After successfully starting and running Eklavya School in Ahmedabad, three graduates of Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad decided to quit and start their own venture in 2001.
The school they had co-founded in 1997 used innovative pedagogical approaches to help children learn rather than be taught including a novel programme integrating children from the slums with those from some of the wealthiest families of Ahmedabad city in the same classrooms. This was, however, not enough, they felt.
In 2001, they set up Educational Initiatives (EI), an Ahmedabad-based consultancy firm working in educational research and assessment in India. It aimed to make a difference in education through personalized learning and ensuring that students learn with understanding.
“Setting up even 50 such schools is also not enough. We wanted to work out a way that would have a larger impact on the society. Education in India is not liberalized as it should be,” said Sridhar Rajagopalan, managing director and founder of EI.
Till date, EI has worked with over 3,000 schools with over 350,000 students taking the EI’s international benchmarking test called Asset (Assessment of Scholastic Skills through Educational Testing) every year and has a presence in the UAE, Kuwait, Singapore and the US, says Rajagopalan, who founded the company with Venkat Krishnan N. and Sudhir Ghodke.
Asset is a scientifically designed, skill-based assessment test. Rather than testing rote learning through multiple-choice questions, it focuses on measuring how well skills and concepts underlying the school syllabus have been learnt by a student. The test provides information on the strengths and weaknesses of individual students and also entire classes.
The next major step for the company was Mindspark, a computer-based, self-adaptive learning programme that helps a child to improve their skills in maths. An online, adaptive practice and learning tool, Mindspark is an Internet-based programme that allows each student to learn at their pace. Being a self-learning tool, constant supervision of a teacher is not needed. It reduces the cost on teachers and helps getting better quality of instruction from them, mostly from within the local community. It is currently available in Gujarati, Hindi and English languages.
Mindspark, developed in English and having higher order content for elite private schools, has been under implementation since 2009 and currently has an annual coverage of 66,000 students across India (around 1,72,000 students have been covered since 2009). A solution developed in Gujarati has been under implementation in government-run schools.
“Learning in some of the top schools of the country, too, has become mechanical. Many times we find that a student of class VII is not able to cope up with his studies as his class IV or class V fundamentals are not clear. Mindspark addresses this problem,” he said.
Mindspark is a cloud-based application that can run on computers, tablets, mobile phones and allows users to connect to Mindspark servers via a web browser.
One of the main reasons behind the success of Mindspart is that it re-mediates misconceptions identified through 10 years of Asset tests with more than 2 million data points. “Even Duke University which has a programme similar to ours uses Mindspark and that is primarily because of our huge misconception database,” said Rajagopalan who is also a member of the government’s national expert group on assessment in elementary education.
“We believe that every child is unique in his or her learning, and hence learning should be individualized. In general mathematics is taught as a procedure. It is neither taught as a concept nor taught for understanding. In this context Mindspark assumes the role of a self-directed tutor,” said M. Srinivasan, chairman, GEAR Innovative International School, Bengaluru.
EI was started with a capital of around Rs.25 lakh and today the company has revenue of about Rs.50 crore with year-on-year growth of 30%.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.