not been able to penetrate and cater to even 1 percent of the school students. That itself shows the enormity of the opportunity. The challenge was not on the demand side but more on the supply side, wherein best in class quality need to be delivered consistently. He also wanted to increase the believability factor of the edtech brands by addressing some of the key challenges (e.g striking the right balance between pedagogy and content, high entry cost barrier, catering to all section of students under the bell curve and driving the engagement matrix, etc.) that had led to the low penetration of the edtech brands, despite some of this brands having been around for more than a decade. Notebook was born out of the need for relevant, engaging, immersive, value-for-money content that students genuinely benefit from.
Details of what Notebook does
At Notebook, a team of experienced professionals are working round the clock to create the highest quality content for students. The team comprises of teachers with decades of experience, content and media professionals with international experience, subject experts, creative artists, video experts and musicians. Every topic is taken and researched in-depth, with background study and other ancillary studies. The topic is then converted into a storytelling format, which is augmented with high-quality hand-drawn illustrations, animation, graphics and music. To aid further learning, every lesson is also given a short recapitulation video and a Q ‘n’ A video, and finally served along with exhaustive notes and large banks of solved problems.
The effect of this is threefold – first, the student feels engaged with the lesson in a greater way; secondly, the background research and bits of additional information drives curiosity, and the student is inspired to research and learn more by herself or himself; and thirdly, the recap video, notes, and solved problems helps better retention and thoroughly prepares the student for exams.
What is the impact generated?
Notebook launched Phase-1 (the http://www.notebook.school website and the Notebook Android App) on 1st April, so it is still too early to quantify the impact. However, in a month, the product has garnered more than 5,000 downloads and currently gets more than 1000 active users every day.
Since January, the team has been conducting workshops and focus group discussions with students in various parts of the country, and the feedback from all the students who have used the product, has been incredibly positive.
What is the present scene of content market in India?
The Indian content market is experiencing an explosion like it has never seen before. The rise of OTT apps and commensurate growth in addressable audience size has made it grow exponentially in the last couple of years. However, most of this content is in the entertainment and sports space, and classroom chalk-and-talk still rules the roost when it comes to education. As a result what we have is unprecedented demand for digital self-learning content, with very little being done to cater to it in a meaningful way. Most educational content producers are far too bothered with driving economies of scale, which means that subjects like literature and social science are underserved – being specific to the board and class.
Do you think there are great career opportunities in vernacular content in India today?
Only a third of the digital natives in India are English language internet users. This means that all the work done in English automatically gets restricted to only a third of the market. The work that has been done in vernacular, currently, is by and large repurposed of re-voiced English content, especially in the education space. Notebook realised, during their production of Hindi content, that change of language require a change in sensibilities. A language preference is often rooted in demographic differences, and hence just re-voicing does not work and the content does not stay relatable for the vernacular audience. This throws open a massive opportunity for vernacular content specialists to drive thought and innovation in this space.
How is digital learning disrupting traditional learning techniques?
At its inception, digital learning was just digital delivery of traditional learning techniques. However, current digital products benefit from the emergence of Big Data techniques like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Adding to the digital promise of ubiquitous availability, now there is the scope to personalise the delivery of content at an individual level. The system learns from learning patterns of thousands of students and develops a capability to deliver education in a way that suits the pace and learning ability of each individual student.
Future plans of Notebook
Over the next few months, Notebook will grow in terms of content width – with the addition of Higher Secondary classes, and more subjects like Social Sciences, Science and Mathematics. At completion, Notebook would serve 6 subjects across 16 state and national boards in English and 9 other vernacular languages.
The Notebook journey has also exhibited a potential for entering into adult education and skill development beyond the primary and perfunctory modes available today. A future strategy is being planned around use of Notebook for education beyond school syllabi.