Companies

Bengaluru firm to bring creative learning spaces to UK

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on December 02, 2016

Ravi Shankar, founder, BrainSTARS

One of BrainSTARS’ NumberNagar learning spaces

BrainSTARS creates a creative learning space that involves no electronic devices or IT elements

Ask a person in the West what comes to mind when they think of India and education, the reply is most likely to involve either repetitive, rote learning or something involving computers and technology. So the idea of an Indian start-up bringing a creative learning space that involves no electronic devices or IT elements, whatsoever, is likely to be a surprise.

BrainSTARS India, a Bengaluru-based start-up, focussing on maths, science and English education for six- to 14-year-olds, plans to take its innovative products that have been used in schools in India, to foreign shores, specifically the UK, Saudi Arabia and other countries in West Asia and East Africa.

Maths around you

Speaking in London, during a visit to identify pilot schools in the UK, in late November, one of the three founders, Ravi Shankar, is particularly optimistic about the appeal of the firm’s first major distinctive product, NumberNagar. It is a maths lab without tables, chairs or computers, but which uses everyday objects on the floor, ceilings and walls to help children connect maths to the world around them.

The BrainSTARS team spent over a year working with mathematicians, architects, psychologists and visual designers to develop the space.

“We’ve tried to integrate history, geography, sports and more,” said Shankar. “Maths is usually considered an abstract subject. We are trying to break with that and say it is all around us, and kids can connect maths to their everyday lives at school, or home or during holidays. Unless we make maths simple and get children to enjoy it, it will continue to be considered abstract, and children will have a phobia.”

The company has also started to roll out concept kits, which, like its maths lab, are meant to be adaptable enough to work across age groups in different ways. For example, a set of cubes designed to teach six-year-olds the most basic concepts of shapes, can also be used to teach all the way up to quadratic equations for older children.

Around 50 schools across India — mainly in South and interestingly, largely in tier II cities, where schools have sought to give themselves distinctive features — have adopted BrainSTARS products of one kind or another, across the curricula.

Shankar is confident of making a “good entry” into the British market with the NumberNagar learning spaces within the next 12 months, with the first pilot school likely to be in place by April 2017. Providing teacher training over several years to ensure the best use of the spaces, is part of the company’s business model. In the long term, Shankar hopes to have a permanent set of UK-based trainers, too.

Use of technology

While the decision to avoid deploying technology products was deliberate — and a way to make it stand out in a somewhat crowded market (“We want children to walk through, touch, feel, learn, do, create and move forward.”), Shankar is hoping to include technology components in the long term — including apps and an analytic engine that would assess the progress of students and teachers (the company is also developing assessments to accompany its products) — to help them develop even better tools.

Still in the concept stage are plans for an artificial intelligence engine that would draw upon the experiences of existing students and teachers, to facilitate artificial intelligence products. “We are very hopeful that a partnership with a UK university is possible on this,” said Shankar, who is also looking to the UK for investment for the firm’s future plans.

BrainSTARS has already started to present papers on their systems, at international education conferences, and hopes it will be able to collaborate with leading universities, particularly in the UK, to further hone methods for teaching and learning. “Our ultimate aim is to make a difference to a child’s life.”

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Published on December 02, 2016
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