— Dr. Debarshi Roy
April 27: The process of education is not meant to involve a passive and didactic dissemination of information. It is meant to step beyond curricular boundaries to include an interchange of ideas, thoughts and even emotions— between the learner and the teacher. The teacher plays the part of the proverbial friend, philosopher and guide and the student, on her or his part, engages with the teacher as daughter (or son), thinker and a creator of knowledge.
Algorithmic processes which are often the basis of technological interventions in education (loosely categorised as ‘ed-tech’) promise to enhance the efficiency of the education processes. However, very often, such efficiency leads to a steep decline in the efficacy of the education process (‘efficacy’ is achieving a desired objective; ‘efficiency’ is doing things in the most ‘economical’ way). A child studying for a competitive examination, for instance, needs an efficient process which will acquaint him or her with the curriculum, the type of questions and examination strategies for scoring the most in the tests. However, the child will also require motivation, stress relief and emotional support for the best performance in the test. Student-teacher relationships provide these much-needed mentorship variables which are absolutely necessary for a good performance in tests.
It is due to these limitations that a purely technology-based model of knowledge dissemination (ed-tech) could not replace the traditional chalk and blackboard models that still form the mainstay of educational systems worldwide.
The Covid pandemic, however, changed the dynamics of the education system and the traditional models were altered to include technological interventions like online classes which were deemed necessary to continue learning processes to the extent possible. Technology helped, during these trying times, in reaching out to far flung areas where physical classes were not possible. However, while online classes were normalised with the new models, the digital divide especially in socio-economically diverse countries like India prevented a significant section of the population from accessing online teaching-learning endeavours. Moreover, the pandemic was traumatic for children and adults in more ways than one. Families fell victim to unspeakable tragedy and children as well as teachers required mental and emotional support which only conversations, listening and personal interactions can provide.
In this scenario educationists felt the need to interact and exchange ideas and thoughts about reinventing the education system. It was recognized that the rigid, structured approach of traditional learning models is nearing obsolescence while the isolating and algorithmic approach that most ed-tech models promote do not lead to effective learning outcomes either. So, a need was felt for a platform that promoted discursive, interactive, barrier-free and enjoyable approaches to learning.
Mentza, a pioneering audio-social learning platform, is an example of how such a need can be fulfilled— through live audio conversations which are limited to 20 minutes. Conversations on Mentza revolve around a gamut of subjects, ideas and thoughts such as marketing, finance, education, behavioural sciences, art, poetry, sports, technology, careers, travel and many more. The platform provides people with a space for exchanging ideas, swapping experiences in relevant fields, motivating and helping each other and networking. Budding poets encourage each other. Music enthusiasts discuss favourite compositions. Marketing professionals swap case studies and best practices. A leader shares life experiences. A founder talks about building an enterprise. Launched in April, 2021, on both android and iOS platforms, Mentza has just within a year garnered a member base of 112,000 people and 190,000 content minutes (the duration of content generated on Mentza by people speaking on it) and nearly 3 million people minutes (the aggregate time people have spent on Mentza whether speaking or listening).
This is because, besides the idea of unstructured and continuous learning, on the basis of which Mentza was founded (Anurag Vaish, CEO and co-founder, traces its roots back to a weekly ritual where everyone would share anecdotes, stories and learning at his previous venture FinalMile) Mentza’s team has in the past one year introduced a series of innovations to better execute Mentza’s central concept. For instance, recording and highlight features (the latter marks eureka moments in a conversation); a library of content (categorised under various topics); an audio portfolio for speakers on Mentza; AI profiles of conversations (to enable speakers to assess their communication and collaborations styles); a set of curated communities (eg. the Arts, Culture and Media community, the Investing and Personal Finance community, the Marketing, Design and Innovation community) with ‘community architects’ (experts in such fields); a unique live-listening version (that lets people listen to conversations, if not speak in them, without even downloading the app); and now an online studio that allows people to polish their Mentza recordings and publish them directly on podcasting platforms like Spotify. Online estimates say a podcast takes 8 to 14 hours to produce— Mentza lets you do this in only 30 minutes.
Mentza’s live-audio conversations are a good lead for other ed-tech companies to follow. What might seem like one small step for ed-tech, could be one giant leap for education.
Dr. Debarshi Roy is a researcher, writer and blogger on education who inculcates behavioural economics, game theory, chaos theory and decision sciences in school behavioural systems. He has authored three books including Skinned Knees and ABCs – The Complex World of Schools (Routledge) and Empathy driven school systems: Nature Concept and Evolution (Routledge). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, London whose articles and papers have been published by, among others, the London School of Economics, University of Oxford, University of California at Berkeley (in-editing), Indian Institutes of Management, Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Shillong and the Xavier’s Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), Jamshedpur.