This Silicon Valley-based edtech company empowers children with the power of early literacy and languages and is supported by Andre Agassi, former World #1 tennis player.
One in six elementary teachers in India are not trained. According to the New Education Policy, currently India spends only 3% of its GDP on education and ranks 62nd in total public expenditure on education per student.
Square Panda is trying to change this. The Tech Panda spoke to Ashish Jhalani, Global CMO and Managing Director of Square Panda, India. Jhalani says that despite the high passing rates in different teacher eligibility examinations, teachers are ill-equipped owing to gaps in the systems, curricula, and training methods used in teacher education.
In a country like India, where we find children of different learning levels and capabilities, edtech is a valuable resource to cater to different needs, allowing for greater personalizing and adaptiveness
“The teachers themselves are not equipped with the skills, knowledge, tech-savviness and mindset required to impart foundational literacy and numeracy. Understaffed schools, infrastructural challenges, poor student-to-teacher ratio are some service-related challenges faced by educators,” he explains.
“For children, there is still a one-size-fits-all approach, even in multicultural and multi-age classrooms. This, plus a lack of access to inclusive educational tools, greatly impact learning, creating inequality in student outcomes across states,” he says.
He adds that their vision is to equip young children with the power of early learning.
“Our mission in India is to support the government to build a new India, where every child has acquired foundational literacy and numeracy,” he says.
Innovative Teaching Practices
The company works as pro-establishment partners all over the world, ECCE programs in three different ways, teacher training, building an engaging curriculum, and measuring progress. To achieve this, the company is delivering three different programs encompassing the entire ecosystem:
- Anganwadi Workers Upskilling Program: To empower the Anganwadi Workers with holistic knowledge, in turn providing nourishment to the child in their care, for both for the body and mind.
- Empowerment and Enrichment Program for ECCE Educators: To empower educators to build holistic knowledge and transform the way they teach.
- Foundational Learning Program: Literacy and Numeracy for children: To improve the overall learning outcomes in India and build an effective and inclusive education system.
Backed by Scientific Research
Square Panda focuses on impactful innovative learning, where all their learning and games are backed by scientific research, carefully designed by an in-house curriculum team, comprising early education experts, neuroscientists, and technologists.
Technology gives us the power to scale our operations according to the market we are in
With over 82 researchers across the world and an advisory board, comprising minds from Stanford and University of California, Square Panda’s foundational literacy and numeracy program offers a unique, comprehensive early learning experience that captures the learning outcomes of each child individually.
“We provide well-rounded, multi-sensory, game-based and adaptive learning, which holds value for all different stakeholders in the system, including children, as well as parents and teachers,” says Jhalani.
“Additionally, technology gives us the power to scale our operations according to the market we are in. In a country like India, where we find children of different learning levels and capabilities, edtech is a valuable resource to cater to different needs, allowing for greater personalizing and adaptiveness,” he adds.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
The Square Panda team is also bringing the latest technology and best practices in AI and ML to provide unique teaching-learning experiences. Their AI algorithms are constantly running in the background, routinely assessing progress, and making a personalized, in-depth learning path for each child. Based on this, the program provides learning recommendations alongside real-time data, to help educators supervise with ease.
“With each program and each upgrade, we constantly build more algorithms to understand each child’s patterns of learning, their demographics and have their learning needs integrated into our instructions,” says Jhlani.
Square Panda was co-founded by Andy Butler after he and his family struggled to find resources to support their daughter, who has dyslexia. Unable to find learning tools that both engaged and benefitted her, Butler created games to help her identify letters, begin to spell, and learn to read.
In the process, he discovered that most children, not just those struggling with dyslexia, need support when learning to read and that early intervention is essential. His journey inspired the development of Square Panda. The company has since evolved into an award-winning phonics system that engages beginning readers in research-based learning games.
On January 4, 2016, two years after Square Panda was established, American tennis legend and eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi came on board as an investor in Square Panda. Till date, he remains one of their biggest investors and vocal supporters, even using their literacy products in his charter schools across the US. He currently holds the position of Chairman of the Board at Square Panda.
Currently, there are 240 million children under the age of eight years residing in India, who can benefit from Square Panda´s NEP 2020-aligned foundational learning programs. The company is also ensuring that they bring world class (contextualized to India) teacher training programs to upskill teachers and Anganwadi workers, whom Jhalani calls ´a vital force and catalyst of the Indian education system´.
“We are quite excited about this journey and are working tirelessly in executing our mission,” says Jhalani.
Square Panda is trusted by more than 3000 schools across the US. They also have a large presence in China, South Korea, and India. They are looking to expand their global presence through countries like Japan, Australia, and more. In the US, they have just closed the fifth largest school district and continue to expand their reach.
In India, they have started their programs with multiple state governments and are continuing to expand that list. We are also working with leading school chains to expand our offering with them in India. They have worked in Chitrakoot and Sitapur districts in UP and Chhatisgarh and with the MCGM in Mumbai on educator empowerment as well as early learning programs.
“South Korea and China continue to be strongly growing for us and we will be expanding to four-five more countries in the coming year. In conclusion, we are looking to impact 500,000 educators and five million children in India in 2021,” he says.