This Chennai-based startup is enabling students to love mathematics till the last digit of Pi

Founded by Alamelu Kathiresan and Shalini Ilanahai in 2017, Math Love offers students with an innovative curriculum filled with games and activities to bolster their numerical learning.

How many times have we heard students say – ‘I am not good at mathematics’, ‘solving equations gives me nightmares’, ‘I fear numbers’ and so on?

It is not infrequent. One of the main reasons behind this is the lack of conceptual understanding of the subject, as well as the absence of constructive tutelage. Two young and spirited individuals, Alamelu Kathiresan (28) and Shalini Ilanahai (31), decided to bridge this gap through their intervention, Math Love. 

Shalini Ilanahai (left) and Alamelu Kathiresan (right), Co-founders, Math Love.

Founded in 2017, the Chennai-based startup focusses on providing schools with innovative curriculums inclusive of props, games, and learning material to promote holistic numerical learning. Not only does the duo train teachers to resort to experiential techniques of pedagogy, but they also promote a better learning environment for students to gain a grasp on mathematical concepts. 

“During our stint as teachers, both Shalini and I observed that many students either disliked the subject of mathematics or feared it. We wanted to take this head-on. Math Love was formed to ensure that every child engages with numbers in a fun and fruitful manner,” says Alamelu Kathiresan, Co-founder, Math Love.

Over the last two years, the startup has helped more than 460 students across three schools in Chennai. Though initially bootstrapped, Math Love is presently being incubated and mentored as part of the Teach For India’s InnovatED initiative.  

The genesis 

The co-founders, Alamelu and Shalini, did not belong to the field of academia initially. Alamelu completed her computer engineering from Sri Krishna College, Coimbatore, and went on to work as a techie in multiple companies. Shalini pursued a degree in biotechnology and then moved to journalism. 

A workshop being held by Math Love in Chennai.

The duo’s passion for spreading knowledge led them to take up the Teach for India fellowship. They became acquainted with each other when they began teaching at the Corporation Girls Higher Secondary School, Nungambakkam, Chennai. While teaching a set of 80 odd primary grade students, Alamelu and Shalini realised that a lot of them had an aversion towards mathematics, and they thought of it to be rocket science. 

“Both of us discussed the issue at length and even came up with different solutions to resolve it. One of them was exposing students to the subject through activities like gaming and story-telling. To our surprise, in three months, we noticed that their grasp of many concepts improved. To take this enjoyable and holistic model ahead, we launched our startup – Math Love,” recalls Alamelu.

Rewriting and decoding mathematics  

Math Love is attempting to address three key challenges at the primary school level – disengagement with numbers, gaps in foundational mathematic skills, and lack of practical understanding of the subject. The startup has introduced a learning model that includes interactive learning material, numerical board games, and workbooks to help the students. 

Students playing one of the board games designed by Math Love.

“Most children between the grades of one and six love participating in games and classroom activities. Hence, a learning model that can integrate this involved a high chance of engagement and collaboration. With the help of seven to eight part-time employees, we have built customised board games and tool kits that teachers can use to teach mathematical concepts and promote critical thinking among children,” explains Shalini Ilanahai, Co-founder, Math Love.

While the design and development of the learning tool kit are done in-house, Math Love has outsourced its production to a third party. 

Shalini and Alamelu training teachers to make Mathematics fun.

The duo engages in approaching different government and public schools to integrate the startup’s model, and in turn, charges a one-time fee of Rs 35,000. Each of Math Love’s kit consists of 20 board games that cover at least 10 basic numerical concepts, four sets of workbooks, and teaching materials each. At present, three schools including Stella Marys Nursery and Primary Matriculation School, Tondiarpet, St. Antony’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Tiruvottiyur and Corporation Girls Higher Secondary School, Nungambakkam,  have adopted it. 

“We also engage teachers in a two-day training workshop once they adopt our model. During the course, Alamelu and I try to acquaint them with different techniques they can use to integrate Math Love’s games and storytelling activities in their pedagogy. We follow this up with monthly feedbacks and assessments,” notes Shalini. 

The startup is planning to spread its wings and reach out to more than 10 schools in 2020. The duo has also collaborated with non-profit organisations like Pratham and Vidya Vidhai to achieve this goal. 

Ousting the fear of numbers 

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2018 highlighted various learning gaps of students who are in Class 3 of their schooling. It stated that almost 70 percent of them did not have basic arithmetic skills.

Shalini and Alamelu talking to students at school.

Twelve-year-old P Nivedha used to be among those students. 

“Nivedha’s eyes hovered over the chequered map. She rolled the dice, grabbed her coin, and effortlessly moved her hand over the board. Squeals of laughter followed. The mood of celebration was in the air and her friends threw her high fives. That moment was priceless for us. She had conquered her fear of mathematics. We wanted as many students as possible to experience this,” Shalini recalls. 

Rashmi, a Class 6 teacher of Corporation Higher Secondary School in Pudumanaikuppam has been using the Math Love kit for the last year and is all praises for it.

“The ease and simplicity of the games provided by the startup have enabled my students to understand the nuances and rationale behind various mathematical concepts. I am really happy to have incorporated it in my teaching,” she says. 

(Edited by Suman Singh)