A WhatsApp for Teachers and Students

Ask youngsters in India if they enjoy studies, and the answer is likely to be a resounding ’no’. For many, education still means learning by rote, getting punished for not being able to answer in class, and feeling lost in the crowd.

Between six hours in school, activity classes, tutions, and homework, most youngsters in urban areas feel starved for time. The problem is entirely different in villages. There simply aren’t enough schools; the teacher-student ratio is poor; and children sometimes find themselves held back for household chores or farm work.

Little wonder that India has a 40 percent drop-out rate in elementary schools.

But what if teachers could reach out to these children? What if pupils could be kept in the loop despite missing school? What if the educators could hold their hands even outside of school?

Kolkata-based startup Arch -The Way is trying to do that. The mobile-based app puts teachers in touch with students. "You could call it a ’WhatsApp’ for teachers," says Rudresh Chowdhary, its co-founder, explaining that Arch is an education tool meant to keep students and parents updated on their phones.

How it began

"During our student days, we found off-class communication with teachers a problem. No dedicated tool was available, so teachers had to use chat apps or social media," Rudresh told Tech In Asia.

He is a commerce graduate and dropped out of chartered accountancy studies to focus on Arch-The Way along with Nikhil Bajoria, Nitesh Agarwal, and Abinash Biswal. Together with his friend Soumya Malani, who had just finished a masters from London School of Economics, they launched the startup a year ago.

Since then, it has notched up 25,000 users, among them teachers, students, and parents. The founders claim it is doing well not only in India but also the Philippines. It is being used by a few teachers in the US and Nigeria too.

Within India, Chennai, Pune, and Bangalore have shown a particularly good response. "We were recently invited by medical institute AIIMS to introduce the app in their Patna campus," says Rudresh.

While teachers often use it personally to connect with students and parents, in several cases, institution takes the initiative to implement Arch. From pre-school to school to college to coaching classes, the app is targeting a wide range of users.

Why a mobile app

Photo by Ramesh Lalwani

Mobile subscriptions are growing by leaps and bounds in India, with the number expected to cross 500 million this year.

The founders highlight another aspect: students are very attentive when they are on the phone. Those in cities are also extremely internet-savvy.

Messaging service WhatsApp is already a popular way for students and parents to connect with each other through groups, share the daily work, and discuss problems.

While social media platforms could be another way out for students to keep in touch with teachers, these are often dominated by celebrity news and adult content. The voice of teachers can get lost in the blare.

What this app can do

"Ed tech startups have been slow to capitalize on the ubiquity of mobile phones in India," says Rudresh. "Also, unlike others, we have taken a very basic problem of teacher-student communication and are streamlining it in a simple way. That is why teachers are happy to accommodate this app."

He says Arch-The Way is a ’safe’ tool and it is free. Students don’t have to exchange contacts and teachers assign a unique batch code to every group. Parents can also keep in touch with teachers to find out how their children are progressing in class.

The app allows for a lively exchange of timetables, images, and messages. Arch is free for teachers, students, and parents and is available on Android, iOS, and Windows phones.

Bhausaheb Londhe, deputy director at Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies, believes "it will facilitate” customization in learning and evaluation.

Startups in education

Education technology startups have only just started making their presence felt in India. Vedantu calls itself the online tuition teacher. Toppr, an online test preparation platform, has 300,000 aspirants using it already.

Another startup, SuperProfs, helps prepare for subjects like chartered accountancy, engineering, and banking – something that aspirants in second-tier cities who do not have access to top institutions may find very useful.

But the space is still wide open. Venture capital analytics firm Tracxn says total funding for Indian edtech startups — at US$66 million in funding disclosed so far this year – is still less than 1 percent of the total funding for Indian tech startups.

An app like Arch-The Way could work well in rural India, but reaching out may be tough, as internet penetration is still poor and English is not commonly spoken in vast swathes of the country.

The startup plans to address the language barrier soon. "In a couple of months, we will be providing support for four other languages, besides English," says Rudresh.

See: Why edtech is getting so little love from VCs in India

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