EmpowerU, the flagship platform from social enterprise company Promorph Solutions is in the process of spreading its wings across several states. As founder and director of Promorph Solutions, Onkar Prasad is keen to take the platform to as many government schools as possible
By Kavitha Srinivasa
Attendance levels of students and teachers attendance have gone up. Classroom decorum is something to reckon with. This is the scenario in many government schools in Jharkhand and Odisha. What seems too good to be true is actually a reality — digitally put together — by social entrepreneur, Onkar Prasad.
Prasad may be a recent entrant, but he has a pulse on the government education system. In the process of bridging the missing links in the education chain, he has unknowingly raised the bar for education through his company Promorph Solutions Pvt Ltd established in 2015.
Education is a means of empowering children and this is something Prasad knew this early in his career. He also knew that it’s important to take a 360-degree approach to scale up the existing education scenario. He has been led by this conviction which eventually shaped up as a startup called Promorph Solutions. The initiative leverages technology and data analytics to improve the quality of education of government schools and higher education institutions. This happens through an innovative next-generation analytical solution appropriately titled EmpowerU. When SAH caught up with the entrepreneur, he spoke passionately about his forthcoming plans. Prasad’s immediate concern is to tap technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics for better outcomes.
Like many things in life, a startup-oriented towards the education space was not exactly planned though it was meant to happen. Looking back, the conversation is peppered with references to the college days at IIT Kanpur when it occurred to Prasad that he could be his own boss. A combination of influences and circumstances are responsible for this. “I was pursuing a degree in Industrial and Management Engineering and worked on projects through which I became an interface between the industry and academia. I also had to figure how the industries of Kanpur can benefit from HR initiatives and technology solutions (Technology & Consulting Solutions) that IIT has to offer through it body Promotion of Work Experience & Research (PoWER),” said Prasad, founder, and director of Promorph Solutions.
Industrial exposure at various levels has enriched his portfolio. For instance, when he was the Internship Coordinator for M.Tech, he got an opportunity to interact with Professor Sunil Handa of IIM Ahmedabad, who led the Laboratory in Entrepreneurial Motivation (LEM) an Entrepreneurial/Leadership Lecture at IIT Kanpur. It was followed by sponsored Industrial Tour at Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA). This kindled his entrepreneurial spirit but it had to wait a while as he had a brief stint in a risk management company. Every experience counts and the risk management company is no exception. This is where he learned how startups work and analysis required for risk management operations. Like a jigsaw puzzle, everything fell into place. “I realized I could apply the fundamentals of technology, analytics and problem-solving to tackle the complex and challenging problems in the education system,” he recalled. In the process, he fulfilled his dream of being his own boss as he molded into an entrepreneur.
Incubated at SIDBI Innovation & Incubation Centre (SIIC), IIT Kanpur, Promorph Solutions is funded and backed by VILLGRO Innovations Foundation in association with Technology Development Board (TDB), Government of India and Department for International Development (DFID), UK.
Promorph Solutions came into existence in 2015. However, the prototypes began much earlier, somewhere around 2013-2014. “The first product was for the higher education segment. The idea was to use data gathered from the higher education system for filling in the missing gaps. The analysis threw light on the fact that the education system needs to be more outcome-based in addition to the textbook information. Students need to be equipped with skills and should have the know-how to evaluate career options,” he reasoned.
Initially, the odds were stacked against the company. The idea didn’t quite gel with the people involved as it meant offering accountability and transparency within the system. More so, as such a thing had never been implemented before, it’s only natural that it has spread discomfort among the various stakeholders.
Eventually, they realized that the multi-layers of the education system can be tackled when it is backed by data built on the application in order to offer real-time analysis. As a beginning, the early model was a web-based one, whose metrics gave a comprehensive view of the progress in the classroom, a real-time view of how the sessions go on. Whatever was amiss in the classroom came to the forefront through this virtual streamlining.
The effort drove home the fact that this is a means of looking into problem areas. “Promorph Solutions Pvt. Ltd. has developed EmpowerU, a customized information management for UIET CSJM University Kanpur. The software is now completely tailored as per our needs after taking in to account the alterations suggested by different users (Faculty/Staff/Students). It is fully operational at our institute and has brought better quality standards, transparency, and accountability,” highlighted Dr. Renu Jain, Director, University Institute of Engineering and Technology (UIET), Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University (CSJMU) Kanpur.
It’s hard to believe that Prasad has taken to the profession like a fish to water but he comes from a different background. This unconventional person has struck a chord with key persons in the education space. “I saw the impact that the model made in higher education and felt it can be better utilized in the government schools. It can benefit lakhs of students coming from economically poor households,” reasoned Prasad.
For a better understanding, EmpowerU can be seen as a Management cum Real-time Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) platform of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that improves the parameters like classroom attendance, teachers, Mid Day Meal (MDM) and the overall infrastructure facility. Through Data-Driven Decision Making, it addresses the challenges faced by the education system. This holistic approach stems from a deeper understanding of the Indian education and economy at large. It can be attributed to the fact that unless rural India is educated it becomes difficult to bridge the rural-urban divide.
EmpowerU packs in quite a punch, as it facilitates automation, monitoring, and analysis of multiple operations in the government schools. For instance, the embedded analytical capabilities generate insights to improve aspects related to good governance, quality education, cost-effective operations, efficient time utilization and revenue generation.
The entrepreneur has made a beginning in Jharkhand, where the innovative and analytical M&E platform is being integrated into the government schools in a phased out manner.
EmpowerU under DISHA project was launched by Mr. Raghubar Das, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand and is operational in about 1,400 schools of the Giridih District of Jharkhand for more than a year.
The initial web model has been extended to include mobile app and analytics as well. Data analysis has shed light on the fact that the schools require several modules that extends to Mid Day Meal (MDM) monitoring, Teacher & Student attendance tracking, Facility monitoring, student evaluation, grievances and Smart Action Response System with embedded intelligence to perform automatic data-driven decision making of the issues. As luck would have it, Prasad has had to coordinate with representatives from each module. Even something as basic as leave grants had to be systematized. After things fell into order, 29,000 leave applications have been processed in an authenticated manner. By doing so, leave analytics to ensure that teachers are not absent without prior leave approval through the app from the concerned authority. Leave requests are analyzed and approved in a time-bound manner.
At a glance, with DISHA the average classroom attendance went up from 58% to 90%, and the hygiene levels and the quality of food in MDMs also went up to 90% from 77%.
As Uma Shankar Singh, Deputy Commissioner, Giridih, Jharkhand pointed out, “Promorph Solutions Pvt. Ltd. has played an instrumental role as a technology partner in improving the quality of education of the district. The solution developed and implemented by them addresses very challenging problems of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) of Government Schools. It had benefited around 1.5 lakh students and 6,000 teachers of around 1,500 government schools through GPS enabled attendance tracking.”
Given its success, it’s no surprise that EmpowerU under project DISHA has also been presented to the Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi by the Deputy Commissioner of Giridih District, Jharkhand at Niti Aayog during the presentation of 100 backward districts of India.
It’s a veritable pie-chart of stakeholders that Prasad has begun to work with, comprising students and clusters of schools that come under a block which are then brought to a district. In short, it encompasses every level & stakeholder of the Government education system taking into account how the school progresses on a daily basis. “The company is not a mere software provider, ours is a data-driven decision-making system. The platform allows real-time tracking on a daily basis,” he clarified.
With EmpowerU many things have fallen into place. The headmaster marks the attendance and checks on mid-day meals (MDMs) along with grievances.
Analytics for data-driven decision making happens through pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) analysis, pictorial monitoring of school condition as well as MDM, enrollment and leave analysis, along with block cluster and school-wise analysis.
The data generated detect issues like low attendance, facility problem like drinking water, toilet, labs etc. and fund related issues and generates a unique ID to ensure that it is redressed. This gives scope for improvement on a daily basis and also makes each stakeholder accountable and responsible.
A reliable, scalable model, EmpowerU can be implemented any district or state of India. As of now, it has been an economic catalyst for 2,007 schools in the Kandhamal district of Odisha. Challenges were multifold, beginning with teachers’ absenteeism, which was tracked by GPS based Location. It’s a known fact that an MDM is a determining factor for underprivileged children to enroll in schools. For most such children, MDM could easily be their only meal of the day. So it’s crucial to ensure that the food is both nourishing and hygienic. EmpowerU has ensured there’s a real-time daily monitoring of MDM which ensures meals are cooked as per menu and under hygienic conditions. Poor infrastructure is another issue. This has been unveiled by Pictorial representation and Questionnaire based School Academic and Infrastructural Conditions Monitoring like Library, Toilets, Drinking Water, labs, and computer. All these deterrents led to low learning outcome and low student attendance.
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Data Analytics to perform Education Data Mining (EDM) are used to improve the quality of education, governance, and students learning outcomes.
EmpowerU is an Intelligent and SMART system which automatically detects the issues and performs actions based on inbuilt intelligence. EmpowerU is developed and implemented on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) framework performing thorough research with ground level users to top-level decision makers addressing real-time challenges in government schools of India.
It provides Real-Time Monitoring with data from each of the thousands of schools using mobile application which works even without internet connectivity and instant Analysis at district/state level through an Analytical Web Dashboard enabling Data-Driven Decision Making and issue redressers. Notices are issued to make processes more effective and transparent. It provides Real-Time Monitoring with data from each of the thousands of schools that use the mobile application.
With time, EmpowerU has managed to navigate a paradigm shift in the scenario, by making the system work without the Internet. Simply put, an integrated solution consisting of a mobile app enables monitoring at school level even in remote areas without the Internet connectivity. There’s also an Analytical Web Application which provides real-time monitoring and data-driven decision making. The mobile network transmits the data which is then returned to the server and encoded into the digital format.
EmpowerU is also equipped with GPS i.e. location tracking of teachers while performing the activities. The analytical web application provides real-time monitoring of thousands of schools and provides data in a consumable form to perform data-driven decision making through the district control room.
Understandably, Promorph Solutions is a recognized startup by the Government of India under the Startup India Scheme. Of course, funding to has come from partnerships like VILLGRO Innovations Foundation and keen interest by Transform Rural India, an initiative of Tata Trusts.
All it requires is a realistic outlook and hands-on approach and Promorph Solutions has cracked the code. The social impact company has been awarded for the Innovative Idea for use of Technology and Innovation in Promoting Good Governance, an initiative by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) on Good Governance Day in 2014 at IIT Kanpur.
Its signature platform, EmpowerU has now embarked on a mission-driven social change, as it aims to impact lives of two million students by 2020. It may seem a tall order but Prasad is convinced about achieving his goal. “I hope to work with as many state governments as possible, even as I continue to work with the districts. Each district has over a lakh of students, so combining state and district level schools will help achieve the desired results,” he said, by way of explanation.
This year the focus is on expanding presence in the districts of various states viz. Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Orissa. New age technologies like AI and big data analytics will also be harnessed. Big data analytics in education can be a game changer and this is why the R&D team at Promorph Solutions is working on big data architecture, predictive models and algorithms for educational data mining (EDM) which will help to improve educational effectiveness, the efficacy of teaching, analyzing and predicting student attributes.