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Free to learn

| MERIN JAMES
Published : Jan 30, 2016, 10:16 pm IST
Updated : Jan 30, 2016, 10:16 pm IST

They are a source of motivation to many — Roman Saini and Gaurav Munjal, two young professionals who multi-tasked for several months, compromising on their personal lives and juggling their careers in

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They are a source of motivation to many — Roman Saini and Gaurav Munjal, two young professionals who multi-tasked for several months, compromising on their personal lives and juggling their careers in order to provide an alternative education to lakhs of students who can’t afford expensive coaching institutes. They came together in 2010 to set up a platform — Unacademy.in — that would help students learn via videos, free of cost. This online coaching portal is now counted among India’s largest educational channels and also has two more co-founders — Himesh Singh and Sachin Gupta.

Roman is one of the youngest doctor-IAS officer combinations in the country — he not only cracked the AIIMS entrance exam at the age of 16, but also secured a rank of 18 in the IAS exams when he turned 23. Meanwhile, Gaurav, who had been developing websites since he was in class seven, went on to become the co-founder and CEO of the company Flat.to. Talking about what motivated them to create Unacademy, he reveals, “YouTube is a distracting platform — you could be watching an educational video and at the same time being tempted to watch a movie trailer. That’s why we started Unacademy.in. It’s like a YouTube for education, where we have different educators teaching almost all subjects in different languages. We have 60,000 people registered with us at the moment and have also launched a new platform four weeks ago, which has already clocked in 2 lakh video views.”

When quizzed about quitting IAS and joining Gaurav for this venture, Roman says, “It was very hard to step down from IAS. Aside from other things, there is a lot of social prestige associated with being an IAS officer. And there are a lot of things which you can do through that position to create a large scale impact. It was very difficult to convince my parents too. In the end, I decided to move on as education was always my calling. I have a lot of respect for civil services but eventually, I have decided to move full time to Unacademy. Let’s hope that we can create an even larger impact in education through it.”

The two youngsters hail from Jaipur and have been friends for over 10 years. “Gaurav is completely different from me,” Roman shares and adds, “Since we hail from different backgrounds, we have different mindsets as well. Ironically, we have a lot of synergy because we are dissimilar. We have different ideas that can come together really well in a melting pot. Unacademy is one of several projects that we have worked on together and I should say this — our friendship is amazing. It is very productive and fulfilling.”

Like the name suggests, Unacademy is the opposite of traditional academies. “There aren’t many free learning platforms in India that are working at this scale. Our target audience is huge and we don’t worry about what others are doing. If you like doing something, you keep doing it. At the end of the day, this is not a race. Even if ten other people can solve the free education problem, it helps India grow further.”

What sort of criteria do they have when it comes to choosing the educators for the platform “We have around 50 talented people teaching for us right now. One can fill the form at Unacademy.in if one wants to become an educator. We will contact the applicant and do a brief interview, If we feel that he/she is good enough for our platform, we allow him/her to make the videos. The main criterion is that they should be good teachers with good communicating skills and a decent academic background. They should have a passion to teach, and devote a certain amount of time on a regular basis,” Gaurav affirms.

Ask the duo about Unacademy’s future plans and they respond, “We want to become the world’s biggest platform for free learning. We hope to make our portal like a video Wikipedia. Unacademy.in should become a platform where everyone comes to learn new things —whether they need to prepare for a competitive exam or job interview, or just for the sake of learning,” Roman quips.

Both young men are aware that any initiative towards free e-education requires, above all, the investment of time. “Unacademy is going to take at least five more years of our lives, if not more, to reach a point close to what we want to achieve with it. And that translates into at least five more years of ruthless hard work, to take it to another level,” Gaurav says.