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TBI Blogs: Does Your Child Have Poor Reading or Math Skills? This New Learning App Can Help.

mGuru is a learning app for K-5 students, focusing on English and Math. The app provides an interactive learning journey for children, with the explicit aim of accelerating learning outcomes in an engaging way. mGuru is using stories from StoryWeaver on their English app.

From Archimedes to Newton, from inventors to entrepreneurs, that fleeting flash of inspiration is what generates great ideas, makes human progress, and keeps the world moving forward.

For Adam Korakhiwala, founder of the K-5 learning app, mGuru, his “Eureka!” moment came in the form of a grim statistic in the 2014 Annual Status of Education (ASER) report, “Only one-in-four Class V students can read basic English sentences.”

At the time, Adam was a student of Public Policy with a minor in Computer Science at Stanford University. “I read the report as a Public Policy student, but when I started thinking about how I could be a part of the solution to a problem like this, my background in Computer Science kicked in,” shares Adam, founder of mGuru, a Mumbai-based ed-tech startup aimed at the K-12 sector of students in urban, peri-urban, and rural India.

“I remember thinking how affordable smartphones were becoming and reaching so many households and people in India, and that very soon, all families would have the world’s collective knowledge in their pockets. That thought was the starting point for the idea that is now mGuru.”

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Members of the mGuru team say cheese!

Armed with his degree, Adam returned to India with the idea to use mobile technology to help improve literacy and numeracy skills of children, “The first thing I did was spend time in classrooms as a silent observer to study teacher interactions and student responses. I wanted to understand how different stakeholders in schools felt about education, so I extensively interviewed students, teachers, parents, and NGO leaders to get as holistic a view as possible.”

After spending months at the Educo-run BMC Sai Baba Path School, Mumbai and classrooms in Akanksha and Teach for India schools, Adam’s seed of an idea began to germinate. He put together a team using “hustle and passion” by posting on LinkedIn and techie job boards.

mGuru is a mobile learning app for K-5 students, focusing on English and Math. The apps provide an interactive learning journey for children, with the explicit aim of accelerating learning outcomes in an engaging way. The vision of mGuru is to package the best learning practices and research into a platform for the masses, so that any child can have the tools to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills.

“We aim to significantly increase learning outcomes at scale, and we hope to build a platform that delivers that.” avers Adam.

While smartphone penetration is on the upswing across India, the mGuru team is cognizant of other infrastructural issues related to internet connectivity that much of the country still faces, “The apps function largely without internet, and are designed to work as well on low-end smartphones as they do on high-end devices.”

Once the initial prototype of the application was ready, the team tested it with 100 Class III and IV public school students in Mumbai. “Our team would go in every week to see how children were reacting to the app, what they liked, what they ignored…and then every week we would go back and incorporate those learnings into the app,” remembers Adam.

After multiple rounds of tinkering, and a complete redesign to be more “pedagogically sound and engaging for kids”, the mGuru app was officially released in August, 2016.

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Students using mGuru on tablets in the classroom.

mGuru’s English app is particularly successful with children as it gamifies the learning process. Within mGuru English, there is a reward system in the form of mangoes. By completing various activities, Manu the monkey collects mangoes, which the child can then use as currency to purchase stories to read available on the app. All these stories are from StoryWeaver, an online digital repository of multilingual children’s stories from Pratham Books.

“I first read about StoryWeaver when the platform was launched,” Adam says. “At the time, we were looking for stories to include in the English app that were fun and engaging for children to read, along with being culturally relevant to them. StoryWeaver offers all this, and the biggest bonus is that since the stories are openly licensed and in open formats, we can use them for free and in different ways on the app, with subtitles and audio elements that we have built in-house.”

The stories have been immensely popular with the students. Teach For India Fellow Vishal DB says, “The English app keeps students across all reading levels engaged. The app’s child-friendliness, the interesting stories, and the novelty of the tabs keep the students hooked.”

While the stories are in English, the child can read the story in another language they are more fluent in. Currently, mGuru English teaches English via Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, and Hindi. However, they plan to expand this to integrate more major Indian languages such as Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Urdu. “The stories from StoryWeaver have already been read 45,000 times by students who have done over 185,000 activities!” Adam shares enthusiastically.

The stories offered are regularly updated so that children always have something new to read and enjoy.

mGuru has partnered with NGOs such as Teach for India, Akanksha, and Yuva Unstoppable. The app is currently used by 17,000 students all over India, and contains 185,000 activities.

The team measures impact by looking at various statistics such as the time students spend on the app. They also measure how often they return, the number of stories they read, and improvements in the scores of students.

“During research, we learned that almost all students in the schools we visited went for ‘tuitions’ after school. This showed that parents wanted to improve their child’s learning. If parents were willing to pay anywhere between Rs. 300-600 for tuition, then we felt they might be willing to pay an affordable Rs. 30 per month for our app. We reach out to parents to tell them about, and help download, the app at school PTAs. So far we have had a very positive response from them,” shares Adam.

An enthusiastic parent from Sai Baba Path Public School, Mumbai, shares, “Sir, pichhle do din se mere dono bachhe app ko chhod hi nahin rahe hain. Baki game khelna toh unhone band hi kar diya hai, badi baat yeh hai ki woh hamare bina bhi sab istamal karna seekh gaye hain. Hum se jyaada mobile ke baare mein unhein pata hai!” (“Sir, both my kids have been using the app for the last two days. Not only have they stopped playing other games, more surprisingly, they are using it without our help. Now they know more about the mobile than us!”)

mGuru is also experimenting with other novel ways of getting their app into the hands of more children.

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Students share tablets and play games, and help Manu the Monkey get mangoes.

Starting next month, they are tying up with a Kolkata bakery chain, where each bakery will also “distribute” mGuru. “Every time someone shops at the bakery, they’ll get three weeks free access to the mGuru English app. We’ll have someone there to help them download the app and do a demo if needed. If this pilot works, we will look at ways to replicate this in other geographies,” Adam reports.

The team has exciting future plans, including a math component, adding more languages, and videos and diverse activities. “Everyone on the team is passionate and wants to bring great educational technology to any child, anywhere,” shares Adam.

The mGuru app is available as a free download for Android users on the Google Play Store.

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Written by Pratham Books

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Pratham Books is a not-for-profit publisher of children's books with a mission to see 'a book in every child's hands.' StoryWeaver is an open source digital repository of multilingual children's stories from Pratham Books.