When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020, it caused a radical shift in how education was imparted. But it was not only pupils who had to deal with the massive change. Teachers too had to acquire new skills to adapt to what was the most disruptive year for the sector.
Education technology start-up Suraasa aims to fill this market gap through its online learning platform for teachers in the UAE, the UK and India.
Founded by brothers Rishabh and Ankit Khanna and Sahil Makker, all cognitive scientists and corporate trainers, Suraasa offers development programmes to help teachers hasten their professional growth and create a high-impact learning environment in classrooms.
The platform equips teachers with 21st-century teaching skills that are crucial to engage the new generation of Gen Z and Gen Alpha pupils who are more tech-savvy.
Demand for EdTech start-ups is booming as the coronavirus pandemic keeps schools shut or at half of their capacity. Investment in EdTech companies surged to a record $36.3 billion last year, up from $18.6bn in 2019, according to market research company Metaari.
Suraasa’s launch in 2018 was inspired by the experience of its founders, who have jointly trained more than 75,000 teachers from 1,500 premium schools.
During the training programmes, they noticed that teachers were under a lot of stress. Too much was expected of them but no one was addressing their career needs or motivating them.
About 50 per cent of teachers want to quit teaching. Additionally, today’s top talent is not motivated to opt for teaching as a career, according to research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Although sites such as Coursera and Udemy train professionals in other fields, Suraasa’s founders realised that there was no such platform for teachers.
The team also found that the future of teaching is skills-based. Identifying this market gap, the team conducted research on teacher education standards and curriculums around the world in 2017 and established Suraasa in 2018.
“Teachers selflessly wait up to 20 years for a single promotion and many even quit this career due to lack of growth coupled with high stress,” says Mr Makker, Suraasa’s chief strategy officer.
Teaching 20 to 40 pupils the entire day is challenging, especially if they are 21st-century children who are digitally savvy, think they can learn it better on Google and are easily distracted.
This makes teaching stressful, and teachers feel unprepared and even underappreciated.
“Suraasa was founded to standardise teachers’ career trajectory, just like in any corporate career,” says Mr Makker.
“The platform will provide teachers with appropriate skills, mentorship and placement assistance to continue climbing the career ladder in school systems.”
The team combined their research with their training experience to come up with a professional graduate certificate in teaching and learning.
Suraasa was set up in the UAE through its distribution partner company, Pedagogical Transformations, and has since strived to give teachers the right skills to improve their performance, which, in turn, will help them receive promotions, job offers and salary increases.
The EdTech start-up offers two qualifications – the professional graduate certificate and a diploma in teaching – that have been designed by a team of education leaders, cognitive scientists and data scientists in consultation with teachers and industry specialists.
The two programmes are available to existing and aspiring teachers. They must undertake a career counselling session and follow the admissions process to be selected for the programme.
Teachers can opt for on-site training or online classes through Suraasa’s Apple and Android mobile apps. However, on-site classes were paused as Covid-19 spread around the world.
“A carefully hand-picked team of best-in-class experienced senior industry leaders and experts in pedagogy deliver live classes to our learners, both online and offline,” says Rishabh, the start-up’s chief executive.
“Mentors are from the UK, US and Lebanon. They are full-time on our payroll.”
He says scholarships are offered to deserving candidates but declined to divulge the cost of the programmes.
Suraasa offers one graduate-level qualification that takes 10 months to complete and 20 short-term courses that last for one to three months.
It also helps teachers build a personalised skill portfolio for better career opportunities. Thousands of teachers in Dubai have taken the short-term and long-term courses, says Rishabh.
The programmes offered by Suraasa are regulated by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation in the UK and accepted by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai. A Suraasa graduate becomes eligible to teach in top schools in Dubai and abroad, according to Rishabh.
Suraasa’s programmes are internationally benchmarked and accepted as graduate-level qualifications in Dubai and the UK.
“Our redesigned teacher education and technology has positively affected teachers, schools and children. That is why schools and education boards abroad have placed their trust in us,” he says.
Suraasa also helps its members with internship and work opportunities in schools, with about 96 per cent of its teachers already placed.
The start-up uses technology to provide live online classes for teachers to study anywhere, anytime, at their convenience. Also, the teachers can watch pre-recorded lessons anytime on Suraasa’s iOS, Android apps and online portal.
It also uses artificial intelligence to evaluate assignment submissions and track the progress of teachers’ skills.
“Over the past 10 years, the team researched extensively to identify the fundamental building blocks of teacher education, including integrating the latest technology such as AI for better outcomes,” says chief technology officer Ankit.
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in more teachers signing up on Suraasa to learn new pedagogy skills, the founders say.
“Many teachers realised that teaching online is not just about learning how to use online video classroom applications. Also, remotely engaging learners requires very different sets of pedagogy skills,” says Ankit.
He says that the pandemic hastened the transition of the start-up’s centre-based learning to online and app-based learning.
Suraasa has been bootstrapped so far, with the founders investing their savings of more than $200,000 to grow the start-up. They have not raised external funding yet.
Ankit says teachers sometimes assume that growth is slow in the teaching career and they become complacent with the status quo.
“Changing this mindset is a challenge, to which we are happily committed to.”
They say that Suraasa’s competitive advantage is the quality of learning delivered to teachers and the quality of teachers delivered to international schools.
“Our growth till date has been driven by word of mouth and testimonials by teachers and their schools. More than 40 per cent of enrolment happens by word of mouth and positive reviews of our teachers,” says Mr Makker.
Q&A with Rishabh Khanna, Ankit Khanna and Sahil Makker, founders of Suraasa
Which successful start-up do you wish you had started?
Ankit: Duolingo (a language learning website and mobile app).
What is your next big dream that you seek to make a reality?
Rishabh: A world where all teachers have the right skills and no pupil is left behind.
What new skills have you learnt in the process of launching your start-up?
Sahil: Customer psychology, finance and managing human capital.
If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?
Ankit: Start recording and publishing customer success from day one.
Who is your role model?
Sahil: Steve Jobs for his razor-sharp focus on consumer experience. Elon Musk for his ability to build a vision and execute the business plan around the vision.
Where do you see yourself after 10 years?
Ankit: Leading a global community of 10 million high-impact teachers, who will be driving the global education systems.