06 December 2017 14:20:35 IST

‘Math is more than a subject; it is a life skill’

Cuemath, a learning programme started by Manan Khurma, has introduced gamification in its curriculum

Math: an innocuous four-letter word that used to send shivers down my spine during school days. Much like many other students, I saw it as a means to an end — to get into the next standard so that, eventually, I could get rid of it altogether. But now, when I look back, I really wish I had paid more attention in class.

Today, students have a lot more options to learn this subject unconventionally, thanks to technology and the internet. To make math more popular and for it to be taught not as a mere subject but as a life-skill, Manan Khurma started Cuemath in December 2013.

He says Cuemath is a programme for young children, that is delivered offline by their ‘teacher partners’. “We have centres in various cities run by our partners who are trained by us and deliver the programme using the material and technology we provide,” explains Manan.

How it began

A math buff himself, the founder used to teach the subject to senior-grade students (IX to XII). Soon, however, he realised that for most students, it was only about cracking exams and scoring well in competitive tests. “I love the subject and wanted to ensure that children learnt it correctly. But that does not happen in schools. By the time they reach class IX and XII, it’s difficult to course correct, because they’ve already built a wrong foundation. You can’t make them unlearn and relearn.”

This led to his shifting focus away from senior school students and towards younger kids, and he started Cuemath — a math-learning programme for students right from kindergarten to class VIII. “The focus is to build a strong math foundation for the children from a very young age because we believe that math is a life-skill that every child should acquire. It will help them, regardless of what profession they choose to pursue,” says Manan.

Today, Cuemath, which is backed by Sequoia and Google Capital, has around 2,500 centres and 20,000 students across the country. Headquartered in Bengaluru, they have a ground presence in five other cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai.

Gamifying math

Last month, Manan’s company introduced an element of fantasy and gamification into the math learning system. Depending on the segment the students are in — Kindergarten to II, III to V, and VI to VIII — there are different sets of characters that the children get to interact with.

~ Class K-2: Thomas Tallman and Friends: Stories that focus on the wonders of math and logic in the natural world.

~ Class 3-5: Zero-Squad: An intrepid crime-solving detective duo, Eka and Dvita, with the superpowers of logic and reasoning.

~ Class 6-8: Kalina and the Shards of Singularity: A young rebel who travels across the universe with her trusted AI partner/sidekick and explores space/time continuums, breaks complex codes, and discovers the mysterious mathematical origins of the stars.

As the child progresses through the story universe, the completion of activities and puzzles in one episode unlocks the door to the next one, a process that is exciting for the youngsters. These characters aren’t random, says Manan. “We’ve done deep research into building the personalities, so that this array of characters is very closely linked to the learning system itself.” The characters were introduced after working on this project for nine months, and Cuemath is building more stories and expanding the game universe.

The curriculum

The idea of Cuemath was to build a holistic maths learning programme that goes deeper than the exposure children get in school. “A student in a grade IV programme in Cuemath will work on all normal concepts like fractions and decimals. But he will also do other elements that he is never exposed to in school, such as aptitude and reasoning,” explains Manan.

Even the portions that he does in school will be taught in a different, more fundamental way through the use of carefully designed exercises, worksheets and activities. “The idea is to go really deep into math and make sure the child is proficient, and has the right kind of exposure to the subject.”

The fee and the future

Manan says it is a long-term programme, in the sense that someone who joins the programme during kindergarten will stay on till Std VIII. “The monthly average fee is ₹2,000. Which means parents will have to pay about ₹24,000 for annual programme,” he explains.

Apart from increasing their teacher-partner number and presence in new cities, Cuemath aims to build a product learning system that’s 10 times better than anything else on the market. “Because that’s our core strength and that’s where we believe the differentiation is,” adds the CEO.

The competition

While there is no organised player at a reasonable scale, Manan says the closest competitors they have are the normal tuition centres that operate in a similar space. “But they have a very different model and objective. What really differentiates us is that we don’t think of ourselves as an education company. We think of ourselves as a math learning company. Our focus for the next few years will be on building the best brand in the math learning space.

“Fundamentally, our belief is that math as a skill is disproportionately more important than others. If you teach it in the right way, it influences your thinking. You become a better thinker; you approach situations differently. So whatever else you need to do — say, science — also becomes easier. We don’t approach math as a subject to be done in school. We look at it as a way of thinking,” says Manan.