Tata Trusts, the principal shareholder of the $109b Tata group is endeavouring to break out of its 'traditional brick and mortar' approach to education by partnering with Khan Academy, an American online teaching provider that already reaches out to 2.6 crore student worldwide.
Tata Trusts ties up with Khan Academy to offer free online education in India
"This is a concept which is refreshingly different, extending free education and knowledge to anyone, anytime and anywhere which can change the world of illiterate to literate," said Ratan Tata, chairman, Tata Trusts, which owns three fourth of Tata Sons. "We expect this initiative to make a tremendous difference to the present and future generations."
The five year partnership will provide free, world- class education in Maths and Science for anyone who seeks it in India in local languages. The effort is also to focus on designing and improving the Academy's content creation capacities primarily for the middle and low income students in urban areas in the first two years. In the following three years, the plan is to reach out to the rural hinterland.
Along with reaching out to the student community, the partnership is also expected to rope in more teachers both as content creators as well as knowledge seekers who wish to improve their own skills.
Student learning levels in India remain abysmally low and Annual Status of Education Report indicate that 75 per cent of the students in Class 5 are unable to do simple division.
The Khan Academy, founded by a former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan with roots in India, was introduced to Tata by a common friend. "We connected the dots very quickly when we started talking a year ago," said Khan.
The success of an initiative in this genre rests primarily on easy access to the internet, especially for the underprivileged and those in the rural areas. Tata was not particularly perturbed about this aspect as he feels that the government will get its act together on this issue as the increasing demand will naturally trigger rapid expansion of connectivity.
When Khan began setting up his Academy in the US several years ago he had to make a choice between incorporating as a not-for-profit or a for profit social enterprise. He chose the former. "The social returns are much higher in the philanthropic mode, "he said. The Academy looks and operates like a typical tech-start up in Silicon Valley but the underlying core, the value system is that of a philanthropy. Khan indicated he was wary of going the for- profit social enterprises way as they are often driven by investors and shareholders for whom earning profits, quickly, is the primary motive. "Mission drifts are a common occurrence with for --profit social enterprises."
The core focus areas of the partnership will be the creation of adaptive learning platforms, developing an android- based smartphone app that incorporates major functionality of the desktop experience and improving platform performance. Both Khan and Tata indicated that they are open to broad collaborations in this space.