Born on October 2, 1991 in Allahabad, Alakh Pandey is popular among lakhs of students across India for his unique style of teaching. Pandey faced financial difficulties in childhood, but he now figures in the International Hurun Richlist. A few days ago, his start-up, 'Physics Wallah' made it to the Unicorn list with its valuation of Rs 8000 crore.
From his humble roots, Pandey has come a long way. While he was studying in the eighth grade, he started teaching Class IV students to support his family. In Class XI, he would teach the children of Standard IX. Later, he started teaching on YouTube in 2015 after dropping out of B.Tech.
In online coaching, since students cannot ask questions directly, he takes care to address even the smallest doubts related to the topic he is teaching. Along with the school boards, Physics Wallah also provides preparatory classes for NEET and JEE. He has about 9 million subscribers on YouTube, and more than 1 million subscribers on Instagram.
In conversation with Outlook's Rajiv Nayan Chaturvedi, Pandey talks at length about the online education industry and the future of digital educators.
How did the idea to start online classes come to your mind?
There was only one purpose to open it: the troubles I faced in my early years should not be faced by other children. The financial condition at my home was not good, so I started teaching in class VIII itself. Later, I got admission to a government college but did not have enough money to prepare for NEET. ‘Physics Wallah’ was started with the purpose that anyone's studies should not be hampered because of financial constraints.
What kind of challenges did you face initially?
The first challenge was how to provide quality content. I went to Kota and bought some good books from there. My situation at that time was so bad that I had no money left while I was coming back from there. I watched online videos of well-known teachers to know how they teach. The second challenge was to build a team. When I started, other coaching teams started to poach our team members. Still, I managed to provide coaching for NEET for Rs 4000 while others were charging Rs 70,000. Initially, 50000 children joined ‘Physics Wallah’. The third challenge was to find tech-savvy people and retain them because nothing works with just good teachers. Thanks to our technical team, we managed to do the biggest educational programmes live, with the joining of about 1.23 lakh people through our app
You often talk about the lack of 'me time'. Today. when you have got so much fame, do you still have to face problems with time management?
As a boy out of an ordinary family, nothing was easy for me. When my company became a unicorn, a flood of invites came my way. Right now, we are about to launch something new. That is why I have stopped travelling anywhere. Now, finding 'me time' has become a bit difficult.
There is a lot of talk about online teaching these days. Have we lost anything in these changing times?
When anything comes for the first time, it has flaws, but gradually everything becomes perfect. Online teaching saves a lot of time for children. We are still working on the doubt-solving method and are also trying to increase the interaction with students. I am in favour of online education.
Don't think that education is being commercialised through mushrooming of online classes?
I feel bad about it. It should not happen. We have come to this stage after working hard for five years. We have worked hard for the children. They have been motivated. In our case, if any teacher works against the code of conduct, he is immediately fired. I would request the teachers to try to win the hearts of the children. Teachers are losing their originality due to their tendency to go viral. They will have to give up their proclivity to get cheap fame.
Students find it difficult to choose the right option. How can they choose the right option?
There are difficulties in choosing the right option offline, but it is easy to choose the right option online. They can go to the comment section of what the teacher is teaching, and see reviews there. The rating of any coaching centre can also be checked. Sometimes, the rating of an institution is bad but the teachers teach well, so they can take demo classes of those teachers. They can also see whether study material is available. Besides, children can also take advice from their seniors.
Everyone wants to become a celebrity teacher now. How do you look at it?
Earlier, teachers did not get the status they deserved. Only stand-up comedians were famous online. Today, if teachers are becoming celebrities, what can be better than that? India has a rich tradition of guru-shishya and online teaching has revived the old tradition.