Episode 6: Can Technology Save Education?

I'm your host Nivi and this is get schooled, a podcast about American education.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook, can technology save education? I'm not really sure what I was expecting. But within the first hour of posting it, I got over 20 comments. They were all very interesting perspectives. But there was one that really stuck with me. There was a comment from a woman named RJ SAP. She posted. I've been a teacher for over 12 years now. And every time I use technology in the classroom, it broke

My heart as the kids would become isolated, glued to the screen, sedentary and forgetting about the real world. My husband and I quit our full time jobs to build Da Vinci club AR, an augmented reality experience that makes your child move and explore the real world. To me, that sounded so fascinating and honestly, kind of unreal, which is why I messaged RG and asked if we could get dinner. Right when I met her, I could tell that she was charming and passionate, and had this quality that made you believe that she really really cared about what she was doing. Her perspective as well as her product exceeded my wildest expectations. I was so blown away, and I knew I had to get her on the show.

How's it going? Hi, baby. I'm good. How are you? Awesome. Thanks so much.

much for being on Get Schooled. We're really excited to talk about how technology can save education and all the amazing work that you've done. I'm excited to be here. How did you as an entrepreneur decide to even get into a topics such as education? Yeah, that's that's a, that's literally a story of my life.

So I'm going to be as concise as possible. I was in high school in India, when I realized that people were either becoming doctors or engineers or lawyers. And yet, in a country like India, even when you have degrees, you were not getting jobs. 30 somethings in this so I was like, What can we do to actually get these people who have degrees, the right jobs, so that they can actually break down the cycle of poverty and get some money into the bank and start earning something and get some validation and that was the time I was 16. My mom and I co founded a school in India, and I started training people to get

least a basic job. That's amazing. Yeah. And then your journey kind of took you to the United States to San Francisco where we are. Yeah, that that's an interesting point in my life, when I realized that if I'm running a school in India, I can only reach a number of kids, you know that the number is said, I cannot be reaching more than that. And that is when I started thinking, I cannot be present everywhere one can be president, that answer was technology. That is what can scale and reach 250 million kids around the world who have no access. And when you have to think about technology, I want you to get the best when you think about best technology, think of Silicon Valley. And this was a time when I started talking to this person who worked at Zynga a gaming company, and he was building games and he said, you're doing some inspirational work in India. He saw me on Facebook, like, I want to help and it was literally the timing was perfect. I was like, Okay, great. I know how to

Teach and build curriculum, you know how to do technology stuff at that time, I had no idea what it would entail. And let's do this together. We fell in love online, got married nine months later I was in the US. That's such an amazing story that technology bringing people to really, after this whole journey of what point are you at right now? What are you building? Yeah, so currently, I'm the co founder of equally equally is a public benefit corporation. Our mission is to give equal education and opportunities to everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean the child who has the best and the child who has nothing. So we created our first product called Da Vinci Code AR, which is an augmented reality experience that teaches the kids from around them and it actually makes them move and calculates the steps that they're taking. So the whole idea was great technology should not make children addicted to a screen into a spot

You should be physically moving and learning from their own things. So what are the ways that these students can learn from their environments? That's a great question. So it's basically an intelligent camera. It's Pokemon Go for learning. So kids are going around and taking pictures of things that they like. And our algorithm recognizes what those things are, and gives them information. So let's say if they took a picture of a remote control, it's going to say it's remote control. What is a remote control? What is it made off? What are the things related to your phone to open up Da Vinci club AR.

When she opens the app, the first thing she shows me is this character who's a monkey. This is a pretty silly looking monkey. He's got blue hair, and an outfit of his own. She tells me, the kids love customizing their pet monkeys. That's what they really enjoy earning points for and that's basically why they love being on this app.

Then she

So the top of the screen, there's these things that look kind of like gold coins. And she says, This is basically how they earn points. They can do it in two ways. They can get points by walking. So the app essentially counts steps that they've taken, or they can earn points by learning from the world around them.

At that point, I was like, Okay, how do they use this app to learn from the world around them? That's a pretty tall order. Then she shows me the camera aspect of the app.

she clicks on the camera and takes a picture of the table that we're sitting at. at this table. There's a white tablecloth, with a coffee mug, my cell phone and a red rose on it. She takes a picture and it processes for a second and then almost magically, words appear on the screen. Over my coffee mug, it said the word cup and over the rose. It said flower

She went on to show me that this could work basically anywhere. She took a few more pictures around the room, even in darker corners, and everything worked perfectly. For one of them. It even popped up the word darkness. I was so impressed with what da Vinci club was doing. And honestly, I was also pretty jealous of the kids who get to use this awesome app as both a toy and a mechanism for learning so much cool information. But then I thought cool technology like this comes with a price tag. Your company's mission is to give this experience to students regardless of their economic background. How do you think technology can do that? Given that you know, it's not always like the tech pieces and always accessible to everyone? Yeah, that's that's a really a valid point. And that is why we have begun to partner with big corporation.

We're going to actually help us bring technology. I'll give you an example. We became one of the semi finalists for the Global Learning X PRIZE that was sponsored by Google and Elon Musk. And it was a $15 million prize to build technology for kids who have no access where Google and Elon Musk, they envision the whole thing that will get the technology, can you bring the right content for these kids? Wow. And we became the content partners. So we keep looking for such corporations who want to actually take technology to the kids, and we become their content partners, and we get that product. Living in San Francisco, I'm sure one of the things you must have noticed is there's kids and families of various different backgrounds. So can you tell me a little bit more about your experience with actually trying to distribute this product?

This this this

experience that I would love to share with you actually, because coming from India and how the problem is only in India and the

Education and people are poor, they're not getting education. And when I moved here, I was really passionate that I wanted to do something for India. But the moment we started making a prototype so early on, we couldn't keep going back and forth. Yeah, so I started going to public school systems in San Francisco. And one incident literally changed everything, like the whole trajectory. And that is when I started thinking about global education. There's this school in San Francisco and it's a low income school and then they're to pilot and we did our pilot kids loved it. And then we told the principal about you know, this entire program and we're going to give their kids this tool that they are going to be able to access and learn from and the principles are No, you cannot pilot your Hmm. And I was like, why? And she said you're going to pilot your and then sell it to the rich. My kids just would not get it at the end of the day. And that is when it told me you know, it reminded me there is so much of inequality here.

San Francisco that I have to build a solution from there, you know, I am right now instead of giving it somewhere else. Yeah. Do you end up like talking to that principal more about what her concerns or with that? Yeah, yeah. So she said most of the startups, they build tools, and they prototype with us, we give them feedback, and then they start selling it to other schools for making money. And that is when I realized that we need to be giving this free of cost to low income schools so that there is no barrier of budgets, or na. So this is completely free for nonprofits or low income schools anywhere in the world, including San Francisco. One concern that a lot of teachers and maybe even parents have about technology is screen time, you know, and you mentioned that your tools, getting kids out in the world, but can you describe more about what the reaction to that has been from teachers and parents? Yeah, yeah. So my background has been in education because I started school and I

Every time I was using technology in classroom, it wouldn't break my heart because the kid would be isolated, disconnected from the world be passive. Forget about everything else. Yeah, that's not how kids should be kids should be heard and they should be jumping and interacting. So I have built this product from the perspective of a teacher, that how the child should be moving. But now when I gave my baby individually, to moms and other teachers, I was like, wait a minute, are they going to really see that aspect? And I just finished a call before this interview with one of our moms said, I have not seen my daughter with the device and moving around, you know, you actually helped me get rid of the moms guilt that I have every time I get technology. So it's like I had goosebumps when that happened. But when you get to hear moms say things like that, there are so many moms sharing images of their kids on Instagram who are moving and walking and you know, they're not just hold on to something

With the next bend, and this is really special, and I love how it has been received. And I think, yay.

That's really awesome. I can see like, I see kids all the time that are hooked on to their iPad or whatever. And I that's actually one of the reasons why I wanted to do this episode is to understand, you know, how technology can help education versus heard it. So, as you've been talking to these parents and these teachers and getting this feedback, what are some common factors that you think makes the most successful technology the most successful educational technology? Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of things that can make educational technology successful. One is understanding what your customer needs. And even before that, who your customer is. A lot of us are building things just for parents and we forget about kids or just for teachers and you forget about parents. So

We need to understand when you're building something that is going to be a learning experience, there are probably three main stakeholders. One is a teacher, and one is a parent and then the child, right, a product has to be seamless and intuitive for all those three stakeholders. And you know, that's why we have the Edu version where we actually give lesson plans to teachers according to the things that they want to teach in class, so they don't have to spend time figuring out an app and seeing Oh my god, what do I teach? Now I have to build a lesson around this. And teachers are already busy. The same thing with parents parents have no idea what what is happening on technology with their kids. So we give them reports on their physical activity car can move these many steps, and this is the information they're unlocking. As for the child, we are competing with brands like fortnight and other games, where kids are so engaged and they want to keep coming back so we had to build something that is really fun so that kids keep coming back into find it cool.

One feedback. parents loved it. Teachers love that they were seeing the reports they were seeing how engaged the kids were. One kid comes up to I'm sure my co founder says that this is great. Can you make something fun?

And you know, that hurt him really bad because he's from a games background, like, Oh, my God doesn't know. Why am I doing? We went back to the drawing board. So we've gone through those pivots A lot of times, and we've been told a lot of times that your baby's ugly, but that's the whole point of you know, running a startup. Yeah, be so close to your consumer be so close to your customer and keep testing it. And and now that we've started seeing those signs of product market fit, it is really amazing because it's not just for the kid, not just for the parent, not just for the teachers for the entire ecosystem, that it is going to solve the problem.

This episode of Get Schooled was made possible of course, by

the incredible

female founders community on Facebook

and myself.

Thank you for listening. To see more features on other ed tech founders and the work they're doing, check out our website soapbox project.org

as well as all of our social media. On Instagram, we're at soapbox project

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Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Nivi Achanta