While most of the edtech companies in India are essentially revolving around the existing school class work pattern and busy in reinventing the wheel; be it by the way of a packaged but mapped content to textbooks and concepts or tutoring/coaching for test prep, etc., there are some edupreneurs like Ritika Amit Kumar, who are actually leveraging emerging digital technologies and online mode to address gaps in our school education and accelerate futuristic VR schooling. With a senior techie like Varun Mishra by her side, she is poised to bring in vast opportunities of experiential and personalized learning beyond that pattern within the reach of children through the aggregator platform she is building since 2020.
Ritika as the founder and Varun as the co-founder of STEMmetauniverse.in, are also infusing NFTs into their platform to take student engagement and talent rewarding to a next level. Ritika Amit Kumar, who is also the CEO of Curious Kids Media Tech Pvt Ltd spoke with Autar Nehru to explain this new platform, which was also named as one of the 75 innovative ideas in education technology early this year.
Your own enterprising journey so far has been very intriguing and that of ‘women empowerment’, so let’s pick up how the ideation for an edtech platform came to your mind?
I would say this story begins with the Young Chronicle (newspaper for children) in 2015 though I had started with an e- learning venture much before in 2009-10. I was into copywriting and then switched over to scripting. In that role I wrote chemistry scripts for Topper Learning. Also for NIIT and Tata Interactive and others including game shows. Before this, I was into parental networking and tips through AchaBacha.co.in as a part timer while doing MBA at MICA in Ahmadabad. So, with passage of time I was in touch with many women parents and we had developed a community.
Then, when the Young Chronicle started receiving attention and I too became a mother, on the advice of Sarbvir Singh of Capital 18 in 2015, I concentrated more on this newspaper and launched its app followed by print. A group of women from nuclear families like me who had quit jobs for family life and needed work from home kind of assignments joined me from their homes. Varun Mishra, who was a software engineer got excited with my idea and joined as co-founder to provide technical architecture. By 2018, we had also started with on site workshops in creative writing, puzzles and robotics with the idea of getting vibes from children so that our content remains engaging. Following this we had started working on a sort of physical tinkering lab where child would walk in and learn through hands on learning and observations. Our plan was to open this hub in March 2020 but covid didn’t allow that to happen and like everybody else we too switched over to online for our classes. And, here we are in a newer and better version.
While Young Chronicle remains your flagship service/product, the idea of turning into an aggregator is certainly stirring and trendsetter for K-12 space?
Actually, let me tell you, when I was at school, the school never challenged me. There was so much exciting happening around the world but I felt stuck when I wanted to learn beyond my curriculum. Schools are there to bring you to a certain standard level. Now as a student if I want to challenge myself that if I am really good at something or find something interesting to get in, I need a way to do that, which can be a kind of wild chase as well as costly. That is where we come in.
So, how do we do that? There are resource people, agencies, organizations and others not just in India but across the world who provide specialized mentoring and experiential education programs. We aggregate them on our platform and provide students access to these courses at economical cost. We also built this analytical development platform for talented and gifted children to develop their interest and future pathways. We don’t teach the syllabus, we rather go beyond and add that missing layer to schooling. Provide those missing links where talent can be discovered and shine, interest can turn into passion and learning of a higher order.
Can you list some of these courses and partners?
Students can choose from a variety of subjects like Creative Writing, Robotics, Coding, Data Science, Entrepreneurship, Music/ Drama, Apparel Design, Electric Vehicle Design, Diplomacy, United Nations, Art etc. This means, that if a student is interested in Creative writing, he/she could actually become a published author through STEM Metaverse’s end-to-end experiential learning methods. Our approach is 360 degree immersive approach.
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) cryptocurrency is getting acceptance and you have also included these into your platform. How do you intend to roll it out?
We are talking to several universities for using NFTs as convertible scholarships. We are linking NFTS to student wallet, so their creative work and its course of transaction clearly bears them as original owners and can also earn them royalty if someone sells or buys it. As of now students who upload their artworks, animated videos, notes, images, articles etc will earn NFTs. This feature is in Beta testing phase with 200 student uploads. As there is missing clarity on legal framework and moreover children being protected under COPA, we’re devising a way by which we can ensure how best this can be done without any compromise on safety and security of the student.
Coming to delivery of courses from partners, can you spell out the delivery mechanism, price and if hybrid mode is also on menu?
Much of the delivery would depend on the convenience of the educator and students and typically the courses run once or twice a week. The course duration ranges from a couple of weeks to a few months depending on the specialization. Keeping in view the need to keep it within acceptable screen time limits, we encourage the sessions to be of about one hour duration. Most of these courses currently run for groups of 4-8 students and for schools, it means proportionate batches. Between educators and students, they can also engage one to one when needed. The price varies according to area of interest and on an average it is about Rs 5000 for a course per student. As regards hybrid, we are actually leveraging the technology and showing its value. But yes, wherever possible, we do encourage get networking together but the underlying emphasis is to show online can be used better.
Virtual Reality is around for several years now, but it is moving to popular mass-based usage. Your thoughts?
The equipment or headset for VR is like expensive smart phones through there is no dearth of creators. With metauniverse gradually taking over, VR in education will become a norm soon. It is only a matter of time now. And, we on our own are preparing lessons and content and in fact have created some as well. In fact, our subscribers get a Google Cardboard and with that they can see the content. In fact our whole idea is built on using Metaverse, VR, Web3 and NFTs that help students connect their learnings with reality and build for themselves by performing activities independently.