Making Math Click for Students

Once a teacher and still teaching, this edtech exec’s passion makes all numbers rise.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

Manan Khurma fell in love with math as a young school kid, and he started teaching math when he was still a second-year student at college. Over the course of 15+ years, he’s personally taught math and coding to over 10,000 students.

His company, Cuemath, started in India 7 years ago, with a mission to transform the way children learn math. Today, it ranks among the world’s top live-class platforms for math and coding skills.

“What drives me to build Cuemath—where I still teach daily—is the fact that in tomorrow’s AI world, math and coding proficiency will no longer be optional for our children,” says Manan. 

As the company’s first teacher and its CEO, Manan speaks from experience as he sits with EdTech Digest to answer some basic questions about how everything has really added up to some very good numbers since its founding in 2013.

‘Over the course of 15+ years, he’s personally taught math and coding to over 10,000 students.’

Here, Manan discusses their U.S. launch, teachers, the future of learning and teaching, disrupted classrooms, why his program is so vital, and what’s just ahead.

When did you launch in the U.S. and in which states is the platform available?

Math literacy is critical for the 21st century workforce, yet 1 in 3 American students fail to achieve it – and this is before the pandemic exacerbated learning loss for US students nationwide. According to a recent McKinsey report, many students have lost at least one math ability due to the pandemic. Indian-based, online after school math and coding program – Cuemath – is aiming to reverse that trend. [We] formally expanded into the U.S. in May, following 15,000 students enrolling pre-launch.

Covid-19 has created a sense of urgency among parents, who are concerned about learning losses due to the many challenges of large-scale virtual learning. This has prompted many parents to turn to after-school programs to fill the gaps in their children’s education. Students’ needs may be more personalized instruction, a reinforcement of skills taught in school, or options for advancement.

Unfortunately, many students and even parents experience a fear of math. Research from the University of Chicago showed that people with math anxiety steer away from solving problems, even when a large reward is offered.

For lower levels of math anxiety, we have created a program presenting math as fun, interactive and the language of problem-solving. The program is personalized and flexible, making math click for students. Our teachers nurture students and help them overcome obstacles with a personalized program.

We adapt to children’s requirements and teach at exactly the right pace. I like to call it ‘the Goldilocks zone’ of math: The problem is not too complex, nor too easy. This way, we aim to train, equip and empower the next generation of invincible problem solvers.

How is your solution helping respond to and address any teacher shortages seen across the U.S.?

The shortage of good teachers (especially STEM teachers) is not just a U.S. problem, but worldwide.

With state / district specific schools receiving additional funds, the state’s ability to hire more teachers will surely go up. However, I feel hiring more teachers and reducing the student/teacher ratio is only part of the answer.

 

Perhaps more important is how well we enable these teachers to deliver effectively in each class. Are we only relying on each teacher’s intrinsic ability to teach well and create a passion for the subject in students? Or – are we enabling the teacher with technologies and pedagogy tools that can do more of the heavy lifting?

For example, with [our company], hiring more teachers is a big focus for us. We select only 3% of applicants to become Cuemath teachers. Then, an even greater focus is how to enable these 3% – who are already pretty good – to teach like world-class educators. To do this, we provide extensive curriculum and product tools within [our] platform – allowing the teacher to teach each concept in the best manner possible. 

To ensure learning continuity, especially with the disproportionately important skill of math, [we are] … the perfect solution. Our 10,000+ math educators are skilled in teaching in a personalized manner and can adapt their instruction to each student’s unique needs.

What does the future of learning look like?

The ongoing pandemic has disrupted educational institutions worldwide. Globally, teachers and institutions have had to adapt to online learning environments. The organizations with the strongest training and support for teachers, and the most robust online platforms, have excelled the most.

More students and parents are not only comfortable with, but actually enthusiastic about, online learning. This is due to the level of personalization, convenience, and real-time feedback this approach allows.

Typically, the global math and coding coaching industry has operated in-person, but as [our] growth shows – the future is online. Across the broader EdTech market, as more players enter the space, the winners will be those focused on outcomes, personalization, and who remember that learning should be fun.

What are your views on the future of teaching/learning, how Covid-19 has transformed learning, and school closures have disrupted children’s development?

Covid has taught us that online learning is possible, effective, and convenient.

With [our platform], parents love that their child can log-in to the class from the comfort of home, removing the drop offs / pick-ups to physical learning centers. This is why attendance for [our] American students is close to 100%.

I also feel that a fully online format of learning may not be as effective as the offline format on several fronts, including building peer-to-peer relationships that physical spaces afford. I envisage a mixed omni-channel approach playing out. Education players might offer either online or offline, or a combination of both for the same learner. 

School closures and/or schools not operating on normal schedules, has definitely contributed to learning disruption, especially in skills such as math where continuous work is required. There is a famous concept of ‘summer loss’ in math – the loss of academic skills and knowledge during the summer vacation in countries with lengthy breaks such as the US and Canada. This loss has exacerbated due to Covid and is where players such as Cuemath are the perfect solution to ensure learning continuity. This is why we have seen enormous traction in the American market. 

What makes your math platform in particular, totally necessary? What purpose does it serve?

The future for AI is extremely promising. We are not far away from having our own robotic companions.

This has pushed many developers to start writing codes and developing AI and ML programs. However, learning to write algorithms for AI and ML is not easy and requires extensive programming and math knowledge. Math plays an important role; building the foundation for programming these two streams.

To start, basic-to-intermediate knowledge of Linear Algebra, calculus, statistics, and probability is required. You should have some practice with differential calculus. Once you have gained some knowledge on these topics, you can start developing basic linear regression models. Any paper you select for reading regarding machine/deep learning will have much math jargon. Without a basic math knowledge, you will not understand what is written there.

Every child today needs good, or at least reasonable, math skills to be relevant in the future job landscape. Many of the next decade’s most valuable jobs will involve some level of math thinking.

‘Every child today needs good, or at least reasonable, math skills to be relevant in the future job landscape. Many of the next decade’s most valuable jobs will involve some level of math thinking.’

The Cuemath method focuses on teaching math this way, so children can become invincible problem solvers.

While our in-built AI recognizes a child’s adaptability, we also have assessment forms shared amongst the teacher community. Via this, the curriculum is tweaked for the student to adapt to the curriculum.

What are some highlights in the way of various validations you’ve received for your work?

Cuemath is STEM certified and has also recently teamed up with Google for Education to transform the teaching and learning experience.

Cuemath teachers and students will be given a Google for Education certificate. Whilst teachers will be given a Google-Certified Educator Level 1 Certificate, students who take a 12 to 18 months Cuemath program will achieve a Google CS First Creator Coder Certificate.

The Google for Education certificate for educators will help our teachers progress their professional development and engage, and do more, with our students via technology.

Our First Creator Coder Certificate will ensure every student has access to collaborative, coding, and technical skills to unlock opportunities in the classroom and beyond – no matter what their future goals are. 

Any new product offering you have in the pipeline? 

We are on our way to become a unicorn (a $1 billion company) by the end of 2022 and are consolidating the Math and coding product we have.

We recently extended the Math curriculum to high school students beyond grade 8 (K-12). We are also helping via specialized courses for Advance Placement tests such as AP calculus AB and BC along with SAT.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]

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