The fastest human calculator rid children of math phobia with Bhanzu
The gloom surrounding the edtech sector, which has grown rapidly amid the pandemic, has deepened in recent months. In addition to funding issues, edtech startups including WhiteHat Jr, Unacademy and BYJU-owned Vedantu have witnessed mass layoffs in recent months.
Earlier this month, Ronnie Screwvala-backed edtech startup Lido Learning filed for insolvency and bankruptcy.
The bubble surrounding the sector may appear to have burst, with a few exceptions.
Last week, global math learning platform Bhanzu raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by Eight Roads Ventures and B Capital. How did Bhanzu earn investor confidence in a time of caution?
“We believe that Bhanzu solves a great challenge facing students and enables every child to have an enjoyable math learning experience. Bhanzu is created to instill a love of math, with innovative learning techniques, and to establish itself as the most thoughtful holistic math program in the world,” said Karan Mohla, partner at B Capital at the time of the funding.
Fighting “math phobia”
Math anxiety is common around the world, in adults and children. The academic study of math-related anxiety dates back to the 1950s when Mary Fides Gough introduced the term mathemaphobia to describe the phobia-like feelings of many toward math.
In November 2020, Neelakantha Bhanu, considered the “fastest human calculator in the world”, decided to launch her math learning platform to rid children aged 5 to 16 of this same fear.
Neelakantha, who the famous BBC said “is to maths (mental arithmetic) what Usain Bolt is to racing”, won gold for India at the World Mental Arithmetic Championship at the Sports Olympiad in London. ‘mind (MSO) in 2020. In 2017, aged 17, he was crowned the world’s fastest human calculator, beating math masters like Scott Flansburg and Shakuntala Devi.
After breaking the record for the fastest human computer, Neelakantha began performing on stage and teaching mathematics to students from 20 countries. During this time, he discovered that three out of four children struggled with some kind of math phobia. As a math buff, he was “preoccupied”.
Neelakantha decided to tackle the problem and began working on creating a holistic math curriculum, which introduces concepts to students using innovative learning techniques and experiential online courses.
“At Bhanzu, we instill in students a culture to question the first principles of mathematics. Students are afraid of math, which not only makes them perform worse in school, but also discourages them from pursuing careers in STEM fields where math plays a crucial role,” says Neelakantha.
“Since childhood, math has been taught as a subject where you memorize formulas, solve questions and score points. We want students to not just treat math like a school subject, but to fall in love with it. This improves their problem-solving skills and strengthens their cognitive abilities, which eventually leads to the amplification of their numeracy skills,” he says.
Build a fun but comprehensive program
The Hyderabad-based startup’s initial problem statement was that children should be more excited about math as a subject, rather than shy away from it, let alone be afraid of it.
The solution: design a program that makes learning math more fun, interactive and interesting.
In 2019, Neelakantha formed a small team (the current co-founding team of Bhanzu) to experiment with his proprietary techniques with various government schools and NGOs. Together, the team began implementing these ideas in hundreds of public schools.
During this time, the team conducted assessments, reviewed data points, and changed the learning trajectory for students.
Today, the Bhanzu team has 400 members.
The current program on the platform is strongly shaped by these results. Bhanzu has developed experiential math education based on stories and conceptual understanding that works for all students.
“Bhanzu has developed a range of versions of our current math curriculum. Initially, when we started our pilot classes, we struggled to communicate with the students because they felt our approach was counterintuitive,” says Neelakantha.
The price of Bhanzu’s course ranges between Rs 14,999 and Rs 64,999. The startup says it caters to over 30,000 students and parents.
In the coming year, Bhanzu plans to improve the technology infrastructure to create an extraordinary user experience, increase the workforce and strengthen the program.
“We are creating an in-class gaming experience with live feedback and assessment, setting up near-live session experiences for asynchronous learning. The product team is also working on the creation of a real-time teaching aid for the regular analysis of student performance. So there are a lot of new and exciting things for us in the pipeline,” says Neelakantha.
Bhanzu is now focused on expanding its business globally across multiple geographies. The startup has launched live (online) courses in SEA and the Middle East and aims to eventually scale there.
Bhanzu also plans to promote math as a competitive sport through refresher lessons and series of mini-games for self-paced learning engagement.