The recent Coronavirus pandemic has impacted educational systems across globe. Attending classes have been difficult for students and competitive examination aspirants. This has forced educational institution, and training and development industry to incorporate technology in the educational system, and the students and exam-aspirants to be comfortable with online classes.
The biggest winner in the current situation has been the edtech companies that have seen unprecedented growth during this period. The Catalyst Group is one such organization that has witnessed an almost 200% increase in admissions for online courses. In an exclusive interview with MediaCatalyst, Mr. Akhand Swaroop Pandit, Founder, and CEO, The Catalyst Group shares the journey of the group and the industry trends.
Here are the excerpts from the interaction:
Tell us about the journey of The Catalyst Group
The idea began long back during my UPSC preparation days when I used to struggle for proper guidance and relevant study material. The lack of guidance urged me to intervene and do something to solve this problem, which is faced by most aspirants. This was when I thought of establishing the Catalyst Group.
When we initially started in 2017 with just 10 students, our aim was only to provide high-quality education at affordable fees to all the aspirants. Our exceptionally skilled faculties of ex IAS, IES, come from a vast experience in competitive teaching. With their support, The Catalyst Group has been successful in training students who are now working in central, state government, and in PSU companies as officers. The consistent growth of our platform was due to these continual achievements of our students passing out with good ranks and the sheer hard work of the Catalyst team. Today, we are one of the most trusted e-learning platforms with over three lakh regular students from all over the world.
The EdTech industry is evolving every day. What are your views on industry trends and outlook?
It was only 7 to 8 years ago when the EdTech industry did not even exist. Accessibility to affordable and quality education for students preparing for competitive exams was a daunting task especially for the ones living in remote areas. Today, digital education has paved its way into the education system of India and is replacing conventional offline classroom training. The pandemic has fastened up the pace and transformed the ages-old, chalk–talk teaching methodology to a tech-driven experience. Used wisely, the EdTech model help students develop lifelong skills, and can alter the paradigms of education.
About 65% of children entering primary schools may end up working in job types that don’t yet exist—in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the skills needed are innovation, design thinking, technological fluency, heightened social-emotional learning. The future of work is ever-evolving. Thus, the only thing we can do is build students’ ability to thrive in a world of constant change.
All kids, regardless of what they desire to accomplish in their careers, need a basic technology skillset that was simply missing in a generation of K-12 students earlier. This digital literacy must be established early and fostered in ways that are attainable from home as well. Like online learning programs and basic code programming. It focuses on their involvement in technology as for even children, as young as six years to be tech-friendly.
EdTech and educational platforms are also building a personalized system of learning from scratch for young kids, based on cutting edge research. They can play an important role in a child’s early learning as these early years lay the foundation stones for lifelong upskilling to build social skills, vocabulary development, pre-reading skills, etc.
Since online learning frameworks are designed keeping in mind the learning abilities of specific children it also helps in bringing out the best from each student as per their ability. Similarly, conceptual learning as a pivotal pillar of early-stage learning and personalized learning is aiming to help kids develop their foundational learning skills. In return, it helps to strengthen holistic cognitive skills.
Life skills as we know, are the fundamental building blocks in a student’s learning journey. And those skills are perfectly driven by EdTech today, which is opening doors to new opportunities. Thus, it is bringing us to the point of perceiving education from a viewpoint of ‘Skills’ rather than ‘credentials’
How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted The Catalyst Group business? How has your team been working on business growth during this time?
With the commencement of the pandemic, we started noticing a rapid upsurge in the student enrolment applications. We have witnessed an almost 200% increase in admissions for online courses. Students have started getting comfortable with E-learning systems. With all the conventional institutes closed, this is the best option for them to continue with their learning process. In 6 months we have enrolled around 2 lakh students for our UPSC and SSC courses.
The pandemic, however, has required us to completely reinvent our employee experience to ensure the financial, physical, and mental wellbeing of our employees. We enforced 100% work from home, early on, to ensure employee safety. To support their financial well-being, we are ensuring timely disbursement of salaries.
As an organization, we aim to enable advanced technologies and upscale, thereby facilitating ease of business. This transformation has prepared us to navigate through the current phase of change, without having to resort to any extraordinary measures or additional resources.
We have re-designed and upgraded our existing training programs into digital modules and also started interacting with the employees, to help our offline workforce adapt to the new normal. Face-to-face interactions provided valuable student insights that formed the foundation of the education system and service excellence benchmarks were not possible. To tackle the absence of this intelligence, we are now using analytics to define the student’s persona and deliver a personalized learning experience.
We have not seen any adverse impact on our services, as a result of remote working. Since we shut our branch services following the lockdown, we have stayed connected with our students and ensured seamless accessibility of services, while giving due importance to employee wellbeing. We have encouraged our students to reach out through our website or our contact center, the details of which are easily and prominently visible on our website.
Preparing for competitive examinations sometimes becomes very stressful and takes a toll on mental health. What are the initiatives undertaken to address the mental health issues of the students in the current scenario?
Students indeed suffer from extreme pressures during the preparation of competitive examinations. To address that we have a special Mental Health Cell dealing with those issues. Our trained counselors weekly get in touch with the students and solve their issues which optimize the performance of the student and help them to be focused.
We also focus on the student-teacher connection model, to help address their doubts better which directly impacts their performance. Additionally, this helps us analyze the progress of each student to further customize our teaching approach and plan accordingly.
While we are always trying to innovate and evolve our outreach programs for our students, we always advocate seeking professional help for any clinical issues one might be undergoing because only a medical expert can offer the right kind of assistance. As a learning center, we aim at providing a safe and supportive platform where our students can thrive and live up to their potential!
What are your plans and strategies for The Catalyst Group?
We are currently focusing on expanding in other neighboring countries also like Nepal, Bhutan, and Some African countries, and working on the same. Also, soon we are to launch specialized courses for NEET and JEE exams.
An evolving situation like COVID-19 requires vigilance, alertness, agility, and flexibility. Businesses need to adapt quickly to volatility to ensure no disruptions hamper business operations. We will continue to work towards building processes that stand resilient to such disruptions and will invest efforts in ‘peacetime preparations’ by testing our technologies and processes, at regular intervals.
Please share some of the tips to score better for Government exams aspirants
The initial move towards an aspirant’s groundwork for any competitive exam is to comprehend the pre-requirements of the exam. One should also be well-rehearsed with the syllabus. Other than the syllabus, one should always make a note of the weightage of various subjects so that they can plan their preparations likewise. It is important to analyze the exams, its pattern, type, and level of questions asked Looking over previous years’ question papers assists in developing a time-bound strategy and getting well acquainted with the exam pattern.
Lastly and most importantly, the students need to take care of themselves. Granted, we are in the middle of a pandemic. It is important that they step away from the computer and get some much-needed rest, as studies have shown that sleep enhances studying by helping your brain retain information and achieve better results.