When we told you last month about Unreasonable at Sea (Innovation on the High Seas), the “radical experiment in global entrepreneurship, design-thinking, and education, designed to scale-up effective technological solutions to the greatest challenges of our time,” we promised more insights into this fascinating journey. Today, we’re featuring one of what Unreasonable at Sea calls “the most thrifty, resourceful, creative, and disruptive class amongst us: entrepreneurs.” Amruth B R is the CEO of Vita Beans, a company he formed while still an undergraduate, and his passion for creating education solutions to drive 21st century learning in India is palpable.
“We are one of the first companies in India to build games-based assessments for non-scholastic abilities like cognitive skills (memory, attention, problem solving, spatial thinking, etc.) and personality (motivations, extroversion, empathy, emotional skills, etc),” B R says. “We’ve helped some of the largest assessment and education companies in India design and develop products that focus on developing and assessing non-scholastic skills in school students.”
B R has brought his work to the masses through video and a TED Talk, but he now has an even wider audience – through the Unreasonable at Sea program – for Guru G, VitaBeans’ gamified platform for teaching, teacher training and certification.
We’re excited to share B R’s energy and excitement with you today. His work is already making a difference in India, where the prospect of reforming and modernizing education can seem daunting. Look for more stories from Unreasonable at Sea here at Daily Edventures as the 100-day journey continues…
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
I had always found it difficult to sit in a classroom, even when the teacher was amazing! I felt like I had a pace of learning different than rest of the class which made me bored and uncomfortable. Fortunately, I always had teachers who understood that and made exceptions for me, which automatically made me excel in academics once I got to learn in my own ways – without which I might not even have stayed in school or university.
During my final year of undergrad, I started my first company – Vita Beans. Our first creation was a behavior simulation product that profiles a person’s personality and simulates how they would react to different situations as well as recommend what tasks/situations work best for them. That was when a few educationists and education companies I knew seeded the idea of using such profiles to create personalized learning experiences for a student within their classrooms. That struck a chord with my own childhood experiences and we started working on it. A year later, we came out with an adaptive games-based learning platform which was our first entry into education space.
A year later, I spent nine months at the Ed Tech dept of McGill (ATLAS Lab) under the Sauve Fellowship program, and that was when I got a chance to dive deep into education research and the foundations of learning science. That experience introduced me to so many amazing ideas that were very well validated in the research space – but very few teachers knew about them. That got me thinking about the gap between education research and classroom practices. Which eventually led to me working with my team to create Guru-G – which is a gamified platform for teaching, teacher training and certification of teachers. Teachers use Guru-G as an in-class tablet/mobile companion that helps them learn new skills and customize their teaching methods in real-time to fit class mood and student performance.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
My high school physics teacher – G R Manjunath (GRM). A short, bespectacled genius who always went out of his way to make physics as exciting and thought-provoking as possible. I also got a chance to work with him and two other friends of mine to build amazing projects and prototypes that won us many awards within India. All those experiences with GRM largely sculpted my passion in life towards building things, towards physics and the analytical way of thinking it inspires, and towards being able to articulate your ideas in a clear and crisp way.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
Our games-based learning product has been adopted by schools across 12 different states and has over 2 million plays. We have also co-founded the National Association for Simulations & Serious Games (NASSG) in India to promote experiential learning through games and simulations.
We’ve also had an opportunity to speak at many conferences to an audience of educators, education companies and government stakeholders where we have advocated for the use of innovative pedagogies and games-based learning in classrooms.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
Personalizing the teaching-learning experience! We are moving away from the one-size fits all model of education and towards approaches that try to personalize the learning experience for every individual learner. However, I believe it still needs to happen within a school/community as opposed to an online world – because the real-world social experience and the skills it imparts is extremely critical for holistic development of a child.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
If I have to be objective, I would have chosen critical thinking and problem solving. But I have a greater bias towards creativity and innovation. I believe it’s the most liberating skill an individual can pick up. Also, as humanity we are at a stage where many of our problems today are a direct result of “yesterday’s solutions” – which means relying upon what has worked in the past to invent the future is no longer an option. This will push us to be more creative and explore new solutions to problems of tomorrow – and that requires creativity and innovation.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A great teacher! There is an old Indian saying: All that is required for a good education is an inspired teacher, an engaged student and a tree (tree being a metaphor for some sort of infrastructure). And many studies over the years have proven that a good teacher is the single most powerful predictor of student performance in classrooms around the world.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
The RTE (right to education) act is a step in the right direction. It also mandates a new system called CCE (continuous and comprehensive evaluation) that introduces co-scholastic skills into the mainstream education system. Now that there is a policy mandating schools to adopt a new system – the entire ecosystem is suddenly hyperactive – everyone is trying to figure out how to adapt to the new system; what innovations are required to ease the transition; what new methods of teaching/learning needs to be adopted to facilitate CCE, etc.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
India has over 200 million kids in the school-going age. So scale is a big factor to consider when discussing any change/solution. If we can figure out education models that can impart 21st century skills to students at such a large scale – that will be a first step towards revolutionizing education in India.
About Amruth B R
Amruth BR was a recipient of Canada’s prestigious Sauvé Scholars fellowship in 2010, the youngest among 14 fellows selected. He was selected as a delegate for One Young World Global Summit at London in February 2010 by the United Nations and was a finalist for the Palomar5 Camp at Berlin. He has been a Research fellow at the Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Academy of Sciences, and the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
- Birthplace: Bangalore, India
- Current residence: Bangalore, India
- Education: Masters in Physics; Sauve Scholar at McGill University
- Website I check every day: Quora, Facebook, Wikipedia, NDTV
- Person who inspires me most: Krishna (fictional – from the Indian epic Mahabharata)
- Favorite childhood memory: I loved reading stories! My mom filled our home with story books from around the world – different countries, cultures, religion, science, philosophy, spirituality – any genre could be found! That’s definitely something I enjoyed a lot.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): South Africa
- When was the last time you laughed? Why?: Ken Banks cracked a joke about my age.
- Favorite book: A Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin; Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track: The Letters of Richard Feynman; How to be Creative by Hugh MacLeod; Lord of the Rings.
- Favorite music: Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bach
- What is the best advice you have ever received?: This is a tough one! I’d say it’s this book by Hugh MacLeod.
- Your favorite quote or motto: I think what I pick depends on my state of mind. J Anyway, the one I’d pick right now came from a friend of mine, Anjum:
“Magic is anything that only one person in the whole world can do. And life is a journey to discover everything that makes us magicians!”
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