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Azeez Gupta – Leveling the Playing Field for Kids in India

Azeez Gupta – Leveling the Playing Field for Kids in India

Interplanetary journalist Spiffy next to entrepreneur Azeez Gupta

Hi Folx, I’m Spiffy. Today, I’m talking to an entrepreneur who is getting into the nitty-gritty of Early Childhood Education in India. Azeez Gupta is the Co-Founder of Rocket Learning, an organization doing amazing things.

SPIFFY:  Azeez! It’s great to see you. What challenge is Rocket Learning addressing?

Azeez: Over 85% of brain development occurs before the age of six. Quality ECE ensures school readiness, substantially increases school completion and lifelong earnings – it also frees up parents (especially women) to enter formal employment. 

However, Indian 3-6-year-olds have almost no cognitive, physical, or social stimulation through teaching institutions or at home. 90% of government schools don’t have pre-primary sections, and state-run daycare centers lack a focus on education. Additionally, low-income parents lack AIM - the Aspiration, Information, and Motivation to support their children’s learning at home. As a result, these children fall behind higher-income peers – 43% can’t recognize alphabets, and 35% can’t recognize numbers 1-9 in grade 1.

SPIFFY: What motivates you to level the playing field in early childhood education?

Azeez: My motivation is to empower our youngest with the learning opportunities they deserve. Today's situation is an assault on any notion of fairness and decency. Children get fundamentally disadvantaged as compared to their higher-income peers even by the age of 6. If you don't know how to read and do basic math, then you will always be stuck in poverty. 

I think education is the only way to create a level playing field and sustainably enable people to improve their lives for the long-term. We're so fortunate to have the opportunity to make a difference in the most fundamental way possible. Please reach out, advise, and help!

SPIFFY: How does Rocket Learning make the world a more equitable place? 

Azeez: The aim of Rocket Learning is to build early childhood and foundational skills at scale, connect the government system and parents, and drive AIM by systemically leveraging technology, media, and social incentives/influencers. 

We are building on top of technology that parents already use, like WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube, to help early grade teachers reach parents every day with contextualized content. They use these demos as inspiration for activities they can do with their children.

SPIFFY:  What milestones have you reached recently?

Azeez: Rocket Learning has had promising results so far and is getting traction through partnerships with government partners in two large districts in Maharashtra and Chandigarh. Through these, we are impacting 30,000 children and parents in 3,000 pre-schools. 

We see very high engagement by parents and children. We’re in discussions with large state governments in India to launch this model at a state level.

SPIFFY: That’s great news! Tell me about a time you faced failure – what did you do to overcome it?

Azeez: My co-founders and I were trying out an early version of our model a few months ago. We had high hopes but the response was mixed because COVID had just hit during that time, so we had to do everything remotely which is always challenging. 

Luckily we remained patient and optimistic and kept trying out new things. Eventually, things clicked and we were able to benefit from the forced innovation. We learned that it's important to be resilient and to persevere - we shouldn't expect anything to be perfect right at the beginning, we should be prepared to work to improve things.

SPIFFY: Nothing’s ever perfect. That’s why we have to keep learning. Speaking of which, what’s something you’ve learned from someone recently?

Azeez: We learn a lot of things from our users - parents and children from low-income backgrounds. For example, in our early model, we had thought that sending videos as demos to parents was the best solution. However, a teacher who was facilitating the parent group sent a worksheet through her own initiative. It was a big hit as parents were keen to have something in addition that could occupy their children for a longer time! 

Basically, as a social entrepreneur, it is important to realize that we don't know most things. Success depends on hearing from our users and stakeholders and absorbing learning from their behavior and motivation. 

SPIFFY:  Thanks for talking to me Azeez!

An alum of IIT Delhi and Harvard Business School, Azeez was at McKinsey and a US based ed-tech company before heading livelihoods and strategic initiatives at Pratham, one of India's largest education organisations. He has played a leading role in Pratham’s work in ed-tech, government partnerships and early childhood, managing a $8MM and 1200 employee teams.