Ritika Subhash – Director of Schools, Indian Subcontinent Mangahigh.com
With over 10 years of professional experience and a passion to make learning and education relevant and joyful, Ms Ritika Subash talks about Mangahigh.com, which in her own words can be described as a teaching assistant with a huge spectrum of possibilities.
Ms Ritika, let’s start with an overview about your current body of work.
I am presently working with a UK-based firm called Blue Duck Education. I head their Indian subcontinent operations. Blue Duck’s flagship product is called Mangahigh, which is a Mathematics Learning Programme, which has been around since 2008. Basically, 3 people got together; one of them being the person who made the Candy Crush game. He was a passionate gamer who wanted to bring his gaming expertise into the education sector. He joined hands with an Oxford Math professor. That is the genesis story.
The current CEO of the company is Mohit Midha. He was the third person who came on board. He is the technology guy to bring the two things – gaming and education – together.
I head the Indian subcontinent operations and my core responsibility is to bring this adaptive Math learning program into schools and educational institutions across the Indian subcontinent. My driving factor is to see a definite change in the way our education system caters to students. For any human being to be able to cater to the learning needs of 30-40 students is not possible. And hence, the assistance of technology. The role of technology is to bring every child’s potential to the fore and to raise it.
At the other end of the spectrum, which is the teacher’s end, technology has a huge role to play in empowering the teacher to be able to use data and use reports to understand how every child is performing, where they are struggling, etc.
I see a lot of value that technology can add when used mindfully and consciously within the classroom, which is what propelled me to take up education technology.
I come from a totally different background. I am an engineering student who did Masters in Information systems and worked in the US in the health care consulting space for quite a few years. I shifted gears to come into education primarily because I saw the impact that technology can have in raising the potential of learners.
Is there a case study you can relate wherein technology was successful in raising the potential of a student?
I have seen Mangahigh in action in a variety of schools – not just in international or IB schools – who already have a solid background of implementing technology in classrooms. I have also seen this work extremely well in rural schools, schools which have limited capabilities and with individual home users as well. I will talk about a couple of scenarios here.
The British school in Delhi have been on our programme for more than 3 years now. It was actually quite surprising that they went ahead and did a study on Mangahigh and its impact. They had a test group and a control group. They got both the groups to do a CEM test – that is a standard British school Math testing. To begin with, they did an ability test and end of the year – a pre and post-test.
Between the two groups they realised that the group that used technology intervention were at least a year and a half ahead in terms of their learning abilities. Within a span of 9 months of academic teaching they covered content corresponding to 1 and half years which is phenomenal.
If we go a little bit further, Mangahigh is present in over 50 countries. There is this case study of 1385 Brazilian students who were part of this study. These students were notorious for classroom indiscipline, teacher dissatisfaction because of syllabus incompletion. Over a period of time they realised that owing to the use of gaming and adaptive personalised learning through Mangahigh in the classrooms, student engagement scaled up to over 70%. The overall attitude of students in classroom – their behaviour, their discipline, their commitment etc. improved.
I have interacted with a lot of schools in India. We do Math challenges every year. We do the Diwali Math Challenge and in the last two challenges, quite surprisingly, I see schools from far off areas – Meghalaya, interior parts of Haryana, etc. participating. These are schools that don’t have great infrastructure, laptops or tabs in their classrooms. Yet, they managed to utilize internet-driven education technology for the betterment of their students.
Hence, there are a lot of anecdotal evidences of this working for students across demographics.
How does maths learning program work?
For one, technology is not a replacement for a teacher. In my opinion, the wealth of knowledge that a passionate teacher brings in throughout the year cannot be replaced.
Technology is best at a couple of other things:
- We are looking at a 21st century learners, born post Facebook and Google. Being highly connected, they want to learn through diverse knowledge surfaces beyond text books or worksheets. We try engaging this segment who learns very differently from the previous generation. That is one part of it.
- Next, it tackles issues like catering to differentiated learning ability. Essentially, children sitting in one classroom are at different levels of understanding. There are students who are at par with what is taught in class/ struggling at lower levels of understanding/at higher levels of understanding.
Mangahigh aligns to whatever the curriculum the school follows. If the school follows CBSE, we align our program likewise. It supplements what a teacher teaches in class. For instance, if I taught fractions, as a random topic – I introduce the nomenclature on Monday, Tuesday I do problem solving. The 3rd day could be a Mangahigh class where children are physically walking into the lab, log into their Mangahigh account and build their own learning path.
Every child has their own individual account, which is the most powerful thing. They get to build their own learning path regardless of what their peers are doing. It is their own journey of understanding a topic. If they are struggling, the adaptive logic will take them to a lower level where their fundamental issues can be fixed.
Children whose understanding level is much higher is challenged with higher order thinking questions, etc.
Also, the teacher gets real-time reports on who is struggling with which topic. Children doing very well on Mangahigh can mentor those who are struggling. This way it helps spike classroom interactions. Hence, mentoring skills are sharpened; different personalities get catered to.
In a classroom not everybody raises their hands to ask questions. They may feel shy or judged. In a non-judgmental platform such as Mangahigh, children learn to enjoy Math, which is a huge plus. We don’t just sell content – it is readily available for free today. We engage the child in the whole art of learning a topic at their own pace through gamification elements. It erases fear and phobia children have towards Math, which I think is a huge problem across the globe.
Math does seem to be the topic which attracts a lot of negative dialogue. Parents, sometimes transfer their own apprehensions about the subject to the children, consciously or sub-consciously. Sometimes, the teachers do that by putting a lot of stress on accuracy and calculations etc. That’s another problem we are trying to tackle.
We want children to find Math enjoyable. Even if they are taking it only till Grade 10, they should feel confident in their ability to solve problems. It caters to developing critical thinking abilities in these 21st century learners.
How may a school to sign up for your programme?
Our program runs from grade 1-10. Having said that, we impose no restrictions in terms of how many classes need to come on board. Ideally, I have seen some big names in the country on this program. They tend to go for the whole school or a substantial number of classes like Grade 3-8 or 1-10.
Albeit, I think there is huge value in the whole school getting on board, the school can choose what grades they want to subscribe to.
If the school gets on board as a whole, the teachers get aligned to the philosophy of personalized education and over a period of time – within 8 months of implementation – it becomes a part of the teaching DNA.
If we have to think about things long-term, we need to recheck our basics. So many families make an effort to get a child to school every day. The teachers also spend a lot of effort and time. But ultimately, is the child benefiting and enjoying the learning process? That is our space of focus.
When a school considers subscribing to Mangahigh, we are open to offering a trial period because for a school it can get overwhelming to understand which product is best in terms of value for money, given that there are so many products in the market. So, we give a free trial without any financial obligations.
Once the trial is done, the school can internally discuss the pros and cons. At this stage, we support them with usage reports, they can take feedback from students, etc. before they take a decision.
We offer a per child per year subscription to the school. For large schools with say >1000 students coming on board, we even do a site license. They can purchase a site license for a year and unlimited number of students can participate in the programme.
Can individual students sign up? Or does the subscription have to be through a school?
Parents can buy the programme, currently at Rs 5700/- per child per year. That is about $79 per child per year.
But, if a school buys for their whole class, it is highly subsidized. We have pricing bands in terms of the number of students that come on board.
The subscription rate is fairly low even if you were to do a competitor analysis. We can work within the scenario of the school in terms of taking a 1 year or 3 year subscription. So, the price per child is dependent on many factors.
What are the challenges in your path in the whole scheme of things?
I think the biggest challenge lies in convincing people about the value of what you are bringing to the table. A lot of things out there in the market may not be very relevant to an education system.
You can make fancy e content, convert text books to digital format and make it fancy. These things grab the child’s attention for the first 5-10 mins. But, if the child is looking out the window after 10 mins, it isn’t really serving the purpose. Hence, the biggest challenge is to educate people about the value of personalized learning. Why is important to integrate Mangahigh in classrooms rather than make it an optional thing of getting students to buy and do it at home. That is not an effective way to run a programme. The most effective way is to accept it as a teaching assisting tool – it is not the be all and end all. It is just a teaching assisting tool where the teacher can manipulate it either for formative assessment, prior knowledge assessment or remediation, setting/checking assignments, etc.
The benefit is that the child feels engaged and motivated to participate because this caters to their learning style. It brings an element of newness. Usually it takes a while for schools to come around.
What kind of initial push back do you face? Also, what is the difference this has created in schools that has embraced the programme?
The biggest element is having at least one person who understands the product driving the idea of personalised education. This can go a long way. It can be a Math teacher, an HOD a principal – anybody! If there is one person who recognises the value of this program, the programme runs seamlessly. You then have one person championing this whole idea and they want it to be a success.
There will typically one or two people in the school who are apprehensive and who may be later adopters. But if there is a very strong champion, eventually others will come around.
The usual major pushback is a teacher’s mindset of this being an extra workload for him/her. The truth is that this takes away a lot of administrative work that they do and also acts as an assistant to motivate children. Sometimes lack of technology in terms of schools not having internet, computers, etc. can be a challenge. But we are slowly overcoming that because these things are becoming more or less a norm rather than exceptional forms of infrastructure.
I realise that you are in Delhi and you cater to schools across the country. So, what is the process followed for a school in a different state to contact you?
We have a representative in the South, who caters between Coimbatore and Bangalore. Largely, Managhigh model have a small team in every area. We have one in Australia, NZ, Brazil, ME etc.
With fewer people we have been able to reach out to a lot of schools because of the ease at which this programme can be used. It is extremely intuitive and easily adoptable. If a school decides to go ahead with the programme, we do a teacher training – face to face or through a webinar – and more or less they are good to go. The tool is simple and not complicated at all.
In the last year and half that you have been with Mangahigh, what are some of things that you are truly proud about?
Couple of things – firstly, I am very convinced about the relevance of Managahigh. I am a parent, myself and looking at it from a parents’ point of view, being very conscious about the amount of technology access I give my child, I still bid for Mangahigh. If I am convinced about it as a person, I know I can talk about it to schools and teachers with conviction.
It is not a be all and end all but just a part of the learning journey of the child, which can be a tipping point of a child who is disengaged in Math. They can be converted to being lifelong Math lovers. So, that is value that I see.
There is this school outside of London, which caters to children with special needs. The students are in the age group of 14-15 plus. They have been associated with Mangahigh for a year now. These children used to do Math at a grade 1 level. When I observed them doing Math with Mangahigh, it was empowering and magical to see these children finally doing something that catered to their needs. Even the special educators sitting next to students found it easy to be able to work with the students because the child is engaged and a facilitator could cater to 2-3 children at the same time. This is difficult for a special educator to do in a typical classroom set up.
That was a very heartfelt experience and I am particularly proud of Mangahigh owing to this experience. Based on that experience, I became part of a team which made a proposal to an education body in the UK to help expand capabilities of Mangahigh to cater to special need students. We won that grant of 100,000 pounds, which we got to know about 10-15 days back.
So, we will now be expanding the capabilities of Mangahigh to have text to speech, ability to change the color, font size etc. These will help in catering to at least some of the disabilities that students might have and that would be hugely satisfying thing for me.
Thank you for this refreshing conversation, Ritika. All the best!