SmartProjects and make-a-thons to make children self-learners – that’s this founder’s idea of ‘FutureReadyKids’
The Bengaluru-based startup encourages children to self-learn and helps them create toys to solve real-life problems.
As technology makes inroads in our daily lives, many fear it will take away jobs. Already, there is a higher supply than demand when it comes to skilled workers. ‘If this is the present, what of the future?’ - This question kept 42-year-old Rohith KN, a father of two, up at night. “I asked myself, ‘how do we get kids ready for the future?"
With this in mind, he started FutureReadyKids in 2014.
FutureReadyKids ties up with schools to encourage students to self-learn and create real-life problem-solving toys in line with their school syllabus. What’s more, it also helps children sell the toys they make on Amazon.
A telecommunications engineer, Rohith worked as Director of Innovation at OnMobile before taking over as the interim CEO of ThinkVidya. This was around when he was working on ideas to make children ‘ready for the future’. He went with the basic premise that doing is understanding, and while schools have been doing this for decades with assigning projects, high competition and lack of time often have parents complete the children’s projects with little thought on what a child really understood.
FutureReadyKids inculcates in children the habit of coming up with mental models on how things work through reading and discussions. After this, they have to ideate and build items or toys to explain and show what they learn.
The solution: SmartProjects
FutureReadyKids has designed SmartProjects for students from standard five to 10. Students undergo a 45-minute orientation and training to ‘self-learn'. Parents are also oriented to not help students with their projects.
"Children today have a lot of screen sense and can solve a lot of phone-related problems. However, they fumble with simple activities. SmartProjects helps inculcate a ‘daily sense’ or in other words, common sense," says Rohith.
FutureReadyKids assigns projects on topics from the school syllabus that are relevant to real life. Through a mobile application, a project is assigned to students on the first Monday of every month, except when children have exams.
"We assign 10 projects over the year. Our methodology is unique as it connects daily activities to the syllabus," says Rohith.
FutureReadyKids does not guide students through these projects.
"If you have a question, think up an answer and see if it works," says Rohith.
So, Social Studies can come with cooking, Mathematics with art and architecture, and Science with astronomy and even astrology. Children are also exposed to art history, stitching, and plumbing.
"Once students made a toy using syringes and M-Seal to understand plumbing," says Rohith.
Students work in groups of maximum three and the first level involves developing concepts using text books, encyclopaedia, information from the internet, and by talking to elders and experts. Subsequent levels focus on building toys using readily available materials. No kits are provided, and students have to use readily-available products only.
The seventh level is the highest and requires children to apply their learning in an unrelated context. "This is primarily intelligence," says Rohith.
Once the SmartProjects are completed, children participate in a summer-camp, also known as 'make-a-thon', where they find real life problems, use design thinking and invent products to solve these problems. Partner schools provide the space to conduct these workshops.
The best prototypes are selected to build a final product that is sold on Amazon.
TheFutureReadyKids team has already completed a round of SmartProjects and a make-a-thon at the St Joseph Boys High School in Bengaluru, and is looking to partner more schools.
Bootstrapped FutureReadyKids charges about one percent of the school fee, including taxes, for each child. About 40 percent of the revenue is spent on rewards and recognition to students.
Three products invented by FutureReadyKids –Bige (a bag for motorbikes), tie-once shoelace, and nylon waterproof bedsheet holder – are now sold on Amazon.in and FutureReadyKids gets a revenue share.
Selling the idea to schools was challenging. Says Rohith,
"Meeting with principals and doing the orientation was very tiring as schools' primary objective is the children getting grades."
Also, getting the students to think out of the box and invent a product was difficult. "It is not easy to change the parenting methods of individuals." Parents often tended to help children with their projects, making the entire idea redundant. To address this, Rohith says he started a parenting programme on 'how to parent to make your kids ready for future.' He conducted an online workshop for 220 employees of Accenture.
Lastly, selling students' inventions online is another challenge. "We have listed the inventions on Amazon, but it does not sell on its own," says Rohith.
According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, the Indian edtech market is pegged at $2 billion and is expected to reach $5.7 billion by 2020. Players like BYJU’S, Khan Academy, Notesgen, Magic Crate, AlmaMapper, Box of Science, Stuvia and ConceptOwl have already made a mark in the market.
At first glance, FutureReadyKids might look similar to kit providers like Magic Crate, Flinto Box or Box of Science, but what sets it apart is that instead of providing kits, it encourages children to make things themselves.
"We believe that cooking Maggie will not make you a cook. To be a cook, one has to work with the raw materials," says Rohith.
Rohith is looking to sell his idea to eight to 10 schools this year. He is also planning to sign up with corporates and playschool chains for the FutureReadyKids parenting programme. Besides this, Rohith is also focusing on increasing the sales of products in Amazon and help children earn money.