Pramodh Rai (26), a Singaporean who graduated from the city’s prestigious Nanyang Technological University (NTU), owes his roots to Uttar Pradesh. His mother is from Gorakhpur and father from Lucknow. His father Jaiprakash Rai came here 30 years ago and settled here.
Pramodh, though born and brought up in Singapore, speaks Hindi at home and has grown up on Hindi heartland stories of how English remains a bugbear for Indian students, who cannot afford convent education and very often do not learn English alphabets till they reach Class one or two in Hindi medium schools. And when these students come back home, their Hindi-speaking parents cannot help them converse in English or write in English. At best, they can hire English tutors.
This is why Pramodh, now working at a leading firm in Singapore, thought of devising an education mobile app for home English tuitions with two of his friends from India – Ankita Gupta (23) and Priya Andleigh ( (23), who also graduated from NTU and have been working with leading companies here. They came together to form “Jugnuu” or fire-flies. “The idea is to fill in lights in heart of darkness of ignorance. We want to do with paid and dreary English tuitions what free and enriching WhatsApp has done to paid SMS”.
Jugnuu is now collecting and assessing data on how primary school students have been responding to their set of 15 questions they ask after telling them interesting short stories.
“We have engaged three entrepreneurs from New Delhi who help us select pockets where we should call. We saw Pratham survey report on lack or absence of English fluency among students from Class one to six. We have called 150 students during three pilot projects”, said Pramod adding that it had been very difficult to keep students on receiving end of phone calls.
“Most times, it is difficult to engage them in talks and story-telling beyond five minutes. But we keep the session asking for personal questions on a student’s engagements at school and home”, said Ankita. Jugnuu data analysis shows that students had been found weak in areas of grammar, particularly syntax and sentence formation and comprehension. Students have been getting calls post-school time. The
Callers make it a point to call students between school dismissal and playing time so that they do not get irritated. Jugnuu assessed that 40 per cent students are not good at reading out textbooks.
Explaining the mobile app, Ankita said algorithm (procedural models for complicated calculations) was able to challenge students with questions of varying difficulty levels based on their proficiency. The individual progress of each student is tracked each time a student receives a call. This allows teacher and parents to have real-time feedback on performance. “For constant feedback, parents and teachers receive feedback on their children’s performance, allowing further intervention to improve weak areas”, she explained.
“Many times, students’ parents pick up calls and hence, Jugnuu team would call when students are home and are in a good mood to take the call”, said Priya Andleigh adding that story-telling would be recorded. The final product of Jugnnu mobile app would incorporate more lessons after a few more sets of feedback and assessment. Asked how offering this app free would be commercially viable, Pramodh said: “There are takers for such initiatives in Singapore. We may hope to get government funding at a later stage and can also charge nominally. But we will not charge fees that should defeat the very purpose”.