Children love stories and Computer Masti (CM) leverages this to teach children about computer science and more. Developed by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Bombay and InOpen Technologies Pvt. Ltd. (InOpen), CM is a content-service solution to teach computer science in schools. With two child characters and their facilitator Moz, a mouse, the content follows a narrative style that is also aimed at improving critical thinking, collaborative, communication and creative skills. “Children like learning from their peers and hence, they would relate to the characters,” says Rupesh Shah (25), co-founder and chief-executive officer. Its reverse thematic integration approach reinforces topics taught in other subjects while teaching computer concepts and skills. And Moz adapts as the level progresses, making sure students’ involvement is more.
“The philosophy behind defining CM syllabus was that children should have the experience of doing a lot of hands-on activities. Secondly, the curriculum should focus on concepts and thinking skills.”
Started in December 2009, Mumbai-based InOpen was founded by Shah and Dr. Sridhar Iyer (director), a professor of computer science and engineering at IIT-B and who developed the product for four years before they decided to take it mainstream. When Iyer was invited by schools to look into computer science curriculum implementation, he realised that there were huge variations in not only the topics that were covered but also the depth in which the topics were taught. He, along with his team, did a rigorous survey and decided to design the computer science curriculum. “The philosophy behind defining CM syllabus was that children should have the experience of doing a lot of hands-on activities. Secondly, the curriculum should focus on concepts and thinking skills,” says Iyer.
Developed for K-12 students, the product now reaches about 2.5 lakh students in both government and private schools spread out in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Kerala. Shah is hopeful that by the year-end that number would double. “We entered Rajasthan this January and we have already signed up 20 schools,” he says. With 78 private schools using the CM curriculum, he is confident that a total of 150 private schools will join by this December. Currently, the product witnesses 5,000 downloads per day. As a majority of CM students are based in government schools, Shah adds, “With government schools, it is easier to scale, provide content localisation and support. With private schools, each school has its own standard and structure that we need to work with.”
Founders: Dr. Sridhar Iyer, Rupesh Shah
Year: December 2009
Investment: US $500,000 from Ventureast in November 2011
Target: Rs. 12 crore – 15 crore in revenue for FY 2013
In November 2011, InOpen received an investment of US $500,000 from Ventureast. The investment was utilised to scale up the company, streamline its operations and enhance research capacity. Shah now hopes to raise another round of funding before this year-end to scale the product and its e-learning platforms, build the team and streamline its processes and operations. “We realise one solution will not fit all, hence, we want to be content generation partners and handhold schools in the process,” says Shah. Besides doing the initial groundwork to tailor and design the content for each school, InOpen trains teachers in IIT-B or in the local area and visit schools four or five times a year to assess the impact. For private schools, it enters into an agreement for three to five years and charges per student, per quarter, month or year. InOpen charges government schools for its research and development efforts and it takes royalty from the bulk printing of the curriculum. It also receives revenue from its distributor network that sells the content for short-term courses or camps. Having recorded revenues of Rs. 71 lakh last fiscal, InOpen aims to break even by closing at Rs. 5.5 crore this year and is targeting Rs. 12 crore to 15 crore for fiscal 2013.
The first step
A computer science engineer, Shah did an executive MBA from the Indian Institute of Management – Calcutta. It was while doing research on open source technology at IIT-B that he realised its potential in the education space. He had also trained 6,000 people from colleges and organisations like Indian Air Force on open source. It was during this time that Shah saw potential in the computer science curriculum that Iyer was developing and both decided to take it to a larger audience. With about Rs. 28 lakh as seed money from the founders, the company was incubated at Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SINE), IIT-B. “One of the hardest challenges was reaching out to schools – often a lot of curriculum decision makers at schools are people who do not understand education,” rues Shah. But the IIT-B brand definitely opened doors and InOpen soon roped in 2,000 students. One of the first schools to support it was Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir and the word slowly spread.
Shah believes that InOpen’s calling card, besides its product, is the company’s business model in collaborating with schools. Its customised content solutions entail an education officer visit, demonstration and class activities to understand childrens’ needs in that school, assessing infrastructure and resources available and interacting with teachers. IIT-B’s dedicated R&D team then customises the content accordingly. At present, CM has been translated into eight local languages and two foreign languages and is looking to add five more local languages by the year-end. InOpen is also in talks with Mozilla to translate into European languages. The Ministry of Human Resource and Development funded part of its initial research and Iyer is on the advisory board of National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). About 25 per cent of InOpen’s revenues go into its R&D, to constantly keep the content updated.
InOpen has recently tied up with Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE) to bring out ‘Small Science’, a product HBCSE has been working on for the past 10 years. InOpen hopes to take it mainstream in about four months and offer it as a value-added service. Shah adds that the team is also working on other subjects like mathematics. “We also want to add more categories and Small Science is a move in this effort. The biggest challenges now are to setup a good top management team and maintain quality as we scale up,” says Shah.
It will soon be launching CM 2.0, which will be a comprehensive web-based learning experience which will use its tutorial logic, software and assessment under one single platform, for which the company will explore the retail format. And CM’s content will also be promoted on newer platforms such as tablets and mobiles. Shah is also planning to reach out to more schools through government organisations and work with adult literacy projects. InOpen will continue to collaborate with schools and streamline its service channel as well.
“We are working on e-learning modules besides exploring different platforms and that would help us build scale. We are also looking to digitise our content which would retain our fundamental strengths. We will be aggressive on government projects as they constitute the major portion of our audience,” shares Shah. Besides offices in Mumbai and Hyderabad, it is in the process of setting up one in Chennai and Cochin. “I am keen on establishing different verticals for private and government schools that will iron out operational issues,” he adds. By establishing content as the critical selling point, InOpen hopes to continue making education more fun.
Concept in Brief
Developed by IIT – Bombay and InOpen Technologies, Computer Masti is a content-service solution to teach computer science in schools. With two children characters and their facilitator Moz, a mouse, the content follows a narrative style that is also aimed at improving critical thinking, collaborative, communication and creative skills, besides computer skills. Rupesh Shah and Dr. Sridhar Iyer, who developed the product for four years before taking it mainstream, founded InOpen. Targeted at K-12 students, the product now reaches about 2.5 lakh students in both government and private schools. It will soon be launching Homi Bhabha Centre for Science’s ‘Small Science’ and CM 2.0, which will be a comprehensive web-based learning experience and will launch its products on various platforms. Its e-learning modules will also help the company build scale.