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Why Byju-WhiteHatJr’s ad blitz is angering parents, educators & all else

October 8, 2020
Bandana Brahmin

The Covid-19 pandemic induced mass closure of education institutions heralded a golden era for ed-tech startups worldwide by forcing students to learn from home. With global venture capitalists scrambling to bet their moolah on the sector, ed-tech startups are undeniably on a roll.   

Against this backdrop, the new edtech star WhiteHat Jr. — a live online coding teaching-learning platform for children which was recently acquired by edtech behemoth Byju’s for $300 million — has gone overboard with a multi-media advertising blitz to get parents to sign up for its coding programmes designed for 6-14 year olds. While many parents are thrilled with their kids’ newly acquired coding skills, several social media users — including parents and watchdogs of the ed-tech sector — have been voicing their strong criticism of the company’s over-the-board and ill-considered marketing and advertising gimmicks. 

 

There is also growing discontent within the educators community about companies such as Byju’s and WhiteHat Jr. being allowed to charge huge fees to parents as well as raise millions of dollars in venture capital funding while private schools have been directed by state governments to follow fees deferment circulars and not force parents to pay school fees.

Expressing his views on this self-contradictory stance of India’s new education policy, Dr Kannan Gireesh, globally acclaimed psychiatrist and founder-CEO of Live Life Education Pvt. Ltd. who has conducted several leadership development workshops for teachers, says, “Byju’s and Unacademy are in a race to bag #IPL2020 title sponsorship. This is called the biggest loot in modern India. Get money from Chinese investors and take money from Indian parents to make INVESTORS a profit and spend lavishly on marketing whereas our schools are struggling without fees and running for loans to stay afloat and teachers are struggling to make ends meet. What a tragedy #NEP2020 wants to curb profiteering and economic exploitation of parents by many private schools but nothing for these edtech companies. They come under no jurisdiction or boards. Welcome to India vs Bharat #NEP2020 match series.”

Several netizens also seem miffed by the company’s poor tolerance for negative feedback and have strongly voiced their criticism on social media platforms. 

For instance, Pradeep Poonia, a software engineer with Cisco, says his social media account was repeatedly suspended when he tried to post feedback about WhiteHatJr. “WhiteHat Jr and Byju’s are misusing their position, for more than a month I have been trying to post about WhiteHatJr. On whichever platform I go to, either my accounts get suspended or my posts get deleted,” he wrote in his LinkedIn blog.

According to Poonia, his two Reddit accounts have been permanently suspended, besides one Twitter account, two YouTube accounts and one Quora account temporarily suspended. Poonia says in his blog, “WhiteHat Jr isn’t letting me post any review about their platform. I started with a video titled ‘Who is Wolf Gupta?’. This particular video has been removed 3 times by now. @WhiteHatJr Why? We all know this kid is fictitious, does not exist. His age keeps on changing between 9-14 y/o. And his salary between 1.2 crores, 20 crores, and 150 crores. To some of you, it might be a normal marketing gimmick but most people would agree that this is not acceptable when target consumers are 6-year-old kids! Such ‘White’ lies are not allowed.”

He also asks if the society really wants “kids to run this high salary rat race.” “We all know the race never ends and its impact on stress levels. Do we want teenage kids to be concerned about 150 crore salaries or be just kids and enjoy their childhood?” 

Promoted in 2018 by Karan Bajaj, an Indian-American entrepreneur and author and an alumnus of IIM Bangalore and BIT Mesra, White Hat Jr. started operations in March 2019 and since then, has been charting a phenomenal growth story in the US and Indian markets. It was acquired by Byjus’s – the flagship brand of Bangalore based Think & Learn Pvt Ltd. and the undisputed unicorn of India’s ed-tech sector — through an all-cash deal of USD 300 million in August. Promoted in 2011 by Byju Raveendran, the eponymous online tutoring app is the world’s most valued edtech company with a valuation of $11.1 billion as on September 2020. 

While Byjus’s has had its fair share of criticism for overpromising the benefits of its online courses, the social media trolling of WhiteHat Jr. is unprecedented in the education sector. 

Social media users don’t seem to be the only disgruntled lot with WhiteHat Jr. Discontent also seems to be brewing among its “overworked” more than 100 employees some of whom are openly voicing their criticism (on linkedin) against the top management. 

Where is Byjus’s going wrong with WhiteHat Jr.?

The steadily growing resentment among parents and netizens against WhiteHat Jr. seems to be centered on the impact of its marketing/promotional message on juvenile customers and already burnt-out parents. 

For instance, the company’s latest TV ad shows parents happily viewing a chaotic scene of investors squabbling to invest in Chintu’s app, which he built after learning coding on White Hat Jr.

Writes Pradeep Malpani, editor of Hook, Line and Clincher – Marketing blog from India: “In a day and age, where the emphasis has to be placed on the joy of learning, letting children be children and not be crowded with worldly ambitions of earning money prematurely, we are shown parents already dreaming of their child to get funding for an app that he will possibly develop because of White Hat Jr. Instead of encouraging them to make the world a better place by finding solutions that solve problems, enjoying the process of learning, just how you would enjoy a sport, we are putting both parents and kids in a race to see who will become a coder with the highest pay package.”

While there is nothing wrong with learning coding, educators and parents would agree that it is not the ‘be-all and end-all’ of a 21st century education. 

Read: From alternate to mainstream – Edtech is fast changing the face of education

Also read: Edtech can empower NEP 2020

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