These flashcards teach kids how to process their emotions as they learn the alphabet
In 2021, edtech apps are not new.
However, most of them aim to address the cognitive development of young ones. What of their social and emotional skills? Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) has always been sidelined and as children retreated behind devices en masse during the pandemic, it was further relegated to the backburner.
Hyderabad-based Drishti Goenka, Mental Health Practitioner and founder of online mental health portal Journey Matters, is attempting to change this with the launch of her unique flashcards called the A-Z of You and Me.
“Managing a class full of three-something-year-olds can be very challenging. There is a dearth of well-trained teachers in India. Ages 3-6 are foundational years not only for academics but also social-emotional development. Children learn through observation and modelling. When children don’t understand their own feelings or are unable to express their thoughts, they exhibit behaviours that can become difficult to manage.
“Our flashcards aim to help teachers build social-emotional competencies of children by equipping them with tools needed to foster growth in the classroom,” says Drishti in a chat with YS Weekender.
Drishti trained as a mental health professional at NTU Singapore, and has been working in the field of mental health and education for over seven years. She was introduced to SEL as a concept five years ago and was immediately hooked. This led her to spearhead the wellbeing department for a group of educational institutions and design a nation-wide SEL program with a focus on student suicide prevention.
Drishti is also trained in developing guidance curricula for international schools, focusing on the integration of cross-cultural elements.
“When the world was hit with COVID-19, I had to let go of my job so I could be with my family. In that time, I decided to set out on my own and launch Journey Matters in February 2021. It started out as counselling sessions. As I went along, I gathered the courage to bring together like-minded people to design our first ever product,” she shares.
The A-Z of You and Me flashcards depend heavily on how they are facilitated with children. There is an SEL word corresponding to every alphabet, defined in a child-friendly manner, accompanied by an illustration of an explanatory situation, and rounded off with a reflective prompt for the adult to ask the child at the end.
The product aims to give teachers, parents, and caregivers all the information they need to ensure the child has understood the word.
Drishti also plans to launch an open source YouTube channel with more facilitation ideas for these cards, with content of two to three minutes for each alphabet.
She explains, “We started out calling it the A-Z of Me but then realised that all the words we chose depict not just the self but also the self in relation to others. This is how the A-Z of You and Me was finalised.”
How it works
Currently, the products can be ordered directly from the journeymatters.co.in website, but Drishti plans to tie up with third-party retailers soon.
When asked about direct competitors, Drishti says, “There are some great learning products out there, but none that focus on alphabets. The most unique thing about my product is the sheer simplicity of the concept. Every child learns the alphabet. All this while, educators and parents were teaching A for Apple without much thought.
"Why can’t we capitalise on this basic learning and make it a more meaningful experience for children? It builds on the child’s social-emotional vocabulary, which will help them understand themselves better and connect with people as well.”
The product focuses on normalising the concept of talking about feelings, makes children more empathetic and compassionate, and helps them form healthy relationships. Drishti quotes definitive research showing that an introduction of SEL at an early childhood level “significantly reduces the possibility of future mental-health related concerns”.
Her product is well suited for children of ages four and above. There is, however, no upper limit because the age when the child is introduced to English is different in every school. She points out that no matter the age of the learner, the illustrations and language used are appropriate for the youngest lot.
The process of finalising the words was a complicated one. The illustrator, content head, and Drishti went through a ‘word dump’ exercise, and shortlisted three to four words for each alphabet. Then, they sent out a Google form to educators and parents with young children asking them which would be most suitable.
“We finalised all the words based on their responses. Of course, parents and educators can certainly go ahead with more words for each letter. It needn’t be restricted to what we have chosen.
"The idea is to kickstart such conversations between the adult and child. When our app is developed, there will be an option to add as many SEL words to their repository as and when they are exposed to them,” she explains.
The products are available pan-India and can be shipped internationally as well.
Challenges and growth
According to a report published in marketsandmarkets.com, the global Social and Emotional Learning market size is expected to grow from $2 billion in 2021 to $5.6 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 22.7 percent during the forecast period. The report also says that countries in the APAC region, such as Australia and New Zealand (ANZ), Japan, China, Singapore, and India, will witness the strongest growth in this sphere.
Hence, Drishti’s venture is well timed. She began Journey Matters earlier this year with a rough initial investment of Rs 5,00,000.
However, she has faced challenges as well. “I’m new to the business world; more specifically, I’m new to the product business world. I have had to learn on the go. In so many meetings, I have gone blank, especially when people use business acronyms and I secretly need to google them!” she says.
Drishti Goenka says her company's flashcards aim to help teachers build social-emotional competencies of children
“It is in these challenges that I learn the most. I have always thrived when I’m out of my comfort zone. I do go through my moments of self-doubt. I thoroughly enjoyed the design process of the product and believe very strongly in our concept. However, I doubt my ability to market the product well and do justice to it. I am trying every day to read up on best practices and talk to people in the field.”
Drishti plans to expand by curating the product in regional languages, in line with the NEP 2020, which states that early childhood education should be focusing on native languages. She also plans to work on a few foreign languages.
“I’m also designing an interactive app version of this product, which would help it reach more people, hopefully reducing the need to manufacture a physical product,” Drishti signs off.