Founder of Creative Galileo Prerna Jhunjhunwala talks about how Creative Galileo brings together the best of education and entertainment and what the future of education holds.
When Prerna Jhunjhunwala was young, she traveled across India extensively. As her father had textile plants in parts of Orissa, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh, her holidays were largely spent in those factories. Growing up, she thus spent a substantial amount of time with the workers there – and with their children.
Jhunjhunwala, who grew up in Kolkata and Delhi, was quick to notice how these children in the small villages in remote parts of India were so talented, and yet had little to no access to education.
“The kid may be very talented, but there are no good preschools, no good primary schools,” she tells Jumpstart. “The government is still focusing on secondary school or higher education, but primary school and preschools continue to be a problem in India.”
Jhunjhunwala is the Founder of edtech startup Creative Galileo, and of Little Paddington Pre-school in Singapore. It was her firsthand experience of the stark reality of education in India that led her to start both her ventures.
According to data from UNESCO, in 2019, only 62.8% of the population in India was enrolled for pre-primary education, while 96.83% was enrolled for primary education. Further, a recent study by UNESCO noted that while 41.2% of women in rural parts of India are not literate, only 20.4% have primary education.
Meanwhile, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2019) by Pratham, an NGO, only 16% of children aged between 4 and 8 years can read text at the prescribed level, while nearly 40% cannot even recognize letters. Additionally, in the 26 rural districts surveyed across 24 states, only 41% of the children could recognize two-digit numbers.
“I decided that I wanted to do something with education and something with making education available for all, especially in the foundational years,” she recalls, stressing that no matter the effort, children in grades six to ten won’t understand complex subjects until their foundations are strong.
“The point is to get the first bit correct – get the phonics of the child correct when it comes to languages, get the numbers correct, get the bases correct,” Jhunjhunwala adds.
Foraying into education with Little Paddington preschool
A graduate of NYU’s Stern School of Business, Jhunjhunwala began her entrepreneurial journey when she moved to Singapore. In 2015, she founded Little Paddington preschool there. The preschool focuses on each child’s individual needs through its project and inquiry-based learning methods.
As someone who is not a firm believer in traditional worksheet-based learning, Jhunjhunwala wanted to make learning more immersive and fun for the children, complete with hands-on activities.
“That’s when I started my first school. It was a small center with about 60 kids and only 10 teachers,” she recalls. “We managed to build a curriculum that is fun for the children with a lot of outdoor spaces and a lot of different ateliers.”
The curriculum included cookery, art, music, dancing, and more. Within the first six months, the center grew to 120 students. Having drawn such a positive response from parents, in the next four to five years, Jhunjhunwala scaled the venture from one to five preschools. Today, Little Paddington has a team of 140 educators and 600 students from 60 different nationalities across its schools in Singapore.
Creative Galileo brings together the best of education and entertainment
“Having worked in schools and founded five schools, […] I realized how to make learning fun for the children – what makes them go and what keeps them engaged. Having had that experience myself, I decided to bring it to an online platform,” Jhunjhunwala says.
Launched in July 2020, Creative Galileo, Jhunjhunwala’s offering to the ‘edutainment’ is an e-learning app that brings together the best of education and entertainment to create personalized learning experiences for children between three to eight years of age. It focuses on the six learning domains – numeracy, language, arts and aesthetics, social and emotional learning, motor skills, and discovery of the world through narrative videos, gamification, and personalized learning journeys.
In a shift from traditional teaching practices, the app teaches students through the characters of Little Singham, an Indian animated television series. It offers a range of research-based games and videos that are tailored to stimulate children’s brains, enabling them to be more responsive and helping them improve their reflexes. The app also focuses on inculcating values like friendship, kindness, helpfulness, and morality.
Jhunjhunwala started working on the app last year by purchasing various licenses to use Little Singham’s characters. She then worked to incorporate them into a syllabus.
“I combined the learning objectives and the learning journeys for the children, where these characters are taking them through their learning journeys,” she says. These characters help children to grasp the core concepts of what they’re being taught through engaging and playing with them.
She built the first proof of concept and launched the app in July, around the time when COVID-19 peaked. Within the next six months, Jhunjhunwala says, the app garnered a million downloads with no customer acquisition cost, in large part due to the use of the beloved children’s cartoon.
“It is your favorite character Little Singham and you’re learning maths with him and he’s asking, ‘What is one plus one? Oh maybe you got it wrong,’ versus simply doing it on a worksheet. So obviously, kids are going to enjoy it a lot more,” she says.
While their focus was on India at the time of the launch, they soon realized that problems with pre-primary education were not India’s burdens alone. Education systems across the Indian subcontinent, which includes Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, are also subject to similar issues. Soon, Creative Galileo started seeing downloads from these regions as well.
Without any marketing, Pakistan accounted for 2.5% of the downloads, while 2.6% came from Nepal, and 1% from Bangladesh, Jhunjhunwala says.
“We started to realize that these countries don’t have such characters and such platforms on their own – they rely on a platform like ours,” she adds.
The app currently has over 210,000 kids who are monthly active users, and has crossed about 1.2 million downloads. Although the app is still at a proof of concept stage, almost 42% of users are coming back for a second or third session.
What sets Creative Galileo apart
“There is no other character-based app [in India], at least that I know of today, that brings together a universe of characters for children to engage with. That is the first thing that makes it really fun,” Jhunjhunwala says.
Additionally, the app, which is currently free, provides personalized learning journeys. Explaining this, Jhunjhunwala says, “If your child is not doing particularly well in subtraction, our app will actually be able to understand that and will be able to advise revision modules that the child should be doing to ensure that the child picks up the skill set.”
The app, which is designed to be child and parent-friendly, has an easy onboarding process which allows the user to immediately play the games or watch the videos. For parents, it has a parent zone, where they can select specific topics for their children to focus on, such as spelling or math. This zone also closely tracks the child’s progress and shares it with the parents.
The makers also tweaked the app to ensure that it is easy for Creative Galileo’s target audience to use. Though Internet penetration and data connectivity are on a steep rise in India, people in Tier II, III, and IV cities are unlikely to be carrying advanced and powerful smartphones.
“We managed to bring our app size down to 10 MB, which is way lower than our peers – which stand at 80 or 100 MB – so that the children can actually download the app, even if the Internet is choppy, even if they have lagging Internet, or even if they don’t have the best handset,” she adds.
What lies ahead
At the peak of COVID-19, nearly 1.6 billion students in 200 countries were affected by school closures. As classes moved online, the pandemic thus accelerated the adoption of technology in education. Jhunjhunwala says that this trend is here to stay.
“[I don’t think] the future of the world is going to ever be any more a completely offline channel of learning,” she says, adding that even after the pandemic, when things normalize, there will be adoption of a blend of offline and online learning.
As more technology and content becomes available to children, there will be more engagement, she adds. “This gamification of learning will make the entire process of learning more immersive for the children. And that is why I think learning through this medium will also be more impactful for them.”
Jhunjhunwala cites international examples of edutainment content like Dora the Explorer and Sesame Street, saying that there is much happening in this space internationally.
“I think it’s time that India did [edutainment] too […] and essentially, by extension, the entire ASEAN region will do very well with a platform like this,” she adds.
Furthermore, in a populous country like India, where there is a shortage of teachers, innovation will play a key role in providing real time update to the parents regarding whether a child has understood the concept or have mastered a particular topic, Jhunjhunwala says.
Meanwhile, riding high on the wave of e-learning, Jhunjhunwala is focusing on adding about 100 hours of content to Creative Galileo, improving the tech, and adding new characters. As soon as the tech side of the platform is complete, which will take another eight months to 12 months, the app focus on introducing new language versions to broaden its reach.
“The idea is to keep on adding to this universe and make the platform completely language agnostic. So that in time to come, we can change this entire platform to a Bangla or to an Urdu or a Hindi [platform] without changing the user experience at all,” Jhunjhunwala says. “Then eventually, we would like to cover the global markets by going vernacular, and also adding new international characters to our platform.”
These are lofty goals, and Jhunjhunwala’s team has a lot of work ahead of them to achieve their ends. However, she says her passion for the job, and the sense of common purpose within her team, makes the challenges less stressful.
“I enjoy it so much that any difficulty that comes into the picture, it’s not really a challenge. All of us [huddle] together as a team and [solve] it and, it’s a factor that we are working together to achieve something better,” she adds. “So I don’t think we’ve ever taken any kind of issue as a challenge. We take everything as an opportunity.”
Images courtesy of Prerna Jhunjhunwala.
Header image courtesy of Tina Floersch on Unsplash.