Avanti Fellows: Giving Low-Income Students Access to Math and Science Education

Admission to India’s top engineering universities, especially the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), is often the ticket to a life amongst the country’s burgeoning middle class. The process is so competitive that many students sign up for private after-school sessions specifically to prepare for the IIT admissions exams, which test students’ aptitude in math and science. But for students from low-income schools, who cannot afford extracurricular preparation and whose basic education leaves them woefully unprepared for the entrance exams, admission to the IITs is often little more than a dream.

Avanti seeks to bridge this opportunity gap for India’s poorest students. Partnering with government schools, affordable private schools, and other NGOs, Avanti identifies the highest achieving 10th grade students from under-resourced schools around the country–Mumbai, Delhi, Kanpur, Chennai, Pondicherry, Uttarakhand (Mussourie, Selakui) and Karnataka (Mundgod). The selected students are placed in one of Avanti’s 13 learning centers where facilitators, trained counselors with backgrounds social work, and the curriculum team provide rigorous academic support using Avanti’s targeted curriculum. Mentors—current students at premium engineering colleges, including the IITs—also assist students as they prepare for the exams.

Avanti knew that in order to offer each of its students the individual attention and mentorship necessary to prepare them for the rigor of the IIT admissions exams, they needed real-time and granular visibility into each student’s progress. Avanti needed to see how each student performed on each question of its 480-module curriculum to know whether a particular student was falling behind, or whether the curriculum itself needed adjustment. But, like so many other organizations, Avanti was lost in a labyrinth of Excel spreadsheets where all of these data lived. And since each learning center kept their own spreadsheets, Avanti’s curriculum team had no way of aggregating these data across learning centers in order to see organization-wide trends. “It was madness trying to manage all these spreadsheets!” said Avanti’s business operations manager Tannishtha Sanyal.

Vera worked with Avanti to design a custom Force.com solution because we saw the potential of the platform to store, analyze, and provide quick access to data on student attendance, student quiz scores, and curriculum feedback all in one place. Avanti’s content team now keeps a live database of the quizzes and materials for each module in this new system. Avanti’s facilitators use the system everyday to review course content before a class, take attendance for each student, and enter quiz scores against each question of whichever module the class is covering that day.

This new system provides every Avanti department with incredible visibility into its performance: facilitators see student trends, allowing them to provide tailored feedback to each of their students; the content team sees how students respond to particular questions or modules, and whether these results stay constant across learning centers and facilitators; and Avanti’s management team gets a bird’s eye view of what the organization is learning and changing across the country. They also see which students have outstanding course fees, allowing them to follow-up on overdue payments—a task that had historically been falling through the cracks, but one that was becoming increasingly important as they tried to scale up to reach more students.

Avanti will double their enrollment for this coming school year, giving 300 new Fellows access to a top-quality education and a shot at the gateway to prosperity. As Avanti continues to scale, their Force.com system will help them maintain the quality and rigor of their course material and manage their learning centers throughout India. “Everything we’ve learnt as a result of this system, including the process of designing and building it, has helped us do our work better and is going to help us tremendously as we expand,” said Ms. Sanyal.

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