Sunday, February 8, 2015


Who is afraid of mathematics?

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No child need be, if IIT-Bombay alumni Kunal Gandhi and Gunjan Agrawal have their way. Their start-up, Logic Roots, overhauls the way maths is taught in Indian classrooms by designing games, activities and apps that provide 20 times more practice in the same time, finds Kareena Gianani
In 2012, entrepreneurs Kunal Gandhi and Gunjan Agrawal stood facing Class 4 students of the Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls’ School at Jaipur, Rajasthan.
Kunal Gandhi (R) and Gunjan Agrawal, co-founders of Logic Roots
Kunal Gandhi (R) and Gunjan Agrawal, co-founders of Logic Roots. Pic/Satyajit Desai
Gandhi put forth a simple enough question: How many millilitres make 1 litre? 1,000, chanted the class. Gandhi, then, placed a teacup at the desk and asked the class how much water they thought it could hold.
“The answers ranged from 1 litre to 15 litres,” recollects Gandhi. “The class was up to the mark when it came to Science, English and History. But because they hadn’t learnt Maths like you touch and feel science experiments, or hear stories like in English and History, there was a huge disconnect with a subject. A phobia, even,” adds Agrawal.
The duo have been privy to similar reactions to “an otherwise fascinating subject” since they were children. This is why they founded the start-up, Logic Roots, in 2012 — to promote a love for maths which can only come from a deep understanding, which in turn can only be fostered by making the subject fun. Between 2012 and October 2014, Logic Roots designed modules, interactive exercises and games toward this end.
Four months ago, they began retailing their 11 board and card games, 1,000 maths activities and an app which fosters basic maths principles for children studying in classes 1-5. Their game, Say Cheese, is number 1 on Amazon. Logic Roots products claim to offer 20 times more practice of mathematical concepts in the same time than what is taught in a regular maths lecture.
The root of the problem
After graduating from IIT Bombay, Gandhi and Agrawal went their separate ways. Agrawal began designing diagnostic solutions for engineering students. Circa 2010, while at Mckinsey & Company, Gandhi worked on a project related to the primary education system of a Middle Eastern country. He went on to research the same in Finland, Belgium, and the US. “Finland has the best primary education system because of their ‘pull’ system — concepts are not drilled into kids, they are encouraged to ‘pull’ them from the teacher through interactive sessions. If maths is taught that way, no child will hate it,” says Gandhi passionately.
Gandhi and Agrawal collaborated in 2011 and discussed both age-old and relatively new policy issues in Indian education. In India, they realised, most teachers look at the average level of the class and modify lessons to ensure a 100 per cent pass result in the board exams. In countries such as Finland, however, teachers look at the mean, or the poorest learner, in class, which transformed the way they imparted education. “Here, even a child with a weak mathematical foundation chugs along, invisibly, but definitely heading toward trouble,” explains Agrawal. Even the Right To Education Act, feel the duo, is counter-productive in this aspect, because no child can be failed till class 8. “So, a child who doesn’t know basic addition or multiplication can reach Class 8,” says Gandhi.
Addition of solutions
Between 2011 and mid-2014, the duo visited government and private schools across Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. They observed teachers and students, found problem areas and devised games and activities to help children “touch, feel and imagine numbers”. “Take a child’s most basic introduction to maths — the numbers four, or even 50, are taught to kids by making them visualise 4-50 puppies! But will you ever see 50 puppies down the road? We introduce numbers to kids differently. A rickshaw’s wheels for the number 3, or a car’s tyres for number 4,” illustrates Gandhi.
Rolling the dice
Gandhi and Agrawal take out their game, Ocean Raiders, and invite me to play. “This will expose my embarrassing relationship with maths,” I rue. “No. It will surprise you into liking numbers,” smiles Gandhi assuringly.
The four-player game looks like Snakes-and-Ladders, and has only single digits across the board in no clear order. An unusual, 10-face dice covers all single digits between 0-9, since the game focuses on single-digit exercises. We begin playing, and I notice how the game prompts all players to add numbers not only for themselves before making their move, but also during their three competitors’ moves to prevent cheating. I often double-check before I play my chance if I want to win. In short — I think and handle numbers I never did in class.
This is when Gandhi flips the box of the game and points out that they do not specify age groups for this game, only skill levels, because age, as the duo know, is no indication of a child’s proficiency in maths. “Over the course of our research, we have divided learning primary school maths into 650 skill sets. Ocean Raiders covers eight of them. It takes 20 turns to reach the treasure. A child adds numbers four times before each turn, and learns to recognise four digits. This adds up to 80 addition exercises and 80 number recognitions, which means you solve 160 maths problems in 40 minutes, which few classrooms can offer,” explains Gandhi with a flourish. And this, he emphasises, is their most basic game — a child just gets more, and better, with games designed toward multiple digit addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Logic Roots is now looking at finding investors for their ventures. Their games have been sold in 50 Indian cities and three continents – Asia, the US and Europe. “We are trying to make children see maths for the enigmatic subject it is. What you see is what you get,” conclude Gandhi and Agrawal.
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