If you give kids an option of not going to school, they will happily take it. Is this is a problem with kids or the newer generation? Surely, we would all agree that, that’s not the case. The problem lies in the way education and learning is approached. While the issue is being addressed at the global level, and there are initiatives going on in India as well, we have only just begun. First, though, we have to start with the process of unlearning.
This is where Kitki comes in. Started by a Pramod Ponnaluri and Rohini Deepthi Natti, a husband and wife team from BITS, Pilani, Kitki wants to change the perception of learning. “We believe learning is an absolutely fascinating experience, and at Kitki, we find ways to let children realise that,” says Pramod. And Kitki is starting to do this through the use of innovative board games.
The genesis of the idea came from Pramod. As a child he hated going to school. “I was one of those kids who hardly paid attention in class. And when it came to tests and exams, I used to memorise the textbooks and regurgitate them during the tests. No one really cared, as long as I was getting good grades,” he says. Only when he started working did he realize the beauty of learning. This is because when he started using some of the things he had earlier memorized he had some difficulty. “I wished that I could go back to school and learn all over again, but this time with a renewed sense of appreciation for learning,” he says.
Just so that more kids don’t face the same situation, and have a chance of discovering the joy learning, Pramod, along with his wife Rohini, started Kitki. “While I usually handle game ideation and mechanics, Rohini takes care of bringing them to life with thought provoking artwork. The core team is still just the two of us, though we often take help from interns and volunteers. For helping us with ideas and plans, we have our mentor, Kavikrut, who, incidentally, happens to be a Harvard graduate,” says Pramod. The journey has not been easy, though.
To validate their idea for Three Sticks, their board game on geometry, the duo created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. “The platform's international popularity enabled us get feedback from all corners of the world. Getting the campaign going took some time,” says Rohini. They spent sleepless nights writing about the campaign on social media, board game reviews, blogs, etc. Finally, they finished the 30-day marathon successfully – they raised over $11,000 and got more than 200 pre-orders from over 15 countries. “We ended up learning a lot about how to spread the word about our games. We got great response and support from like-minded people – people we would not have otherwise met had we not run the campaign,” says Rohini. Kitki has recently shipped the pre-orders, and have even started receiving some positive feedback about the game.
So far, Kitki has designed three games. Three Sticks is based on geometry, Operation Escape E.V.I.L. is based on chemistry, and Samrat is on Indian history. Creating the three games, prototyping and play-testing them, and maturing the game mechanics through multiple iterations took them over a year. Manufacturing, as expected, has been another challenge - figuring out the right partners for plastics, paper and cardboard, boxes and packaging material was not easy. It took some time, but fortunately for Kitki, they found all the necessary vendors and raw materials in Hyderabad, where they are based. Proximity to the manufacturing facilities ensured that they could constantly check on the quality issues. As far as distribution is concerned, the duo is looking to market these games through both online and offline channels. “Our game on geometry, Three Sticks, is already available on Amazon and eBay. We will soon also be selling through branded toy/book stores such as Hamleys, Crossword, Landmark, etc. We also have a plan to approach schools directly - as a secondary distribution channel,” says Pramod. Since Kitki has already tested the interest in the international market, they are in talks with some potential partners who might take up the distribution rights for the US market.
It is good to see path-breaking efforts like these find validation. Madrat Games, an upcoming Bangalore based startup that has done some phenomenal work with board games and education, has also raised funding from the Founders of Flipkart and are now planning to go international. Geeky Buddha Games is another startup in the arena. Such initiatives are a good supplement to the efforts of the alternative schooling sector that is looking to present education differently. Schools such as Rishi Valley, Isha Foundation, Coveda, etc., are leading the way in this vision.
At Kitki, the team is excited about how well their games have turned out. “Once we streamline the sales and marketing channels, we look forward to making more such games on a wide range of concepts - from academic subjects to career choices to global issues,” says Pramod. The vision is to completely change the perception of learning, a few years down the line. The duo also has a dream to start game-based, experiential learning centers, where kids, and even adults, can have fun, experiment, and learn through innovative activities. Who knows they may even be able to solve some problems in the real world.