Ritika Subhash, Director of Schools, Indian Subcontinent, Blue Duck Education Ltd.

Director of Schools, Indian Subcontinent for Blue Duck Education Ltd., Ritika Subhash is an avid ed-tech evangelist and a children’s book author. She is currently leading the school partnerships in the Indian Subcontinent. Blue Duck Education Ltd.’s Mangahigh is a mathematics and coding learning platform which uses the power of AI to offer personalized learning to every child. Mangahigh is currently running in over 5000 schools around the world

Globally, mathematics is considered to be the base of all sciences, yet it is observed that mathematics anxiety is on the rise. Many countries are struggling to raise mathematics learning outcomes, and this is reflected in the poor test scores on international assessments such as PISA. In India, a particular assessment survey called the ASER tests revealed that 56% of class VIII students can’t do simple division problems and 70% of class III students are unable to do any subtraction. Overall, on average, students are 2 -3 academic years behind in their math abilities. This is a huge red flag since mathematics is not just a stand-alone subject, but it serves as a base for building critical thinking skills, decision-making, logic and even confidence in children regarding problem-solving. Math avoidance can lead to anxiety in students and eventually, it may not allow them to fulfill their true potential.

There have been quite a few studies around the world to understand why children fear or avoid math. Reasons vary from the abstract nature of some topics to the emphasis on procedural working, to fear of timed tests. However, a more recent issue with our digital-native students is that they have access to copious amounts of technology, which means keeping their attention on core subjects with traditional means can be a challenge for teachers. With ever-reducing attention spans, it is hard for students to focus and perform on tedious worksheets that require them to sit through question after question, without any immediate feedback. Also, since every classroom has students who are at a differentiated level of understanding of the subject, it is practically impossible for a human being to cater to the learning needs, assessment, remediation and feedback on an individual level, given the large class sizes and limited time to complete the syllabus.

Looking at this complex problem, we believe there is a huge potential for personalized technology and artificial intelligence to aid the learner as well as the teacher. At Mangahigh, we use machine learning to deliver personalized learning paths and AI recommendations to empower the students to take ownership of their learning. Every child may start the topic at the same level but based on how they are responding to the questions in the topic, the AI system allows them to navigate through easy, medium, hard and extreme difficulty levels. Students may move up or down as many times as they need and there is no judgment on how many attempts, they take to complete a topic. In fact, once they do complete a topic to a minimum level of proficiency, they are motivated to go beyond and try harder questions through the reward system of online bronze, silver and gold medals. This is hugely encouraging for children and fosters grit, perseverance and growth mindset. Mangahigh ensures that the adaptive math quizzes and games keep all learners engaged at their zone of proximal development and the gamification elements of rewards, leaderboards, and instant feedback ensure that students are enjoying their journey of engaging with math. We strongly believe that enjoyment is the key element in building long-term memory of any subject or activity and it will help raise the curiosity of students to explore more about math around them without the fear of failure. This is one of the strengths of games (both online and offline) that they encourage everyone to keep trying and not give up. Everyone has a chance to shine and better their past performance.

The other complex issue that Mangahigh helps address is the paucity of time at the disposal of teachers to attend to individual learning needs. Since Mangahigh takes away a bulk of non-teaching workload off a teacher’s plate, such as setting assignments and checking assignments, teachers have the flexibility to spend more quality time with each child and help remediate accordingly. Mangahigh provides a complete overview of the class as well as each student, which the teacher can use for reporting or feedback as well as tailoring his/her lesson-plan. We believe that the positive atmosphere created in class through the conscious use of technology can help students and teachers build a better understanding and a lasting relationship as well.

Personally, I have implemented this adaptive, math learning program with schools and students across socio-economic demographics as well as on a spectrum of learning-needs and have seen wonderful impact and feedback from every quarter. Case-studies from across the world highlight this fact. In a study involving 26 secondary schools, NSW (Sydney) Department of Education found 100% of teachers stated that Mangahigh use had resulted in improved student learning outcomes, highlighting how the program helped disengaged and reluctant mathematics learners. British School (New Delhi) reported 1½ years progress in 1 year through using Mangahigh, highlighting the impact of student engagement. Rees Elementary School (Utah) found students increased their scores by 43.2% from pre-test to post-test, highlighting the impact of growth mindset-based messaging. Firjan SESI Schools (Rio de Janeiro) found a 70% increase in attitude towards learning math across a cohort of 1,385 students, highlighting the impact of gamification in math. This number was even higher for the female-only cohort. Featherstone School (London) attributed the 25% increase in GCSE results on the use of Mangahigh, highlighting the impact of built-in student support.

In sum, I feel that we need to re-think the future of education to be in sync with the future of work. We can’t cater to the needs of industry 4.0 with means and mindset of education 1.0. If we are truly thinking about quality education for all by 2030 as one of UN’s sustainable development goals, we need to start thinking about quality in education today and leverage technology to enable learners and teachers to get to their highest potential.

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