Global learning leader increases access and quality of affordable education in South Africa and India

Pearson announces two new investments in low-cost private schools using technology to drive affordability and accessibility to low income communities in the developing world

London, UK – 20 May 2014 – Today Pearson (, the world’s largest learning company, announces two new minority equity investments through the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PALF) in education businesses in South Africa and India focused on increasing access to education at low cost.

eAdvance ( manages SPARK Schools, which currently teaches 360 primary school students near Johannesburg, South Africa. SPARK is the first private primary school network in Africa to use a blend of online and face-to-face teaching—it plans to grow to include more than sixty schools within the next decade.

Zaya Labs ( provides blended educational technology and services to students in 27 schools. Its model allows students to divide their time between digital content on tablets, instructional time with a teacher and peer-to-peer group work. The company has created a “LabKit”, which includes all the components required to set up a blended online and offline learning lab in low-income school settings. It aims to offer the LabKit across government schools and low-cost private schools throughout India growing to 500 schools in four years.

The new investments were brokered and managed by the PALF, a $15 million fund established in 2012 to support low-income communities in the developing world through education innovation. The Fund has already invested in innovative start-up education businesses in Ghana, the Philippines and India.

Katelyn Donnelly, managing director of the PALF, said: “We have a long held belief that the private sector can complement the public sector to help increase access to high-quality education and improve learner outcomes. South Africa and India are both countries with great educational need, and which also have thriving technology startup communities. Pearson believes that by combining educational expertise with technology, we can help to revolutionise learning at low cost.”

These investments mark the fourth and fifth in the PALF portfolio and represent the fund’s commitment to supporting the delivery of quality education to those most in need. SPARK schools and Zaya Labs are both examples of education companies with bold aspirations to disrupt their local education systems with high-quality private education for low-income students. Donnelly continues, “We are investing in innovative educational models that have the potential to deliver quality education to millions of the world’s poorest children.”

Despite its status as a middle-income country, the South African education system is challenged. The World Economic Forum ranks South Africa 146th out of 148 countries for educational quality, and last in mathematics and science education. Preliminary academic results from SPARK’s first class are positive: 91% of students achieved a year and a half of growth in reading during the 2013 school year. Importantly, SPARK’s blended model also allows it to deliver high-quality education at a price significantly lower than the vast majority of private schools in South Africa.

Riaan Jonck, managing director of Pearson South Africa said, "Pearson is very excited about using technology to improve the reach of successful learning experiences for children through SPARK schools. We believe that these schools will enable a dramatic improvement in the quality and depth of education outcomes. Our investment in eAdvance will play a significant role in improving the prospects of young South African school children."

Similarly, India faces a difficult education situation where almost 60% of its children never complete primary school and 90% of students never reach college. Consequently, the Indian private education market has grown exponentially from an estimated $40 billion in 2008 to $70 billion by 2012 while private school enrolment of primary school students rose from 19% in 2006 to an estimated 29% in 2013 according to the Annual Status of Education Report.

India’s Zaya Labs was formerly a not-for profit company under the name of Teach a Class; its approach allows students to build their own learning pathway and move through content at their own pace, with regular assessments to ensure concept mastery. As a blended learning model it intends to bridge the learning gap while helping educators take a hands-on approach to improving the way they use data and curriculum.

Neil D’Souza, chief executive of Zaya Labs said, “We are thrilled to announce our partnership with the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund due to their deep education expertise and focus on driving solutions that improve learning and results for students. We believe that Zaya Labs can bridge the educational attainment gap for learners at the bottom of the pyramid and look forward to working with Pearson to establish our market presence in India to maximise our impact.” 

In addition to strategic investments such as eAdvance and Zaya Labs, the PALF is also pioneering an “Edupreneurs” business incubator programme in India, in partnership with Village Capital ( The programme supports entrepreneurs focused on innovative products and services that improve outcomes and access to education for low-income learners in India.

The inaugural programme in India had more than 125 applications, which led to 14 entrepreneurs participating in a 12-week programme focused on building their businesses and improving their “investability”. The twist was that the edupreneurs themselves chose which two ventures would receive funding from Pearson. In November 2013, Experifun Solutions (, an interactive science kit solutions company designed for K-12 and Sudiksha (, a rapidly growing chain of 22 pre-schools, were announced as the official winners of Edupreneurs India.

With five investments across Africa and Asia, and a 2014 Edupreneurs programme to be announced shortly, the PALF continues to support mission-led entrepreneurs and their education innovations. Through continued investments in disruptive companies like eAdvance and Zaya Labs, Pearson is driving momentum in the affordable education space by supporting businesses that deliver high-quality, for-profit education to the low-income segment of the developing world. Furthermore, these investments underscore Pearson’s belief that it is only with both efficient public and private education acting in tandem, that we will achieve ‘Education For All.’ 

About Pearson

Pearson is the world's leading learning company, with 40,000 employees in more than 80 countries working to help people of all ages to make measurable progress in their lives through learning. For more information, visit

For more information on the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund, please visit


Emilie Colker
Director, Strategic Communications
+44 (0)207 010 2329


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New PALF Portfolio Companies

eAdvance: SPARK Schools has bold aspirations to disrupt the South African education system through introducing an innovative learning methodology to the African continent. In the SPARK Schools model, students split their time between digital content that adapts in difficulty to their learning and classroom interaction based on best practice pedagogy. Importantly, the blended model also allows eAdvance to deliver high quality education at an affordable price.

“SPARK Schools are a beacon of quality for South Africa. The technology in the model allows for teachers to spend more time on group learning. Blended learning models, re-engineered and adapted to meet the constraints of developing world markets, have the potential to transform teachers’ pedagogical approach, whilst drastically improving student learning outcomes,” said Katelyn Donnelly, Managing Director of PALF.

In January 2014, eAdvance launched its second school (SPARK Cresta) and will leverage the PALF investment to build eight low-cost blended learning schools over the next three years, and more than 60 in the next ten.

“We intend to disrupt the South African education system by scaling our blended learning model whilst maintaining exceptional learning outcomes for our students. We are excited to partner with the PALF as they bring extensive operational and educational expertise within low-cost private schooling,” said Stacey Brewer, CEO of eAdvance.

Zaya Labs: Zaya Labs has developed an affordable blended learning model for the Indian market. Unlike traditional classroom settings, where a teacher delivers core content to students, the company operates a rotational model where students divide their time between content engagement via tablets, time with a teacher, and peer-to-peer group work. Time spent with the teacher is used to reinforce concepts and build additional skills, such as problem solving and teamwork.

Zaya Labs “LabKit” solution includes ClassCloud, an adaptive learning platform that can store and deliver digital content in both online and offline environments. Zaya Labs also provides additional assessment services and intensive training in schools on how to effectively utilize its blended learning solution. Selling at affordable prices, the company hopes to implement its LabKit solution across government and private schools in India.

Katelyn Donnelly, Managing Director of PALF said, “Zaya Labs has demonstrated an unrivalled commitment to learner-centric product development, incorporating extensive teacher and student feedback into its product iterations. This is critical when working within the affordable segments of the Indian school market, where there are often infrastructure and connectivity challenges. This unerring focus on not just product quality but successful implementation, is what differentiates them from other education technology companies in this sector.”

Zaya Labs, formerly known as Teach a Class, will use the PALF’s investment for on-going product development. Zaya Labs was founded by Neil D’Souza, a former Cisco engineer and a 2013 Echoing Green Fellow.