Ravi Shankar strives to bring about disruptive innovations in education through BrainSTARS

BrainSTARS is a Bangalore-based entity, dedicated to fostering and nurturing the movement of science, math and skills education in India. It bridges the gap between formal education sector and innovative educational research by continuously exploring the requirements of contemporary science, math and skills education in five environments – school, college, professional science/math education, community science/math literacy and government policies. Highly qualified, trained and sensitive facilitators are the backbone of the organisation. BrainSTARS solutions provide high quality learning experience for children between four and 18 years in well integrated, interdisciplinary, activity-based science/math/skills ecology. They are adaptable to the needs of children, wherever they live. BrainSTARS approach is guided by 5Cs (Curiosity, Clarity, Competence, Connectivity and Communication) through which it encourages children to create their own knowledge with information provided at home, school and the larger environment.

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The vision, under the leadership of Ravi Shankar, the CEO of BrainSTARS is to bring about disruptive innovations in education, both nationally and globally, and create for the next generation of children and teachers, solutions that enable them to enjoy learning and facilitate teaching in a seamless, interdisciplinary manner.  To this end, his focus is in the areas of research and development, design and execution of products and programs that will aid children, parents and teachers; align with national policies on education, and be ahead of the current education landscape in scope and expanse.

Ravi’s personal philosophy – looking forward, learning from history and being in the present – reflects well in the workplace as he goes about quietly achieving his goals/milestones – leading the company with a strong vision and building the capability to execute flawlessly.  His core belief and emphasis lies in the power of ideas: ideas, when executed meticulously and with passion that will transform the education movement in India.

Ravi comes with valuable industry experience of building and leading large organisations. Over the last couple of years, he has been spear-heading research-based disruptive innovations to improve science and maths education in schools. In this regard, he has conceptualised experiential learning and the 5C methodology-based approach towards creating a unique interdisciplinary math Activity Centre – NumberNagar. Being a passionate learner of math himself, Ravi has singularly mapped vast school curricula frameworks of the various School Boards to NumberNagar, making it fully compliant with the prescribed math syllabi from standards 3-8.Prior to his stint as CEO BrainSTARS, Ravi has 13 years of management experience at IT giant Wipro, heading the IT Transformation Program (over $ 500 million in revenues) leading a culturally diverse team of 400+ professionals across various geographic locations.  While the very successful stint at Wipro allowed him to bring about deep transformations that made a mark on Wipro’s employees, partners and customers – and allowed him the opportunity to scale new heights in personal achievements – Ravi’s thirst to have a larger canvas on which to impact societal transformation at large – was still seeking a platform to manifest.

Of the three areas of choice – wherein Ravi felt he could make an impact i.e., Education, Infrastructure and IT, he picked Education as the domain where his mission could be fulfilled – of creating a strong and financially viable organization that had an expansive and deep social relevance.

ImageIn a free-wheeling chat, Ravi Shankar speaks about the various concepts and innovations of BrainSTARS and how they would eventually help the student community to Jayashankar Menon.

JM:  Can our children’s math educational experience be directly related to the city they live in?

RS: This question is fundamentally and intrinsically woven into the essence of the space plug-in created by BrainSTARS called NumberNagar. The entrenched math phobia in many of us makes us look for stop-gap solutions. For instance, we enroll our children for tuitions or short courses where they will be taught how to tackle math – fast counting, quick problem solving, multiple tests and more. We have never allowed ourselves to imagine that our children deserve to enjoy the beauty and ideas of math by letting them discover that math animates the world around us in a playful, stimulating way. The creators of NumberNagar asked these very same questions and a multi-disciplinary think-tank comprising of artists, pedagogues, scientists, academicians, math experts, architects etc put their heads together and worked together over 10 months – to birth the space solution called NumberNagar – A Maths Activity Centre.

How does a fruit vendor arrange all his fruits in different layers that never seem to fall off his cart? When we keep telling our children to have a balanced diet, what learning in proportions and percentage are we giving them?  Does the traffic signage have something to do with geometry? Can license plate numbers of buses, cars, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws tell something about squares, cubes, or the wonderful irrational number pi? Is festival shopping, when shops outdo each other with their discount sales, a time for our children to learn something captivating about the infinite range of decimal numbers?

The NumberNagar space plug-in addresses these same questions through the prism of BrainSTARS’ 5C approach – Curiosity, Clarity, Competence, Connectivity and Communication – to make maths learning a rich, immersive experience for our children and connects it to our cultural and social life.

JM: Can you elaborate on NumberNagar?

RS: At NumberNagar, to impart this unusual math learning experience, the activities are hands-on wherein the learner’s real life experiences play a big role in understanding math concepts, the manipulative designed is learner-friendly, creative and safe and allows them to explore mat without any fear, and the space itself in which they learn math embodies the city they live in and triggers interesting ways of learning, encouraging the learner to share/collaborate in groups and listen to each other for feedback and insights on the mathematical concepts they are learning.

Besides aiding and empowering the learner in the arena of math learning, NumberNagar enables the teacher to be highly imaginative with the activity space, empowering the initiation of creative activities (outside of the workbook), and allows the teacher to come up with take-home activities that reinforces new learning and connects to the child’s environment.

NumberNagar is indeed an unprecedented practice in math learning where the experience of the learner is at the centre of the practice. It is a practice that enables teachers to have the time, empathy, creativity, imagination, skills and tools to engage with the child in a unique exploration of math. It is a practice that enriches what a child is learning in the classroom in order to understand math as an interdisciplinary science.

JM: Can you talk about the achievements?

RS: NumberNagar math lab was launched on December 22, 2012. The launch date coincided with the celebration of 2012 being declared as the ‘Mathematical Year’ by the Prime Minister,  Manmohan Singh and  also 125th birth anniversary of the mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan. NumberNagar solution presented to 50+ schools across India and was acknowledged as the only innovative experiential solution in math Learning. NumberNagar solution presented to the various school boards CBSE/NCERT/NUEPA. NumberNagar solution was recognised by Army Public School, Shillong.  NumberNagar solution was also implemented two key school chains across the country:  Sree Vani International School and GD Goenka School. NumberNagar solution is under discussion for implementation in two large group schools across India. School Satisfaction rating of 4.5 out of 5 received from one of the first implementations of NumberNagar. Education World, India’s leading magazine in Education field, covered NumberNagar in July 2013, while Franchise India – India’s No.1 Brands Management Organisation awarded NumberNagar for the ‘Business Idea of the Year’. NumberNagar is being actively pursued by schools in UAE and Africa.

JM: Also talk about the current transformation and new innovations seen in the Education sector…

RS: Current innovation in Education sector has larger affinity to technology based innovations. Majority of the innovations are expected to be in the similar lines.

JM: In the interim budget 2014 higher fund allocation was made for the social sector, with focus on rural education, food, women and rural masses.  What is your take on the same?

RS: Rural education is where our future lies. Funds in this sector should enable partnerships with organisations like ours to develop and sustain model schools.

JM: Birth of ‘edupreneurs’ – a franchise opportunity for those who want to bring value add into the education sphere, what is your comment?

RS: Alternate career is the talk of the town. Sections of mature sectors like IT, FMCG have taken a liking to contribute to Education. Instead of each such leaders trying to build their educational solutions, ‘edupreneurs’ should associate with proven education solutions and help reach of such solutions across our country.

 JM: How does the Number Nagar innovative concept make math fun and interesting?

RS: NumberNagar is a hands-on, unique math activity centre developed by BrainSTARS with inputs from researchers, educationists, pedagogues, artists and space designers. It takes math off the school chapters and connects it to the city our children live in so that mathematical concepts are no longer alien entities but an exciting daily experience. NumberNagar is being adopted by schools and edupreneurs across India.

 

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