WiZiQ or How one Company could change Education in India

This post is the result of several talks I had with a couple of different people in our industry during the last year. The final impulse to write this down here is on the one hand a discussion in the E-Teaching community on WiZiQ. I will mention the second impulse at the end of this post.

All this brought an idea back to my mind I already had back in late 2008. And a couple of weeks ago I discussed basically the same with Jason West, the founder of Languages Out There.

Hence today I would like to set up a simple scenario that could fundamentally change the way people in developing countries could get access to high quality education.

The whole concept is based on a simple fact: access to the internet in most parts of the world is only possible via Internet Cafés.

We in the western world might have forgotten about them as we all have individual access at our homes but if you take a look at India, China, the Middle East, South America and Africa you will see that Internet Cafés play the key role for public Internet access there.

Other than in western countries people there have also another mindset about using the internet. They need and also want to make the effort to go to a place and use the internet. For us internet is part of our monthly expenses like electricity, water, telephone and groceries. We don’t actually think about it anymore, it is “just there”.

Now lets take a look on the WiZiQ platform. It is built for large scales. Even with a free account a teacher can host a class with up to 500 participants, premium accounts allow up to 1000 participants. The center piece, the virtual classroom is developed for and based on the feedback of actual teachers.

Now lets remind ourselves what the biggest problem of our industry is: paying students. Why is it like this? Because the target group, the whole idea of online classes is based on, the student who connects to the internet to take those classes simply does not exist.
Right now we are in a transition phase. Online education will play a major rule in the next generation to come. The signs are already there. Therefore it is crucial to survive until enough students who are aware of the possibilities will search the internet for private lessons or lectures because they already use the internet during their regular school or university time.

So what to do? The answer is simple. Get the students where they are. In Internet Cafés.

WiZiQ should start with a simple experiment. The first step was to contact their best teachers on WiZiQ if they would be willing to take part in the “WiZiQ Academy”. Teachers have to charge at least $1 per participant to participate and need to be experienced in the use of WiZiQ and in the topic they teach.
Based on the feedback WiZiQ would then build a lesson plan covering all topics of interest from English to GMAT and science. This plan would be accessible at a subdomain of WiZiQ and fix like a classic University planing.

The second step is to send out some of the employees in the streets of Chandigarh or go to Google and search for Internet Café Candigarh. Contact the owners with the following proposal:

We help you to turn your Internet Café into an online school. Just reserve two or three hours a day some of your PCs for potential learners according to the WiZiQ Academy lesson plan. You can go to WiZiQ.com and get a printer ready version of our special lesson plan and brand it with your logo for your Internet Cafés. We have top teachers from around the globe who offer a variety of courses starting at $1 USD per lesson.

Just hang the lesson plan into your window, place some flyers on the desks and see what will happen. There is no extra investment for you (as most Internet Cafés have headsets these days). If you see an increase in demand, simply offer more places for learners.

Going back to the potential students. As they are already paying for the internet access itself, $1 or $2 for a quality lesson won’t be the problem I suppose. If they see the lesson plan at the walls or the flyers on the desks, the will for sure take a look at WiZiQ and I think there will be a very high conversion rate if they see what kind of lessons are available on the platform.

Later on Internet Cafés could specialize themselves even more by getting accredited by WiZiQ and then collecting the payments for students who don’t have a PayPal account or credit card.

The beauty of this is the triple win situation.

Internet Cafés can easily add a high quality service to their general offer without investing a single Rupee. Over the time they can decide if they open their Café to a wider audience by reserving more space for learners and or offering longer times.
They won’t even have to fear competitors as each Internet Café has its own customers. Of course, if they learn that other Cafés offer this service they will be interested to know more about it and to offer the same to their clients.

Teachers on WiZiQ will get paid for their lessons. $1 USD does not sound much but as I said, WiZiQ and this concept is made for big scales. Take 10 Internet Cafés with 10 students each. 100 students pay $1 USD = $100 USD for the lesson minus the commission for WiZiQ.

Which brings us to the last winner, WiZiQ itself. Right now most classes on WiZiQ are offered for free. This is nice for the students of course but as WiZiQ is a company, it needs to make money some day. With this concept WiZiQ could build up an educational network across the country.

If this experiment would work, it could be easily implemented in other cities. WiZiQ could hire people to market the idea in different areas, paying commission if an Internet Cafés takes part in the system.

It would also build up a loyal student base for WiZiQ because even if those students will get their own internet access at home they would already know about the service and use it from their appartment.

The possibilities are really endless reaching from special hours after school for children to classes given in cinemas on the big screen via laptop and LCD projector.

I really believe that this easy approach could change the way people learn and have access to education not only in India but also in other parts of the world. It just needs someone who starts the revolution, the teachers will be happy to follow, you can read it in the WiZiQ community.

Dear Harman, now it’s up to you and WiZiQ.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there has been a second impulse to write this here down. I think most of you have heard about the discussions between Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch to make a deal that Bing gets the exclusive right to index the content of News Corp. Other publishers are also in talks with Microsoft.

What this has to do with the above? The simple but powerful idea behind this comes from Jason Calacanis. After Gary Vaynerchuck left the weekly Twist show (This week in start ups) on October 23rd the idea came up spontaneously in the discussion. And basically the exact same thing is now happening. You can watch the part of the show below.

As you can see a simple idea might now change the whole industry. Just by questioning the status quo you can start something ground breaking.

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  • chinamike

    In China some problems I can see with this concept is that people identify Internet Cafes with games and not education. They are really not education friendly. Most are loud, poorly ventilated facilities that attract the kind of person you wouldn't want your child mixing with. In other words, they are almost the opposite of school. Still I might just seek one of these guys out and ask them what they think of your idea.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Would be great if you could. There must be hours where are not so many people in the place. Could help those guys to earn extra income.
      On the other hand you could build up a whole new market on this. Internet Cafés only dedicated to education. Would be a killer :)

      Is this revolutionary enough, Mike? 😉

      • chinamike

        Ha-ha, I guess we have different notions of what is revolutionary. But if you could change a place that as seen as a high-school/college hangout (in most 1st and 2nd tier big cities in China) to a place where people would take class, yes, that borders on revolutionary.

        • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

          Then let's do it :).

          • chinamike

            Talked to an Internet owner. He thought I had lost my marbles at first. Then he through it might be a way to throw the government off the scent (government here aren't high on Internet cafes/teenage hangouts). Might throw them a curve, so to speak. Then he wanted to know how much he could make if he dedicated 20 seats to this project M-F during the summer when kids were out of school. Oops, the conversation got no further. These guys get to the bottom line real fast.

  • http://openstudy.com/ Phil Hill

    Some interesting ideas. Making the India idea financial viable is dependent on having many learners online attending the seminar. The challenge would be getting a critical mass of Internet Cafe to adopt the program. We've been talking about these emerging markets at Openstudy with our new study social study network, so i get what you're saying.

    Phil –
    Openstudy.com – why study alone when you can study social?


    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Thanks Phil. One of the WiZiQ offices is located in Chandigarh with about 1 million inhabitants and according to Wikipedia at least one of the richest cities in India. As I said, I would simply go out and talk to the owners.
      If you do a Google search with Chandigarh Internet Café you already get a nice map where you can see the density of Cafés in the city center.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gmachlan Louis George Machlan

      Bingo Phil, you hit the magic number. Social, SOCIAL, SOOOCCCCIIIAAALLL! But not the FB model of very individualistic social connecting at a very superficial and non directed grazing. Rather a Sugata Mitra type model where social learning (in natural groups) bring power to the dynamic, fun to the participants and DEEP learning by all. I believe that a communal (coffee-house) setting would reengage the natural tendencies to form and work in groups. We have approached the online learning model vs the traditional classroom one as an either/or. It is past time to get out of our box and discover how we can take the best of both worlds and return to the created communal being we are!

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  • http://www.languagesoutthere.com jasonoutthere

    Thanks for the mention Kirsten…this could have legs…Microsoft created a certification course just for delivery via Indian internet cafes!

    I had a friend in China tell me that internet cafes there were a bit grim…but that doesn't mean there aren't some nice ones or ones that could be created for solely educational purposes.

    There is an Australian English company who have a deal with the biggest Phillippino internet cafe chain. They hook up learners with teachers online.

    70% of 16-24 year old Indians only access the internet in web cafes, even if they have a family PC, because they want to do their own things an spend some quality time online.

    But to get scale you need the right course materials 😉

    • http://www.facebook.com/gmachlan Louis George Machlan

      I would take your feedback a bit further. If the internet cafes are losing ground it is precisely because they are no longer needed in their original configuration. Changing the draw from simple access to a purpose driven theme might be just the ticket to help them recover a good market.

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  • Shubh

     I am not sure if a model like this would be sustainable in the long run. Internet cafes are becoming extinct in India as well. Cheap high speed internet plans are widely available and most people in India are getting connections at home.

    Once people have Internet at home, they will start shopping for cheaper alternatives on other online tutoring websites, rather than being held to the pricing of the local Internet cafe. The only way to do this sustainably is to offer dirt cheap pricing for large group sessions. However, maintaining quality (session and audio quality) and keeping users engaged might be a concern.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gmachlan Louis George Machlan

      The premise that internet cafes are the point of entry might be less than perfect. But anything to draw business into any cafe is sorely needed. I would drop the Internet cafe target and open up to any size of coffee shop to give them a unique offering.

      I am very late to this conversation and was only brought here by Kirsten’s vigilance. I recently posted a “dream School” based on a coffee shop model. I was thinking approximately the same thing as Kirsten but did not have the scope or “big picture” view that she does. I truly sorry that WizIQ did not open a discussion based on her vision. But therein lies there Achilles heel, they are not really open to collaborating with their user base. By this time you will see that they have gone the route of traditional educational markets and are totally focused on institutional model marketing. And, the only aspect of independent educators that they are interested in is to sell premium memberships as evidenced by the hiring of very high pressure sales team. How sad.