How his son’s dyslexia led this entrepreneur to start an AI-based platform for children with learning difficulties

Niranjan Swamy, CEO of healthcare logistics solutions provider MedApp, launched AttentionKart to offer specialised content for kids with learning difficulties and analytics for stakeholders to better understand their academic interests.

Many parents experience periods of stress, worry, and grief as they adjust to the demands of parenting a child with a learning difficulty. 

Mysore-based Niranjan Swamy’s own worry hit full stride when his son was in Class 1. Unable to fathom the ‘unusual’ behaviour — including crying, crankiness, and over-eating — Niranjan was told of his son’s issues during a parent-teacher meeting. 

He was having trouble reading and writing, and was unable to cope up with his peer group. His impressive oral vocabulary and earnest personality were no longer enough to distract from growing academic concerns.

“My son was caught crying and being cranky at school all the time. Apparently, his classmates and seniors kept calling him a cry baby and dumb. He couldn’t fit into the usual teaching style and was unable to understand basic concepts. In retrospect, my son was just a little guy going through a predictably disharmonious phase related to his learning struggles,” says Niranjan.  

Like any other parent, it took some time for him to understand his son’s need for special academic attention. More than his son being diagnosed with dyslexia, Niranjan was concerned about the lack of institutional and educational support for his child. 

Even as the family struggled, Niranjan was also getting increasingly concerned about his son’s YouTube addiction. He realised his son enjoyed watching short animation videos, learning concepts like the solar system, time, geometry, space, animals, aquatic species, among others.

Post the onset of the lockdown, Niranjan was called by his son’s school’s Principal who said that his son had not been promoted to the next standard. He had failed to clear his subjects, and had to drop out of school. 

Niranjan thought, “If only, someone could understand the requirements of my child and deliver specialised content to teach him.”  

This led to the inception of AttentionKart, a tech-based platform for kids with special needs. Using advanced AI capabilities and Machine Learning, the platform has developed two major offerings — special content for kids with learning difficulties and analytics for understanding them better. 

Launched in May 2021, the Mysore-based platform went live in September with over 150 short video-based content lessons. The bootstrapped startup has tied up with two schools and has onboarded around 250 students to provide special content to children, and analytics for stakeholders, including institutions, parents and therapists.

Niranjan was joined by Karthik R and Ranjana G as co-founders, and a team of partners including, Lokesh B R, Manikanta Swamy, Sunil M, and team member Shridhar

Snapshot of AttentionKart analytics portal

The AI teacher 

AttentionKart has developed an ‘AI teacher’ to deliver specialised content for children with learning difficulties (Dysgraphia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, among others) up to the age of 10 years. 

The platform uses the advanced STEAM concept of learning (an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking) and offers short videos of 4-5 minutes. 

As of now, it doesn’t create fresh content, but uses videos from open sources like YouTube, plugs into its platform, and redesigns and posts them. The videos are different from the typical animated or audiovisuals available on the internet and are redesigned with scientific research and development. The content could be as simple as understanding alphabets to learn about coding, geometry, space, light, species, among others. 

The second, and one of the major offerings is analytics. The platform uses deep learning concepts and advanced AI capabilities to derive analysis on a child's overall academic health and interest based on their time spent on the videos.  

For instance, it captures augmented expression reading, eye tracking, head position, and gaze tracking to draw analytics for parents, therapists, psychologists, educationists, and others to understand the needs of the child. 

It combines information about where their focus lies with insights and analytics to help parents better understand and provide personal attention in their areas of interest and challenges.

The platform can also track where the child is looking to determine the reason for disturbance and can notify parents about children not being attentive during the classes. 

AttentionKart dashboard

Business model 

The platform operates on a freemium model for now, and is focussing on getting more students to use it to train the algorithm. “We do not want to invest in generating fresh content as of now but focus on developing analytics and cloud-based infrastructure,” says the founder. 

“We have a strong team of data scientists, technology experts, and professionals. It took almost 11 months to develop the proprietary technology and build the platform. We are very proud of our R&D,” says Niranjan, who is also the CEO of healthcare logistics solutions provider MedApp. 

The founder, who rose from humble beginnings, used to sell coconut water with his father during his early days, and struggled his way to the top. 

Eventually, the startup aims to charge a one-time fee for the premium content, which it plans to develop in future. However, its major intimation would come from analytics — divided into Basic, Advance, and Premium categories with different charges, starting at Rs 199/month

This could be a possible three-way proposition between institutions, psychologists and therapists, and parents where the end goal is to help children understand and learn better. As an add on, AttentionKart aims to start advocacy groups in India to initiate discussion around learning difficulties among kids. 

Taking it mainstream 

There is a huge scope for specialised digital content for children with learning difficulties, which would eliminate the need for a physical teacher. This is important in two ways. One, there is a dearth of institutions that provide special/separate classes for such students, mostly leaving them on their own to comprehend everyday lessons. 

Individuals who have a learning difficulty may not learn in the same way or as quickly as their peers, and might find certain aspects of learning, such as the development of basic skills, challenging.

Second, it is important for parents and education providers to understand the needs of the child with learning difficulties, says the founder. 

Though a lot of edtech companies offer fun learning content on their platforms, they cannot be painted with the same brush for children with learning disabilities. The interest and requirements of such children must be understood to put them in the right direction and for their future growth. 

The analytics offering is, however, not restricted to children with learning difficulties but also for others who want to have a better understanding of their academic interests, explains Niranjan. 

The founder is looking to tie up with edtech platforms like BYJU'S, Unacademy, upGrad, and the likes, to plug in their AI-driven learning content, besides providing analytics for each student using the platform. 

“We will not turn into a content generation or an edtech company. Analytics will remain our mainstake. We are actively looking for external funding and developing our platform to reach as many users as possible,” he signs off. 

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Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta


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