Every parent wants the best future for their children. Most parents do not hesitate to invest heavily in education to ensure their children have the best possible chance of success. From admissions to modern schools to sending children to foreign universities for higher education, the money involved in the education sector is beyond everyone. Notably, when there are billions of rupees flowing into the education sector, people see education as a huge money-making machine.
Many companies have imagined solutions for schools, teachers and students to support them according to their needs. One of those “shimmering golden stars” in the industry is Byju. Launched in 2015, Byju’s is a “flagship program”, “the most requested learning app” that promises students and their parents unimaginable success through its platforms. There are said to be around 40 million users on the app, with 2.8 million paying subscribers. And these figures date from before schools were closed due to the Covid pandemic.
As of August 28, it was reported that Byju’s is planning 10,000 crore revenue this year.
Cory Doctorow, author, journalist and activist, recently posted a Twitter thread highlighting the issues associated with Byju and other electronics technology aggregators in India and abroad. He mentioned that at present the company is valued at $ 21 billion and that it is on a spending wave taking control of competitors in Asia and the United States.
Cory cited a report published in Rest of World on August 30, written by Akanksha Singh. In the report, it was described how the sales culture in the company is rotten from top to bottom. The report said that the sales staff of poor relatives in Byju are pushing them to take out predatory loans so that the sellers can hit their target.
Byju’s and his spending madness
Singh’s report said that in 2021 itself, Byju bought six competitors, including Aakash Educational Services, one of the largest coaching institutes in India, for $ 950 million. He also bought the American company Epic, the Singaporean company Great Learning and others. The company offers a series of online learning programs for students aged four and over. It also provides training for competitions, which in itself is a huge business in India.
But how has an educational platform been so successful in a few years? The catch is Byju’s supposedly toxic and hostile work culture. In his report, Singh cited one of the company’s former sales reps who said he left the company the day he had to sell the package to a bad driver who only had 700 rupees or 9 dollars in his bank account. The driver took a loan from his boss and told the salesperson that “he would work 24/7 to pay off the loan.” The salesperson said, “It was the day I quit.”
Business managers trap vulnerable parents in guilt
Reports suggest that sales reps or business development managers (BDEs) are using guilt trap techniques to trick poor and illiterate parents into purchasing the packages. According to an article published in The Morning Context under the headline “How Byju Catches Parents,” the author recounted the entire process by which sales reps allegedly tricked parents.
Sales managers would often resort to tough sales tactics. Approach everyone they come in contact with to sign up for the app and continue to use it beyond the 15-day free trial period. The overworked and overworked sales team has to put in long working hours to achieve unrealistic goals. Often, it’s lower-middle-class parents and uneducated parents who end up taking out loans after listening to a business manager talk about how their child will face a bleak future if they don’t sign up for the app. learning.
Cory cited one of the reports on Byju in which it was mentioned how BDEs trap parents in guilt. He wrote in a tweet: “A former salesman summed up the speech: ‘Your son can’t be anything in life if he’s wrong with Byju – and if you as a parent can’t. [secure] your child’s happiness and future… you might as well not have had children. Any parent who is even mildly vulnerable to such tactics would fall into their trap almost immediately.
One of the BDEs told The Morning Context that he had already presented the package to a lady who wanted to buy it for her grandson, but the grandson was more interested in learning about the Pakoda sales business than ‘she owned. The BDE decided not to sell him the package and left the company after a few days. The stories covered by several portals are the same. BDEs quit work at Byju because of the toxic sales culture. After a while, they started to feel under extreme pressure and guilty for what they were doing to parents.
Pradeep Poonia, the activist who exposed Byju and other similar apps, uploaded a video in January 2021 that was said to have been a phone conversation between a manager and a new BDE at the company. It appears that new hires were supposed to call managers at a set time or after each demo they gave to parents. However, this particular BDE failed to do so and was abused by the manager.
“Problems” that do not exist
Poonia once said that “Edtech tries to solve problems that don’t exist”, and that’s no exaggeration. It’s true that we live in a competitive world and want the best for our children, but that doesn’t mean we have to push them towards something that isn’t even close to what they need. Notably, a libel case was filed against Poonia by WhiteHatJr (now owned by Byju’s) in November 2020 for exposing the alleged toxic work culture and issues facing parents. However, it was later withdrawn in May 2021.
There are several problems with the courses. The first being the language barrier. The courses offered by Byju are in English. Their target families who can purchase packages for their children are from poorly educated backgrounds, and the children are from Hindi or another language school. In such cases, courses are of no use.
The other problem with these courses is the lack of interest that students develop over time. The morning context cited a parent who said his daughter loses interest in the course after two years. The application was useless for the following year because he had already paid for three years. The reason? Reports suggest that students often do not find “enough practical questions and the questions are not dynamic.” After a while, the questions are repeated. When parents try to voice their concerns to mentors or company managers assigned to their account, they have no response.
The loan trap
Another problem with Byju’s highlighted in the articles is that it offers loan options through two partners. In some cases, they would not have revealed to the parents that the EMI option they would take would be through a loan that would be taken out on behalf of the parents. If a parent does not pay EMI, the loan company begins to threaten them to repay the loan. It also negatively affects the CIBIL score of parents. If anyone wants to cancel the course subscription, this can only be done within the first 15 days. If a student stops using the app after a few months, the parents have to pay the remaining IMEs because Byju has already received his money and the responsibility for repaying the loan lies with the parents.
In India, with a population of over 1.3 billion people in search of resources, competition is still fierce. Concerned about ensuring a better job, a better life for their children, parents spend a large part of their hard-earned money on coaching and private lessons. An entire industry in India is flourishing in the name of private coaching, which goes beyond regular academic hours, just to prepare students for competitions and entrance exams. With the advent of technology and internet connectivity, the private tuition industry has now evolved into the vast electronics technology industry where millions of children and parents join in a mad race to get started. advance over each other.
China’s crackdown on electronics tech companies
A similar boom in the electronics technology sector and the mad rush of parents to enroll their children in private coaching had slowly stoked public grievances in China. In an effort to regulate private capital in the private tuition sector and avoid growing concerns about unhealthy competition, the Chinese government recently announced major restrictions on the electronics technology industry.
In a drastic move, the Chinese government has banned after-school training / mentoring companies from making a profit, raising capital or going public. The directive required all electronics tech companies to re-register as “not-for-profit” organizations, local authorities will not allow any new IT companies, and existing companies will be subject to review. All online courses for children aged 3 to 6 have been banned. No electronic technology company can teach school subjects on holidays or weekends.
China’s harsh crackdown on the electronics technology sector has also sparked much discussion in India. There are already voices warning against the unhealthy rush of pushing children into a barrage of classes and tuition fees past school hours. With the advent of the electronic technology boom, concerns about mental health, financial impacts and long-term effects on the education sector are also being discussed.