In her last IT stint, Latha Srinivasan was given a role to build a new product vertical within HCL tech. She was part of a four-member team which was entrusted with this task. Within two years, this team not only achieved remarkable success for the company, they also grew to a 250-member team. “It gave me one more reason to believe in my own capabilities and startup after 18 years of IT work experience,” says Latha, who founded Chipper Sage Education, in 2012.
“Five years ago, I had started a children’s library as I strongly believe that ‘cultivating the habit of reading’ is the best gift we can give our children. Soon, parents started asking me to teach their kids how to read. I realized a huge gap in the kindergarten to class 1 space. While a lot of kindergarten schools have come up, they have not evolved with time. For example, kindergartens still do not prepare children to get ready for class 1. In Class 1, the mode of instruction for over six subjects is in English. A child is supposed to comprehend what is being taught in English. More often than not, kids get overwhelmed with education early on in life,” says Latha.
“I wanted to bridge this gap. I had seen with my own kids how an appreciation for reading inculcated a drive to learn more. So, rather than wait for the magic to happen between April and May (a time when kids move from kindergarten to class 1), I came up with products to make English-learning fun for children.”
Chipper Sage has built its products based on the general principal of language learning. “The way a language is learnt is first by listening and responding in the same language, followed by reading and then writing,” remarks Latha. Chipper Sage focuses on developing and improving reading and learning capabilities among children in the age group of three to 12 years. Its flagship English teaching program, English Ever After (EEA) comprises of the following products: –
- Flow of English is a DVD-based learning product which teaches children to read and write English, including Indian themes and with a neutral Indian accent voiceover. A child can use the DVDs independently after an adult has shown him/her how to navigate. The content contains an introduction to the English alphabet, letter sounds, word structures and sets, and a large set of short stories — all with voice instructions which methodically train the children to read and spell correctly. So far, about 60 schools have adopted the ‘Beginner’ (ages 2-7) product in kindergarten and lower primary classes; the new ‘Learner’ series (ages 8-12) was released in January 2014. http://www.thechippersage.com/FOEDemo/index.html
- Smart Tiles are a set of 250 magnetic tiles with letters, phonics blends and sight words. They come with a magnetic board on which to arrange the tiles, as well as a detailed curriculum and activity manuals to guide the execution of a comprehensive English teaching program in the classroom. All activities implemented with the set have been created with specific English learning outcomes in mind (e.g. phonics blends, rhyming words, sight words and so on).
The EEA program offers a complete annual English teaching curriculum, including lesson plans and activities. EEA offers several types of training and mentorship opportunities for English teachers, including in-class training and a unique On-Call Mentor program for remote support. On-Call Mentor is a telephone support service for teachers, which helps them to prepare and deliver their lessons using Flow of English or Smart Tiles. Using this service, an accredited teacher dials a Chipper Sage Service Number and receives (1) the curriculum and activities for next lesson, (2) streaming audio from the Chipper Sage website, and (3) meanings, sentences, and pronunciations for content in the lesson (including vernacular). This program is particularly effective for teachers in remotely located schools.
Today, more than 80 schools in and around Bangalore are using Chipper Sage products and more than 25,000 students have benefitted from it. “We have a proper performance tracking in place with regular assessments to check the impact. The response has been encouraging for all of us in the team,” says Latha, adding, “Our intent is to reach every school possible so that all the students can benefit from this programme; we have priced the product keeping this end objective in mind. We believe most effective solutions do not have to be most expensive. Look at reading itself, the habit of reading can have a transformative effect on your life and it’s not expensive.”
Latha claims that their product is constantly evolving based on the direct feedback they get from kids. “We built learner series because we saw that even a class IV kid was not reading anything beyond textbooks. How can one develop a vocabulary by reading textbooks?”
The company is determined to launch more meaningful initiatives for children. Maths learning among other things is on the cards.
Incubated out of NSRCEL IIM Bangalore, Chipper Sage is currently a 12-member team. Senior folks with expertise in education sector are part of the team. “Yes, we do have a strong pedigree with team members coming from BITS Pilani, IIT Roorkee etc”, says Latha.
Like most entrepreneurial journeys, it has not been an easy run for Latha and her colleagues. “But that’s the fun part; challenges, road-blocks have added to the learning and made the journey so fulfilling.”
Team Chipper Sage is chasing growth at a fast pace. “We have been able to achieve significant traction on our own. We are completely bootstrapped. Now we will start looking at raising funds to fuel the expansion,” states Latha.