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Education Interview 2016-07-23

Need of variety in learning is important – Abha Mehta Shah

PodSquad is a learning program for kids from 3 to 7yrs and it aims to create an engaging experience for kids. They learn through unconventional methods of play rather than academics.

Need of variety in learning is important – Abha Mehta Shah

In this fast paced world, as most couples are working, time falls short for interacting with children. But, as parents we want the best for our tiny tots and look out for products which develop their interactive learning skills and are fun simultaneously. PodSquad, a learning program developed by its Founder, Abha Mehta Shah realises the importance of interactive learning for kids. In a conversation with the Education bureau, Abha shares her ideas on Multiple Intelligence and the need of variety in learning by children

Tell us about PodSquad. How did you conceive the idea?
PodSquad is a learning program for kids from 3 to 7yrs.It aims to create a fun and engaging experience for kids wherein they are learning through unconventional methods of play rather than academics. The program consists of a themed educational activity box delivered right to the customer’s home. Each box covers 4 to 7 hands-on learning activities designed to teach children new concepts in an experiential way. The learning from the box is supplemented by engaging digital content such as interactive games, worksheets and animated stories available to all customers. The pedagogy is based on renowned American developmental psychologist – Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligence – which focuses on 9 key intelligences that children have.

The idea of using multiple intelligence came to me when I was playing with my nephew – who has a strong love and affiliation to animals, as do I – and has a gift when dealing with them. Multiple Intelligence calls this ‘Naturalistic Intelligence’ and I immediately realised – that he would love activities tailored to this particular intelligence – if only they existed! But, when faced with numbers, or even words, he’s not as stimulated and instantly gets bored and de-motivated. I realised then, that children need a variety of learning – not just the conventional literacy and numeracy skills – but going beyond – and that’s what Multiple Intelligence is all about – recognizing that children are different, and have innate talents that make them perceive the world differently.

Upon my return to India, and working in the children’s content space for publishers, I was able to observe gaps. Many people would ask me to buy products from abroad for their kids, complaining that stimulating products were not available here. Also – I started to see that today career choices are very vast – people who have talents and aptitudes in specialised skills can actually make a living out of it – very different from 10-15 years ago. If we can see the potential in children beyond the conventional – we can encourage those aptitudes and there are limitless possibilities as to what those children can accomplish in the future. That’s how the idea for PodSquad was born.

How important is early education in today’s world?
Early education is more important now than ever before due to the limitless choices available to parents and children alike. It’s becoming harder to sift through the products and information being thrown at them constantly, and it’s important to curate the right type of information that reaches children – and this can be done through early education. Early education empowers the child from a young age to make the right choices. With an increase in pressure, right from the nursery level – be it to get into the right school or keep up with the pace of newer curriculums, it’s important to provide children with the right type of environment that suits them so that they can thrive at their own pace. Most brain development occurs from the ages of 0-8, where children are like sponges and can absorb the most. So giving them a strong, holistic early education is vital.

Highlight the challenges faced by our education system to reach the level of complete literate economy. How can we overcome them?
One can be lack of teachers - The problem starts at the grassroot, with pay scales for teachers. With teachers across the country being paid a pittance, the best minds in the business never choose teaching as a career. Invariably, teachers are typically those who haven’t got a job elsewhere, or who find teaching ‘convenient’.So, instead of having teachers who are motivated to enrich the learning experience of students, we have teachers who barely know the basics of the common core subjects. This issue of course does not apply to private schools, but rather to schools across the country where the vast majority of children study.

Revising payscales so that teaching as a profession attracts better minds, is a clear – though simplistic – solution.

Access – A large part of India lives in villages. Many of these villages have challenges at a very basic level, of basic infrastructure. Schools therefore, are not at the top of pyramid in terms of focus. For many families, having their children enter the earning pool as fast as possible, prevents them from getting access to education – even at a basic level.

Some ideas
Schemes that encourage parents to let their children complete education
Schemes that motivate teachers to join schools in smaller villages
Schemes that drive large corporates to set up schools
School adoption programs where city dwellers can manage schools in satellite villages.

What improvements do you wish to see in our education system by our new education minister Shri Prakash Javadekar?

A more progressive curriculum that focuses on skills rather than ‘academia’ alone

1. An evaluation system that does not focus on exams as criteria.

2. A curriculum that allows practical hands-on learning.

3. An open-book examination system that evaluates ‘application’ rather than ‘Knowledge’.

4. A greater focus on ‘value education’.

5. A greater focus on life skills.

How are women as entrepreneurs perceived in India?
The perception of women entrepreneurs in India today is improving, and is better than it was 3 years ago, with more and more women taking the risk to start their own companies. Particularly within the kids, fashion and lifestyle space, where women are the key target customers.. The culture of ‘mompreneurs’ has also evolved as a fantastic phenomenon that is being perceived very well. Much of this is due to the lack of flexibility in the corporate world, where women quit their jobs and decide to become entrepreneurs. Though some of the age-old challenges are still very much prevalent – such as being taken seriously, hiring for key management positions, or raising funding from investors when required etc – but the trend is changing and I’m happy to say that my own experience as a woman entrepreneur has been very encouraging, and I consider myself lucky in that.

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