India's biggest edtech company Byju's accused of threatening children for subscriptions

Byju's, a World Cup sponsor, claims to have 115 million registered students

Byju's is accused of pressurising customers to subscribe to its services. PA
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India’s federal child rights commission has accused the country’s biggest online education company, Byju’s, of harassing parents and their children through cold-calling and threatening and forcing them to subscribe to their courses.

The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights said the company was buying phone databases from third parties and threatening to ruin the future of children if they did not enrol in their courses.

"We came to know about Byju's buying phone numbers of children and their parents, rigorously following them and threatening them that their future will be ruined,” NCPCR chairman Priyank Kanoongo told local media.

“They're targeting first-generation learners,” he said.

The commission also summoned Byju’s chief executive, Byju Raveendran on Friday and sought details of all the courses it provides to children, the structure of these courses and the fee details.

Mr Kanoongo said that the commission took action after reports of parents complaining about refunds and fees emerged on social media.

The education technology company, estimated to be worth $22 billion, has denied buying the database and the commission's allegations.

“We categorically state that we have never bought any database and expect that the media will refrain from making such a baseless and unsubstantiated allegation," the company said in a statement.

Byju’s ― the largest company in the sector — was established in 2011 with a focus on offering online, video-based learning programmes for competitive exams. In 2015 it launched Byju's learning app, which gained 15 million users over the next three years, including 900,000 paid subscribers.

It claims to have 115 million registered students.

It was widely used during the pandemic when schools were shut. But in recent months it has been embroiled in controversies over its unscrupulous strategies to expand its business.

It was criticised in November for bringing in football star Lionel Messi as its brand ambassador, just weeks after announcing plans to cut costs by laying off 2,500 employees.

The Bangalore company was one of the official sponsors of the Fifa 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

There have also been allegations that its staff are ill treated. Employees complained of abusive and exploitative working environments and unscrupulous sales practices such as profiling, pursuing, and pressuring potential customers from poorer backgrounds to buy its courses.

Om Chaudhary, a father of two children, said that Byju’s had refused to refund the fees despite several requests.

“No refund settlement of my two kids Joshita Chaudhary and Anutnash Chaudhary since Aug '22. Written over 40 emails … no response. I've decided now to expose Byju's fraud to every parent," Mr Chaudhary said on Twitter.

Another parent, Shyam Badera, echoed Mr Chaudhary’s claims.

“After taking up the online classes with Byju's my daughter has a lot of mental pressure, which is also taking a toll on her health. I tried cancelling the subscription but of no use,” he said.

Updated: December 22, 2022, 3:21 PM