Vijay Srinivas Prativadi’s story began on a day when he was stuck at a traffic signal, and a poor kid came to him, begging. Vijay gave him a packet of biscuits. The boy could not read what was on the packet, so Vijay had to tell him that it was biscuits. The boy sat on the footpath and ate it, looking at the packet with interest.
“The incident touched me. I wondered, who decided what circumstances a child is born in? I made a silent commitment to myself that I will do something for kids, so that a child's circumstances would not stop him from coming up in life,” says Vijay, an advertising professional. While his aim is to bring quality education to underprivileged children, his initial endeavour is to get children more interested in their lessons.
But anyone who went to school will readily agree that the dullest part of formal education, at least in the primary classes, were the drab, dull textbooks.
Vijay came up with a way to keep the kids interested in their textbooks – by telling their lessons as stories. His venture Efundu, India’s first syllabus cartoons, conveys textbook lessons through cartoons, with the characters explaining the subject by interacting like children do.
“Why be serious about learning? A happy mind learns better” is Vijay’s motto. But over the years, school education has not changed much in India, while students have. Jyothi Thyagarajan, Founder, Meghshala Foundation, says: “Today’s children need a multi-sensory approach to learning because they are handling more information than the previous generations did. Otherwise, they miss a huge amount of information, which they cannot afford to.” The education expert has been analysing the content in Efundu since its inception.
“Most developed countries have more engaging activities for students, whereas India still follows the old chalk-and-talk method of teaching in government schools. “What is written on the blackboards are just facts. But what we do need to teach them is how to apply those facts in real life,” says Jyothi. According to her, getting children to think for themselves is key. “It’s a mechanical thing to look up and write down from the board. There is no story around a text book; we need the students to connect facts,” Jyothi adds.
The Indian national curriculum framework is quite advanced. The problem lies in implementation. With constant changes in governments and bureaucrats, even a great policy cannot make an impact. Alternative educational methods like Efundu can supplement the curriculum through innovation in the method of instruction.
Efundu tries to strike a balance between content from the CBSE & ICSE boards. “As state government schools are also now set to follow CBSE in Karnataka, we have taken NCERT as our base. Depending on teachers’ inputs, we refine the storyline and capture the essence,” says Vijay.
The pilot [launched in 2015] was based on NCERT’s Class 5 textbook on Environmental Studies ‘Looking Around’. The lessons are conveyed through Zyno, a friendly alien, who has all the answers for his friends little Inga and Mini. “We have to do a lot of designing for each lesson and crowdsource for stories,” says Jyothi. Renowned cartoonist B G Gujjarappa has designed the cartoons for Efundu.
Vijay believes that while one should love his/her mother tongue, accepting English as the professional language is essential. Efundu is experimenting with bilingual content. Vijay says, “Underprivileged children would find it easier to pick up English when the same content is narrated in their native language [like Kannada in Karnataka schools] next to each other.” The second book for Class 5, as well as a third book for Class 4, are expected to be ready by May 2016. Content will be available in English/Hindi and English/Kannada.
“Apart from the syllabus, we provide relevant information validated by our teacher partners Meghshala Foundation,” says Vijay. Efundu also works with Enfold India, an agency working against the sexual abuse of children, which has provided content on body safety rules for children through cartoons.
Efundu began as a CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiative by MSTQ Foundation, the registered trust of Tattva Q Life Labs. They also got an initial investment of $20,000 from Dr G.V. Iyengar, Adjunct Professor, Tufts University, US, and UN Staff (Learning & Capacity Development).
About 10,000 copies were distributed in 1,100 government schools during the 2015-16 academic year through NGOs such as the Akshaya Patra Foundation. The Shikshana Foundation, Dream School Foundation and the Parikrama Humanity Foundation have also cooperated with Efundu. But Vijay is now looking for investment, as CSR seems inadequate to scale up his venture. Efundu has been selling on Amazon for the past couple of months. The team of 12 also has more books and films on the anvil.
“Every entrepreneur’s idea is disturbing for the family till a VC calls it disruptive,” Vijay says. If all goes well, Efundu could just be the next big disruption in school education.