21K School: a window on the world of digital education

Santosh Kumar, Co-Founder and CEO, and Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal, Co-Founder and COO of the 21K School open the digital doors to their thriving online school community in conversation with Fiona Murchie.

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In this webinar, Borderless online international education: anywhere, anytime, any child, organised as part of Relocate Global’s International Education and Schools Fair, we catch up with the 21K School to learn more about the benefits of quality flexible online learning among an international study body.

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Why a fully online international school?

21K is a leading online school that offers the American, Indian and British curriculum across early-years, primary, middle and secondary school education. Since launching in 2019, 21K has grown tremendously as parents, students and educators see the exciting possibilities and flexibility remote learning offers for a wide range of families.Enrolment across the four entry points (January, April, June and September) is ever-growing as families, global mobility expertise, employers, global mobility HR expertise and education consultants recognise the value of virtual schools for international families, those making domestic moves, or students wanting to change school.Today, over 7,500 students from 54 countries and 24 nationalities study and learn together as part of this innovative online education community. With its blended approach to technology, the 21K School encompasses all aspects of the traditional education spectrum. It covers university admissions support, health and wellbeing, lifelong learning preparation with the Institute for Habits of Mind in the USA, education consultancy, after-school tuition and enrichment opportunities to become a truly one-stop school solution for internationally mobile parents.

Rolling out the digital education revolution globally

“The idea of a fully online school started back in 2019,” explains Santosh Kumar, Co-Founder and CEO of 21K School. “We wanted to open a physical school in a proprietary city in India. What we realised is that in India’s secondary cities there is this huge problem around the availability of quality affordable teachers across the states and across the regions.“I lived in Dubai for close to 8 years and I have seen the cost of education in Dubai,” continues Santosh Kumar. “There are a lot of Indians in Dubai who don’t even bring their family only because of the cost of education.“We want to bring the cost of quality education down significantly so parents can save for higher education, because that matters a lot for job readiness. That’s our end goal. We will always strive towards giving quality education at an affordable price for each and every parent across the world.”For both co-founders, the mission of 21K School is deeply personal as well as inclusive. Their children attend 21K School and they have a shared longer-term ambition to play a role in addressing the global problem that millions of children do not have access to quality education, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic.“The 21K School is an ecosystem and it is continuing to evolve as per the needs of the students, parents and society,” says Santosh Kumar. “We foresee making an impact on the 1.4 billion students around the world. One thing that prompts us a lot are stats from the UN stating that 500 million kids worldwide lack basic literacy after covid. That’s something we want to change and that’s possible through technology and the internet.“A short-term goal is we want to be enrolling a million kids in the next five years from 170 countries.”For now, 21K School is attracting growing numbers of parents and children who fall broadly into four categories. These are parents:
  1. seeking transparent and quality education for their children
  2. relocating or moving their jobs into third or fourth tier cities and non-residential expats in countries like UAE, Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Middle East who are looking at options where school travels with their children
  3. whose children have other activities or passions they pursue and want more time for this and less for academics
  4. with children who have medical conditions.

Learning at a digital-first school

At the heart of 21K School’s rapid success to date is that it combines existing and innovative education technology with quality teachers selected from a global talent pool and a transparent student-led curriculum to secure superior academic outcomes, including admissions support to the world’s top universities.“Having spent over 20 years in the education space in large physical buildings in and around India, I think one of the significant improvements as an online school is the greater transparency in terms of the quality of teachers and learning outcomes for the students,” explains Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal, Co-Founder and COO.To make the transition from physical to online learning environments as smooth as possible for students and parents, 21K School retains many of the concepts of physical schools. Yet there is a significant difference that elevates academic progression.“As a school we wanted to replicate the physical school experience as much as possible,” says Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal. “That was one of the goals we started with. So we use very familiar terms like school assemblies, the classroom, the subject teachers, and the homeroom teachers.“Yet when we looked at the curriculum and mandates from school boards, we realised that a lot of the aspects of time spent in a physical school is actually not required and not called for in the national or international curriculum.“As a parent, I don’t think I would ever think about the opportunity cost of the time that my son would save studying online. If my child gets an extra five hours of free time per day, I think this opens up a world of opportunities for him to pursue, to think, to read, to socialise, to engage with content, with people and technologies outside the school. So that’s one significant change."Lessons are currently offered in morning or afternoon batches for Indian time zones to offer flexibility, and for students based outside of India in APAC and Asia. In line with its keen focus on parent and student needs, 21K is planning to launch a timetable to cater for families based in eastern USA as part of its impressive organic global growth.

Technology and the virtual classroom

The approach to digital learning at 21K School is based on rigour as well as quality. The 21K School team have focused firmly on curriculum and content, the extensive range of resources available to students, as well as pedagogy itself and the question of how online classrooms can be engaging and a happy place to be. It means the sky is the limit for learners.“Significantly, when it came to the curriculum and content, because we are digital-first, we have access to some fantastic audio-visual content – immersive content in many places – so children get access to over a million books in the form of a digital library,” says Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal.“Students get access to the virtual lab and their personalised learning platform assessment engine. Every child has to cross a particular learning threshold before they move on to the next unit. This is a gamechanger, because we are evaluating and valuing students’ academic progress on a day-to-day basis.“I know if my child is struggling in unit one, I want them to address those concerns right then before he starts learning on a chapter or unit that’s built over the concepts of unit one. If we fill this gap, then I think the learning outcomes significantly improve. We have been able to do this because we use a lot of data-driven instruction to improve the learning outcomes.”To deliver these evident benefits around personalised learning from technology, 21K School also has smaller classroom sizes. Learning is also centred both around skills needed for today as well as the child.21K School’s “flipped learning” approach means home assignments are critical for learning outcomes, as well as personal and social development. Outside of the core three to five hours online schooling each day, students carry out home assignments, which range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the grade. Home assignments are an opportunity to explore subjects more deeply, collaborate with peers and learn in a more self-directed way. This makes it more engaging for students and is another perfect example of where 21K School blends technology to improve the overall learning outcomes for the students.

21K School – the future

Moreover, these skills and experiences prepare students for the future world of work, especially when combined with evolving aspects of 21K School’s dynamic and forward-thinking holistic curriculum. “Education is not only classes or not only learning,” says Santosh Kumar.” It’s all about character building. 21K School does that. It’s all about moral values and what you teach to a kid. These are the other kind of things we want to give in a holistic education. When we talk about being a tech-based education, we definitely want to teach education to a child irrespective of the stream the child takes.“We also teach coding because ten years down the line, even an accountant or artist will need coding knowledge. That is something we are implementing at the core of our education, irrespective of the stream you choose, because that’s how the world is going to change. That’s how technology will be playing in the learning ecosystem.”Entrepreneurial skills are also nurtured, with the school leading by its own example. 21K is in the process of setting up a website where students’ work – art, programming – can be traded for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that pay fees. “We are setting up an NFT store where the students’ artwork and some of their projects can be made available for sale. Whatever they earn can be converted into scholarships through 21K coins.“The metaverse is going to transform the learning experience the world over in the years to come,” concludes Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal. “We want to be pioneers in that field as well. We’ve started developing a curriculum to teach concepts around blockchain, artificial intelligence and metaverse for the students.“We will be announcing a major initiative again in a couple of months time. But I think using technology and blending it right with the live classes and full-time teachers is going to be the way forward and I don’t see any reason why irrespective of geographic location of the child or the social and economic circumstances of a student, as Santosh said, it is very important that every student, every child, gets access to high-quality education and can be a part of all the emerging technology and be part of a global future we all want to create.”

Find out more about international education and schools options in Relocate Global's International Education and Schools' Guide.

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