How Rocket Learning is Using WhatsApp to End Learning Poverty
It is no surprise that India is leading the global digital revolution. It is the largest software exporter worldwide and has the most secure instant real-time payment services (UPI). Moreover, thanks to the government's BharatNet program, India will have 1 billion smartphone users by 2026. So how do we leverage these advancements to make the country more equitable? First, we use the existing growth to solve a massive crisis: disparity in quality early childhood education access.
"We knew that most parents in India, including those who live in socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and have daily-wage jobs, have access to WhatsApp," Utsav Kheria, co-founder of Rocket Learning, said. "If we can use WhatsApp to buy groceries, relay work-related information, access family groups, send payments, and more, why not use it to create digital classrooms?"
More than 35 million children in the country do not have access to pre-primary and primary education. However, most of these children go to Anganwadi's, the world's most extensive government-sponsored child daycare system with a robust nutrition and health program, run by an Anganwadi worker, a woman who usually resides in the community.
"We saw an opportunity there to meet the children where they are," Vishal Sunil, who co-founded Rocket Learning with Utsav and three other founding members, said.
The Anganwadi worker runs these centers and is responsible for conducting surveys, enrolling eligible children (in the 0-6 age group), organizing immunization sessions, taking care of pregnant mothers, making home visits etc. Not surprisingly, educational activities often take a backseat, considering the specific and overburdening job duties and responsibilities. In most cases, the workers use WhatsApp groups to communicate with parents and send updates about their children.
"Our job was first to get access to these pre-existing WhatsApp groups and then add a Rocket Learning bot," Vishal added.
The Rocket Learning bot regularly sends learning activities, games, and homework assignments - which parents can facilitate even with limited education - to the WhatsApp groups. For example, besides simple literacy and numeric questions, assignments involve separating different lentils, taking a hundred steps, and identifying different colors and shapes. Parents respond by having their children send answers to quizzes and share videos of their children performing the activities and tasks.
Rocket Learning uses a unique artificial intelligence and machine learning system to recognize parents' and children's efforts through incentives like social campaigns, leaderboards, social influencers, customized video collages, and celebratory nudges on WhatsApp groups. The carefully curated technology enables dynamic growth and response analysis with quick feedback and personalized learning.
"The goal was two-fold: take some of the burdens of these Anganwadi workers by giving them access to educational resources and materials that they can use in classes, and involve parents in their children's education at home while creating a whole community of empowered caregivers," Vishal said.
The model is highly scalable thanks to Rocket Leaning's simplistic, low-cost frontend and sophisticated backend technology. As a result, they have reached more than 1 million parents and children in less than three years.
In addition, after conducting several short-term and long-term studies, they have found that children in Rocket Learning's (RL) cohort have better language and pre-literacy skills: 90% in an RL cohort can describe a picture in sentences compared with only 77% in a non-RL cohort. Moreover, 61% of students in an RL cohort can complete complex patterns compared to only 39% in a non-RL cohort. Lastly, on average, a Rocket Learning child is in the top 30% of their class. These results are best amid EdTech solutions, especially at the cost of 50c/user/year.
Take the example of Katyayni Anup Bhoitey. She is among the many young students whose parents participate in one of Rocket Learning's E-Patshaala (digital classroom) on WhatsApp. According to her mother, Katyani has increased her focus and interest in educational activities.
"We participate in group activities regularly. If one of us (the parents) is unavailable, any of our family members can help her perform the tasks considering they are so easy," her mother said.
The activities take at most 20 minutes to finish. "E-aakar (the digital activities has given us more reasons to spend time with our daughter. But, also, one of the benefits is that we are connected to the other parents in the class and the Anganwadi worker who gives us daily updates about her daughter's progress. It has been truly transformational," Katyani's mother added.