This MIT alumnus is building a coding school of the future3 min read . Updated: 09 Aug 2020, 10:14 PM IST
Teaching kids and watching them fall in love with coding has been the most meaningful activity for me over the past decade, Anshul Bhagi said
Anshul Bhagi moved to Silicon Valley from India when he was seven, with his father who worked for Apple. Coding was an integral part of his formative years, and was accentuated when he went to study computer science at MIT in 2007.
He worked as a developer for Apple, Microsoft and Google during his undergraduate and postgraduate years, while developing a passion for teaching. He built a coding curriculum and travelled to schools and colleges in India, China, Kenya and Brazil on teaching gigs.
He co-developed MIT’s App Inventor, a free coding platform for newbies learn to create apps. It drew on visual programming concepts developed for Scratch programming language, which allowed children to drag-and-drop code like Lego blocks to build apps. This became Bhagi’s master’s thesis, but his interest went beyond academics.
In his third year at MIT, he came to India during the summer holidays and did a coding bootcamp for Delhi Public School R.K.Puram. Word spread and he started getting invites from other schools. From 2010, every winter and summer break was a trip to India for Bhagi, “while most of my classmates were on a beach somewhere in the Bahamas."
The passion project was formalized as Camp K12 with a curriculum and coding teachers on a B2B2C (business-to-business-to-consumer) model. It scaled up to 50,000 students across Tier-1 cities in India, says Bhagi. “We built a gig economy of coding teachers who were mostly college students like me, wanting to give something back to the community."
Learning by doing
Bhagi kept at it on a part-time basis while getting his master’s from MIT, working for McKinsey, and going on to Harvard. A number of side projects around education followed the Harvard MBA, but he kept coming back to Camp K12. “Teaching kids and watching them fall in love with coding has been the most meaningful activity for me over the past decade."
A couple of years back, as internet bandwidth expanded and data rates fell, he took Camp K12 online with a product for teacher-led learning. In April this year, it raised $4 million in seed funding from Matrix and SAIF Partners to expand to global markets.
Zoom and other video conferencing tools have become familiar in the post-covid scenario. But platforms like Camp K12 are taking that to another level to provide the interactivity required for personalized guidance to children, with a mix of A/V streaming, coding editors, doc and screen sharing. The pedagogy is also evolving to emphasize learning by doing.
“We’ve built a virtual classroom which can be customized for both one-on-one teaching and group experiences," he says. “It allows us to teach on mobile as well as web. Coding on mobile is different because you can’t have a text editor or keyboard. You have to drag-and-drop. Zoom doesn’t have such features and isn’t built for education. That’s where product vision allows for differentiated pedagogy and becomes a source of competitive advantage," says Bhagi, alluding to the rush among top-funded edtech companies to launch coding classes for children.
Personalization also offers huge scope for differentiated value propositions. Camp K12 has counsellors to understand a child’s interest and recommend a learning path. “Some kids will do more visual gamified stuff; others will do mathematical algorithmic stuff. We’re creating a new playbook."
The promise of personalized learning has been around since the advent of MOOCs (massive open online courses) such as Coursera, Udacity and edX. But low retention rates have belied the hype. Instead, startups like Camp K12 are building managed platforms, where they create the curriculum, onboard and train teachers, and create personalized user experiences in live classes.
Bhagi calls it the school of the future, because coding is only the start—the same methodology can be applied to any STEM subject. “K12 education is broken across the globe. I don’t think we teach the right skills, and I don’t think we teach them in the right way."
Language learning apps like Duolingo from the US and adaptive tutoring like Squirrel AI of China have brought artificial intelligence to identify learning gaps. But the likes of Camp K12 are creating a model where an abundance of potential human teachers in India can play a part in the transition to 21st century learning.
“It won’t be just a platform where you take a coding course. It’s a platform where you learn, play, socialize, compete, collaborate, things you do in a real school, and maybe some things you don’t do in a real school today," says Bhagi. For him, it’s one of the biggest global problems to solve where India can take the lead.
Sumit Chakraberty is a consulting editor with Mint. Write to him at email@example.com