Fun as You Learn

Mo­bile apps, e- books, board games, au­dio- visual aids. The class­room takes a back­seat as new- age ed­u­ca­tors marry games and tech­nol­ogy with ed­u­ca­tion.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Aditi Pai

Mo­bile apps, e- books, board games, au­dio- visual aids. The class­room takes a back­seat as new- age ed­u­ca­tors marry games and tech­nol­ogy with ed­u­ca­tion.

As a 12- year- old play­ing Scrab­ble and Canasta with his grand­par­ents in Jodhpur, Manuj Dhari­wal, now 26, never imag­ined he would one day cre­ate his very own board game. In 2008, the grad­u­ate in de­sign engi­neer­ing from IIT- Guwahati, with brother Ra­jat, 29, and sis­ter- in- law Mad­hu­mita, 30, launched Ak­sharit, In­dia’s first board game in Hindi. With 200 tiles ( 100 each for ak­sha­ras and matras), it went on to win the first prize at the Ideas to Im­ple­men­ta­tion com­pe­ti­tion at IIM- Cal­cutta in 2008. Over the past four years, the colourful board game has made Hindi fun for over 300,000 students across 3,000 ru­ral and gov­ern­ment schools in Ch­hat­tis­garh, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ra­jasthan. And the trio of IIT grad­u­ates has now taken Ak­sharit pan- In­dia in 11 re­gional lan­guages and into cy­berspace with a dig­i­tal ver­sion. “Games have the power to make learn­ing ef­fort­less and fun and in­stil an abil­ity to take on chal­lenges,” says Manuj, founder of MadRat Games, their com­pany.

Like the MadRat team, sev­eral pro­fes­sion­als are chang­ing the way young In­dia learns. Giv­ing text­books and black­boards a miss, these new- age ed­u­ca­tors are de­vis­ing games and in­fus­ing large doses of in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy to make learn­ing more in­ter­ac­tive and en­gag­ing. Be it hon­ing your sports skills or learn­ing the skele­tal sys­tem with 3D mod­els, there is a move­ment to in­stil fun and en­ter­tain­ment in the ed­u­ca­tion process.

K. Sharat Chan­dra, 32, de­cided to teach young chil­dren the ba­sics of arith­metic with a tweaked ver­sion of the pop­u­lar snakes and lad­ders game, a sta­ple in most homes. So, in 2005, the IIT- IIM alum­nus set up But­ter­fly Fields in Hy­der­abad as a hobby cen­tre for chil­dren to learn con­cepts of sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics. In 2008, he part­nered with schools to set up mini sci­ence cen­tres and cre­ate con­cept maps and e- learn­ing con­tent for teach­ers. With 4,000 pri­vate and gov­ern­ment schools in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kar­nataka on his rolls, Chan­dra now cre­ates math and sci­ence card games, board games and ac­tiv­i­ties for chil­dren that are mapped to the cur­ricu­lum of var­i­ous syl­labi, in­clud­ing Andhra Pradesh state board, ICSE and CBSE. “A child learns bet­ter through ac­tion rather than by read­ing or even watch­ing a video of a con­cept be­ing ex­plained. We fo­cus on en­sur­ing that the child learns con­cepts by un­der­stand­ing un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ples,” says Chan­dra, whose com­pany has cre­ated over 350 such mod­els and games.

Tech­nol­ogy, too, is giv­ing these new ideas a boost, teach­ing sub­jects in a for­mat that the Gen­Next en­joys best— e- books and mo­bile apps. Soumya Banerjee, 52, founded At­tano. com in 2009 and took text­books to the dig­i­tal world. These books al­low read­ers to book­mark pages, scrib­ble notes and even map a child’s learn­ing pat­tern and pro­vide as­sess­ments. “Tech­nol­ogy al­lows the book to evolve and in­te­grate me­dia through au­dio and video clips. Also, students in any cor­ner of the coun­try can ac­cess the same book,” says Banerjee, who is based in Mum­bai. With a mas­ter’s de­gree in com­puter sci­ence from the Univer­sity

of Hous­ton, US, he wanted to use his 20 years of cor­po­rate ex­pe­ri­ence to bring about a change in ed­u­ca­tion. His 200 books cur­rently have 50,000 users.

Sens­ing that the mo­bile- bred gen­er­a­tion gorges on any­thing that flashes on the palm­top screen, in De­cem­ber 2011 Jaipur- based Pra­fulla Mathur, 29, launched Money Games, a mo­bile app that teaches chil­dren the ba­sics of bank­ing. Be­sides de­cod­ing terms such as sav­ings, as­sets, bank ac­counts and li­a­bil­i­ties, chil­dren learn to set goals and plan their fi­nances to achieve these goals in a de­sired time pe­riod. “Ed­u­ca­tional apps can bring sci­ence to life in ways a text­book can’t. In terms of chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion, tech­nol­ogy ex­tends learn­ing in the same way as Lego blocks and other art ma­te­ri­als, ex­pos­ing chil­dren to an­i­mals, land­scapes and ac­tiv­i­ties that they can­not ex­pe­ri­ence in per­son,” says Mathur, who came back to In­dia in 2009 af­ter a stint in the bank­ing in­dus­try in the UK to start his com­pany Quep­pelin.

Mar­ry­ing tech­nol­ogy with ed­u­ca­tion, 40- year- old San­jeev Man­so­tra’s CORE Ed­u­ca­tion and Tech­nolo­gies pi­o­neered 3D ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia. In the com­pany’s por­ta­ble 3D lab in Mum­bai, students can learn hu­man anatomy with 3D skele­tal sys­tems and or­gans rather than chalk- on­board di­a­grams. “Tech­nol­ogy makes ed­u­ca­tion more at­trac­tive, lu­cra­tive and com­pre­hen­sive. Tech- ed­u­ca­tion is in line with the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia’s agenda of ac­cess, in­clu­sion and qual­ity in ed­u­ca­tion,” he says.

While most fo­cus on aca­demic ed­u­ca­tion so­lu­tions, Srini­vas Rao Cheedella, 39, and his col­league Anurag Jain, 40, quit their jobs with Dell Ser­vices in 2010 to set up In­dia’s largest vo­ca­tional train­ing in­sti­tute. They wanted to “bridge the gap of eight mil­lion be­tween the de­mand and sup­ply of skilled man­power across vo­ca­tional streams”. Two years later, their com­pany Lau­rus Edutech has 140 cen­tres across In­dia and trains over 34,000 peo­ple ev­ery year to be­come elec­tri­cians, welders, med­i­cal lab as­sis­tants, tai­lors and auto me­chan­ics. Be­sides tech­ni­cal train­ing, the cen­tre uses ed­u­ca­tional games to teach the im­por­tance of ethics and pro­fes­sional con­duct. “At the end of each game, the pur­pose is to drive home the mes­sage that be­ing a good worker reaps more ben­e­fits. Aside from teach­ing the­ory, we also want to build the char­ac­ter of our students but merely preach­ing is in­ef­fec­tive,” says Cheedella.

When Dev Roy, 39, re­turned to In­dia in 2009 af­ter a suc­cess­ful ca­reer with Bar­clay’s Cap­i­tal in Lon­don, he de­cided to help Ban­ga­lore chil­dren take to sports. Nos­tal­gic about the city he grew up in, he started Leap­Start, which of­fers phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and sports pro­grammes from kinder­garten to high school. Their play mod­ules in­clude el­e­ments of SPARK, a re­searchbased pub­lic health or­gan­i­sa­tion of

San Diego State Univer­sity Re­search Foun­da­tion, whose pro­grammes pro­mote life­long well­ness. Here, chil­dren are taught un­con­ven­tional lessons like how to fall with­out in­jur­ing them­selves and so­cial skills like how to in­ter­act with each other. The mod­ules are ageap­pro­pri­ate and pro­gres­sive. There is even a spe­cially- de­signed phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme for chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. “If you have not played a sport as a child, or done the­atre for ex­am­ple, when you en­ter the world of fi­nance at 21, you are not equipped with life skills such as how to co­op­er­ate while com­pet­ing or how to be a leader,” he says. The com­pany has 100 schools as part of its pro­grammes.

With young In­dian par­ents adopt­ing a new ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion, these new- age ser­vices are fast catch­ing on. Mer­it­na­tion. com started in 2009 with an ini­tial fund­ing of Rs 11.5 crore from Info Edge ( In­dia), but within two years raised Rs 20 crore. The site of­fers study ma­te­rial in the forms of fun aca­demic for­mats like quizzes, videos, games and puz­zles. The re­sources fol­low the syl­labi of CBSE, ICSE and 12 state boards and the site al­ready has a vir­tual “class­room” of 3.2 mil­lion students from across the coun­try. “We re­alised that vi­su­als and an­i­ma­tion not only make learn­ing fun but also reten- tion eas­ier. While chil­dren get to play games, par­ents know these games are con­struc­tive,” says Pa­van Chauhan, 38, who founded Mer­it­na­tion. com with fel­low IIM- B grad­u­ate Ritesh Hem­ra­jani. “It is im­por­tant to cus­tomise learn­ing ac­cord­ing to the as­sim­i­la­tion lev­els and com­pe­tency of ev­ery child. An ef­fec­tive class­room would be one where chil­dren can ac­cess rel­e­vant ma­te­ri­als,” says Chauhan, who has 20 years of teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with The Learn­ing Tree and Disha Pub­lic School.

Giv­ing a mod­ern twist to aca­demics, these new- age ed­u­ca­tors are mak­ing learn­ing en­ter­tain­ing for to­day’s wired gen­er­a­tion.

SRINI­VAS

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