Enhancing school lessons with Gyan Lab:Priyadeep Sinha,Founder AddOnGyan

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priyadeep sinhaSchools build our foundation for life through a variety of subjects. However, when it comes to recollecting those things taught to us,don’t we remember our experiences of student life more than what we learnt in our textbooks?The memory of seeing an inverted image using curved lenses or that of phenolphthalein turn pink  is more profound than what was written about these phenomena in our textbooks.

With the limited resources most schools have, very few theoretical concepts are translated into practical experiments. And hence majority of those theoretical topics are lost down the lane, unless we had understood them well.

What if most of those topics are presented through 3D tools to enhance the understanding of a student? Most likely, he will assimilate it better and be able to apply them throughout life. That’s exactly what ADDOnGyan’s Gyan Lab is set to achieve.

AddOnGyan is an educational services company founded by Priyadeep Sinha in 2011, when he was still an engineering student at Manipal Institute of Technology(MIT). Their product and service is a kinesthetic lab facility called Gyan Lab that encourages and allows school kids (K-12) to learn practical concepts in Applied Sciences, Life Skills, Mathematics, Humanities, Electronics and Robotics in a hands-on manner using practical experiments, activities and model-making. The facility is usually setup within a school free of cost and students attend it at an annual fee.

Here is a sample video demonstrating the kind of work they do:

Gyan Lab has won many national and international level innovations competitions and is clearly on its way to making a serious difference on our education system. Let’s hear more about Gyan Lab from Priyadeep Sinha.

Hi Priyadeep. First of all, congratulations for the amazing initiative you have taken and the success that has followed.

Thank you so much.

So, tell us more about the idea of Gyan Lab. How and when did everything start?

The problem which we are dealing with here is what I faced as a student. I had problem with the way things were taught in school. I had questions that went unanswered. So, Gyan Lab is the way I would have liked to learn things back in school.

The actual journey however started in college when there was a B Plan competition by the business incubator of Manipal University. Since this was an idea that had been with me since long, I decided to present this as a B Plan. I knew there were many kids facing similar problems in school. They were unable to remember formulae but if you presented those pictorially to them, they found it easier to grasp. Hence, I thought of creating a learning system for such kids so that they wouldn’t have to suffer like I had.

According to me, the problem with our education system is that it is not holistic. We strive hard only to get good marks and go to college. We don’t apply what we learn. That makes our country’s human resource very poor. In the international PISA test it was found that an Indian 8th grade student was equivalent to a Korean 3rd grade student. There are surveys which suggest that 3 out of 4 Indian graduates are unemployable. I wanted to create a learning system which motivated kids to think independently and in the process eventually create good quality human resource. This was the starting idea. We won that competition and were asked if we would like to start a company with the idea. We thought, why not? It seemed like a good time to start and if we got everything right we could create a huge impact on our educations system.

Interesting.. You have come a long way from that day of winning a B Plan competition to having created a fast growing company. You must have an amazing team with you. Tell us more about your team.

At that time we were three people. One of the co-founders however is not an active part of the team as of now. Two of us manage the company currently – myself and Sonali, who is now a final year student at MIT. We have two offices, one in Manipal and one recently opened in Bangalore with three people in each office. Apart from this we have an excellent team of advisors like Mr  M Chandrasekaran, Corporate Advisor, Manipal Group and Mr. Luis Miranda,Former Chairman, IDFC Private Equity. Our advisors have been very supportive and we are very lucky to have them with us.

So let’s talk about the next step after winning the B Plan competition. How did you go about from there?

We selected a school for a pilot project. Students of class 6-9 of Pearson school in Manipal were selected. We wanted to see if kids learnt more than they would otherwise learn in school. Our pilot ran from June 2011 to March 2012. When we received positive feedback from them, we decided to implement this in 5 schools for the academic year 2012-2013. The sessions are generally conducted by personnel from the school who are trained by us.

How did you decide the course structure of Gyan Lab?

We studied the curriculum of 5 different countries to learn about the different standards followed across the globe. We picked out the standard of the number of topics a student is supposed to learn in a particular year. We wanted students to learn by themselves. Sonali and I had lots of brain storming sessions about the content. We decided on how the content should be, what kind of pictures to be used, how they should be placed and so on.

We did a lot of research. We were going to deal with psychology of children. So we needed to be very careful. That’s how we developed the Gyan Lab curriculum and developed the first learning tools. We developed 500 highly customized experiments in Applied Sciences, Life Skills, Mathematics, Humanities, Electronics and Robotics. A typical Gyan Lab kit contains the necessary tools and a manual that is designed using a 7step scientific procedure.

Where did you get the funding?

We are incubated at MUTBI (Manipal University Technology Business Incubator). We also received a seed loan from Technology Development Board, an MSME grant, contribution from our advisors, prize money from the ET Power of Ideas (at IIM Ahmedabad)and from the Dell Innovation Challenge where we were placed 2nd globally. However, the initial funds were given by my father.

Where do you get your products manufactured?

We get the different parts from Japan, China, US and India. We assemble them in our centers.

What were the major challenges you faced? Did you ever feel like giving into the pressure and consider quitting?

Well, funds are a problem. Also, we faced a lot of resistance from schools. You can understand the pain when you visit 200 schools and only 1 agrees to take your product. But the struggle helped us strengthen our core values. I was very sure of what I wanted to do. There was no self doubt. There was not a single day when the problems made me think about quitting.  Finding a good team was also difficult, since we wanted like minded people who shared our passion. The support from our advisors made a lot of difference.

Does it irk you to see your friends employed in big companies while you are still struggling to make the big impact?

Not really! I enjoy my work and I can work 20 hours straight without thinking about anything else. Money is not everything right now. I actually pay my employees a little more than what I take home. It takes courage to come and work in a start-up like mine. So they deserve that extra bit. Also, I want to tell them that I value what they are doing for the organization.

What are your future plans?

We want to expand Labs to a level where Gyan Lab becomes a curriculum standard for learning. After students complete all our modules, they are considered good in all the topics covered and our students form good quality human resources of the country. We will be starting around 15 labs in this academic year across the country.

If you were to state one key learning from your journey so far, what would that be?

One thing that I have learnt is that the ultimate goal of life is happiness. I am a very satisfied person every single night when I go to sleep. There are different ways of getting happiness and I am happy be to doing some good for the society. I know that even if I fail in this ventureI will come back and something better.

It is really hard to believe that I am listening to the ideas of a 24 year old! Your thoughts are very inspiring. Thanks for talking. Wish you all the best for the future.

Thank you very much. It is an honour for us to be written about. All the best to you too.

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