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Friday, February 27, 2015

Indian startup shows how the cloud can be used to transform education in rural India 02-27

Indian startup shows how the cloud can be used to transform education in rural India

Classle, a Chennai-based startup uses a potent combination of cloud, mobile and social technologies to enable students to access learning material free of cost through their basic low-cost mobile devices.

Many a times we do things beyond a formal classroom without realizing that we are learning in the process. For example, an individual surfs and accesses material on the Internet in the form of audio, video, wiki and then goes ahead to even create and store information. 

Understanding the immense power of peer-to-peer learning, Classle, a Chennai-based startup has developed a cloud based education system for rural India. Classle gets lakhs of people together and enables them to connect to each other in thousands of communities available on open social network of Classle. People can connect with these communities to collaborate and share exchange resources in their chosen areas of interest. There are many features to collaborate in addition to make learning fun oriented. 

The cloud-based system enables students to access learning material free of cost, through their basic, low-cost mobile devices. The impact - more than 55 academic institutions have partnered with Classle-- almost all of them are engineering colleges predominantly in rural areas. Some of them are GLA University, Mathura; Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Madanapalleand Excel College of Engineering, Thiruchengodu. Classle’s Carry Along Cloud Campus consists of a virtual campus set up on the cloud -- each one is private to each institute -- through which students can access information and study material to further their own knowledge and interact with other members of their student communities, while teachers provide them with material and assignments. 

These cloud campuses also monitor the interaction of the students, thus allowing companies to study them and identify talent for employment. The firm’s cloud-based system lets students access study material and assignments on an online cloud network. As it is present on the online cloud, it helps students learn even outside the physical campus and classroom. It also allows teachers to identify weaker students more easily through their submissions and interactions, and thus, provide them with extra help outside the classroom hours. 

Cloud removes obstacles One of the biggest challenges faced in the initial set up of the company was in securing startup funding, especially given that this was a new idea and no entrepreneur in the past had proposed such a business idea for rural India. “Most people believed that it was far stretched and difficult to implement as a scalable and sustainable business,” says Vaidya Nathan, Founder and CEO, Classle Knowledge. With this background, one of the most important things for Classle Knowledge was to find a technology solution that was very cost-effective and yet highly scalable. 

After evaluating potential technology options, the firm realized that the cloud was perfectly suited to its needs and selected a cloud platform from Amazon Web Services.  With Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Reduced Redundancy Storage (RRS), the firm was able to reduce their costs by storing non-critical, reproducible data at lower levels of redundancy than Amazon S3’s standard storage.  

 “Our infrastructure has been built hundred percent on the AWS cloud platform since our inception. It was a strategic decision that we made from a long term business perspective,” says Nathan. With the AWS cloud platform, Classle saves on 30 – 35 percent of its costs, as the firm has to only pay per use. 

“This model is vastly different from the old world of maintaining our own on-premise infrastructure whereby we had to worry about maintaining infrastructure, putting people and resources and spending time on all the undifferentiated heavy lifting that really does not contribute to the business. 

With the cloud, there’s no need for capital expenditure at all,” adds Nathan. Cloud empowers ambitious dreams Classle is working on multimedia apps and is aiming at a target of acquiring 5 million students in 18 months. “We are growing rapidly as a social learning network where we create a ‘Closed’ learning environment for many professional and academic organizations. All these learning environments are based on Classle Cloud Campus, which runs on AWS services and plugs into the Classle Learning Bus. 

So if we think about the scale needed for this rapid growth, we will require a sound foundation and architecture that can handle the traffic in a highly scalable manner. This is where the global AWS cloud platform comes in,” says Nathan. Secondly, in 3-4 months time Classle will be moving into ‘lifelong learning’ backed by robust academic analytics and domain learning services to acquire a learner at any point in their life and serve their learning needs at all their learning moments. This will be driven by a combination of predictive analytics and recommendation engines.

The interconnections in social networking and the analysis of how customers interact with one another is an important development area for Classle. To do this, the firm leverages the cloud and is already doing prototypes using Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Amazon EMR) to serve this purpose in supporting its long term goal.

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