From a happy-go-lucky founder at Ascot International with a 3-year work life in Africa’s Tanzania to getting into education media business, Ravi Santlani, the founder-CEO of ScooNews based in Jaipur, is a tale of how education sector is attracting a lot of new business leaders wanting to change the face of education in India. A childhood friendship with UK-based IT business honcho and Managing Director of Dotsquares Ltd, Bahul Chandra, changed his destiny as the two founded EduPulse Media Pvt Ltd in 2016. The company now brings out monthly ScooNews magazine and also organizes conferences for educators from time to time. Autar Nehru had a conversation with him on his new journey and edtech trends
Ravi, your coming into education sector and that too in school education space must have a background and history. Can you briefly go back a little and tells us about the events that shaped your present engagement, which I am sure is a very passionate for you?
I was living a great life in Tanzania where I had moved in 2012 as part of my work. I have wonderful memories of all those three years I spent there and I must say I have learned a lot about human values and compassion there and things like traffic sense despite people calling it a 3rd world country. Then, my mother back in Jaipur was diagnosed with cancer and I had to come back to look after her and treatment. Unfortunately, despite our all out effort, she passed away after two years and I was left devastated and practically back to square one on my career path. So, one day at a coffee with my childhood friend, Bahul Chandra, he tossed up the question, what next? At that time, I thought of healthcare and education as recession proof industries and we discussed possibilities.
And you preferred education?
Actually Bahul being a techie and success IT entrepreneur encouraged me and we first founded AddADot Technologies and came up with an app (Scoo Talks) to replace school dairies with the intent of chaining the communication between parents and schools through technology. It was when we wanted to place an advertisement for our product that we looked at education magazines. What was available was not what we wanted, engaging content and formats. Therefore, we then decided to create own education media platform and that’s how ScooNews came into being.
And what happened to your earlier business of Scoo Talks?
This is a known fact that in India out of 100 startups, 50-60 don’t survive the first year itself and we did for two years without losing any money but despite our best efforts, we couldn’t go very far and shut operations in India. Now it continues in UK only.
Ok. Now coming to ScooNews, what is mission or vision statement about your plarform?
This idea to start ScooNews was basically the thought and which we follow with religious vision is that if you need a positive change in school education in India, we need to focus on teachers and educators. Because if we can change the way they think, they teach and upgrade their skills to next level, we’ll be able to see the change that we wish in next one or two decades. This thought also gives a sense of satisfaction and giving back if you could inspire some from among your thousands of readers, encourage replication of successes and also inspires young generation towards teaching careers, and that’s what our focus is.
Technology is also your forte and with Bahul in the founding team, you may have developed good insights into education technology. First let’s talk about early bird companies like Educomp and others that soon followed similar footsteps, couldn’t maintain leadership in school education sector. Have you ever thought on that?
To begin with, I have highest regard for founder of Educomp, Shantanu Prakash as he is the one who brought ed tech revolution in India and at one point some 23000 schools used his products & services, which remain by far largest in the whole Asia. He hired skilled people, who spent time in schools and thus created space for other players to come. So, he is also the leader, who made it possible for others to enter into schools.
Having said this, looking back, even from our experience, I can tell you selling to schools in India is not only toughest but difficult as well. The sales cycle deal maturing ranges from six months to three years. Jokingly, it is easy to meet Prime Minister than a principal of a school here.
That’s a valid observation and many people will agree.
Coming back to topic, I would say teachers in the initial period were not ready to adapt to technology. The issue was skilling of teachers, which didn’t happen the way it should have. It was like putting cart before the horse. Something before time and pushing across entire thing across the table without developing understanding and utility of technology, so it is a story of a change with usual hiccups.
Well taken, now let’s talk about how much technology and what technologies can schools and children absorb given the rapidity and fluidity of technology development besides so many companies in competition with similar offers?
As I said, many school managements in the past burnt their fingers on technology or product acquisition as by the time school settled on it, either the product became obsolete or the company ceased to be there. But I can say in the last decade and especially in last a few years schools have figured it out. Much of it moves now with referrals of successes. As a well-knit community, especially principals do share good experiences and that way the flow is from top of the pyramid downwards—after some schools have adopted and integrated and proved good, it then moves to more schools replicating it. But I must say there are thousands of schools in the country, which haven’t yet got the basic ERP of this technology revolution. Still lots of gaps.
You agree technology is indispensible and there is no way without it?
Absolutely. I was taught almost the same way my father was. But my children are different, they are digital natives. Tech is the new language in which they communicate and you have to provide for it and change your ways as well. When I was in school, we used to dissect frog in biology practical class and after a while dissection of frogs was banned. Now with use of VR, students can travel through frog and get a 6-dimesional sense of what is inside the frog or for that matter for a car enthusiast kid, who can take any car layer by layer to see how its engine and combustion works. The days of memorization are over, now is the age of understanding concepts and then moving on from there. Handwriting will not be important for children but working on laptops, MS office, Apple and other interfaces, chrome books and a host of other stuff. So, if you have to go into future, you have to walk with time as was said by Mahatma Gandhi.
So, in a way you are endorsing VR like technologies?
Yes, setting up of these labs is now easy. There are various players who have really wonderful stuff prepared in accordance with curriculum of our boards. I see, the scene rapidly transforming in next coming years. Gamification of learning has started and things like Google expedition will give students a new high in experiential learning.
Coming back to your own story, you are also talking about creating Edbank. What is it?
It is a dream I have been living with. Essentially, we want to create a platform for teachers where they can come and build themselves as a community, share their learning and create resources for fellow teachers. We are hoping to roll it out in next six months.
Thank you & Best Wishes!