mGuru: A K-5 learning app for India’s under-served students

Posted by Remya Padmadas on June 20, 2017

From Archimedes to Newton, from inventors to entrepreneurs, that fleeting flash of inspiration is what generates great ideas,makes humans progress, keeps the world moving forward. For Adam Korakhiwala, his ‘a-ha’ moment came in the form of a grim statistic in the 2014 Annual Status of Education (ASER) report.

ONLY 1 in 4 Std. 5 students can only read basic English sentences.

At the time, Adam was a student of Public Policy with a minor in Computer Science at Stanford University. “I read the report as a Public Policy student, but when I started thinking about how I could be a part of the solution to a problem like this, my background in Computer Science kicked in” shares Adam, founder of mGuru, a Mumbai-based edtech startup, aimed at the K-12 sector of students in urban, peri-urban and rural India.

I remember thinking how affordable smartphones were becoming and reaching so many households and people in India, and that very soon, all families would have the world’s collective knowledge in their pockets. That thought was the starting point for the idea that is now mGuru.”

A fundamental desire to bring great educational technology to any child, anywhere.

Armed with his degree, Adam returned to India with the idea to use mobile technology to help improve literacy and numeracy skills of children. “The first thing I did was to spend time in classrooms as a silent observer to study teacher interactions and student responses. I wanted to understand how different stakeholders in schools felt about education, so I extensively interviewed students, teachers and parents and NGO leaders to get as holistic a view as possible.”

After spending months at the Educo-run BMC Sai Baba Path School, Mumbai and classrooms in Akanksha and Teach for India schools, Adam’s seed of an idea began to germinate. He put together a team using ‘hustle and passion’ by posting on LinkedIn and techie job boards.  

mGuru: Helping put learning in the child’s hands

mGuru is a mobile learning app for K-5 students, focusing on English and Math. The apps provide an interactive learning journey for children, with the explicit aim of accelerating learning outcomes in an engaging way. The vision of mGuru is to package the best learning practices and research into a platform for the masses, so that any child can have the tools to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills. “We aim to significantly increase learning outcomes at scale, and we hope to build a platform that delivers that.” avers Adam.

While smartphone penetration is on the upswing across India, the mGuru team is cognisant of other infrastructural issues related to internet connectivity that much of the country still faces.

“The apps function largely without internet and are designed to work as well on low-end smartphones as they do on high-end devices.”

Once the initial prototype of the application was ready the team tested it with 100 3rd and 4th standard public school students, in Mumbai. “Our team would go in every week to see how children were reacting to the app, what they liked, what they ignored… and then every week we would go back and incorporate those learnings into the app” remembers Adam. After multiple rounds of tinkering, and a complete redesign to be more “pedagogically sound and engaging for kids” the mGuru app was officially released in August, 2016.

Learn while you play

mGuru’s English app is particularly successful with children as it gamifies the learning process. Within mGuru English, there is a reward system in the form of mangoes. By completing various activities, Manu the monkey collects mangoes which the child can then use as currency to purchase stories to read available on the app. All these stories are from StoryWeaver, an online digital repository of multilingual children’s stories from Pratham Books.

“I first read about StoryWeaver when the platform was launched.  At the time, we were looking for stories to include in the English app that were fun and engaging for children to read, along with being culturally relevant to them. StoryWeaver offers all this, and the biggest bonus is that since the stories are openly licensed and in open formats, we can use them for free, and in different ways on the app with subtitles and audio elements that we have built in-house.”

The stories have been immensely popular with the students, as TFI fellow Vishal DB noticed:

“The app keeps students across all reading levels, engaged. A combination of the app being child friendly, the interesting content and the novelty of the tabs ensure that the students are hooked.”

While the stories on the apps are in English, it also has a button, which the child can touch for the story to be translated to another language they are more fluent in. Currently, mGuru English teaches English via Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, and Hindi. However, they plan to expand this to integrate more major Indian languages such as Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Urdu. The stories offered are regularly updated so that children always have something new to read and enjoy.  

“The stories from StoryWeaver have already been read 45,000 times who have done over 185,000 activities!” Adam shares enthusiastically.

mGuru at the PTA

mGuru has partnered with NGOs such as Teach for India, Akanksha, and Yuva Unstoppable and  is currently used by 17,000 students all over India, and contains 185,000 activities. Impact is measured by looking at various statistics such as the time spent on the app, how often students return to the app, the number of stories read, and improvements in the scores of students.

“During our research phase, we learned that almost all the students in the schools we visited went for some form of ‘tutions’ after school, which showed that parents were invested in improving their child’s learning. If parents were willing to pay anywhere between Rs.300-600 for tuition, then we felt they might be willing to pay an affordable Rs. 30 per month for our app. We reach out to parents to tell them about and help download the app at school PTAs. So far we have had a very positive response from them.” shares Adam. A sentiment echoed by this parent at Sai Baba Path Public School, Mumbai.

“सर पिछले दो दिन से मेरे दोनो बच्चे ऐप को छोड ही नही रहे है । बाकी गेम खेलना तो उन्होनें बन्द ही कर दिया है बडी बात ये है के वे हमारे बिना ही सब इस्तेमाल करना सीख गये है. हम से ज्यादा मोबाइल के बारे मे उन्हें पता है।”

mGuru is also experimenting with other novel ways getting their app into the hands of more children. Starting next month, they are tying up with a chain of bakeries in Kolkata, where each bakery will also be an mGuru distribution centre. “Every time someone shops at the bakery,they'll get an offer of three weeks free access to mGuru English app. We’ll have someone there to help them download the app and do a demo if needed. If this pilot works, we will look at ways to replicate this in other geographies.” Adam reports.

Setting their sights high

The team is excited about future plans which include adding a math component  to the app, adding more languages  and more diverse content  in the form of videos and diverse activities.

“Everyone on the team has a fundamental passion and desire to bring great educational technology to any child, anywhere.” shares Adam.  

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Stories for 2017: 10 Themes for a Happy New Year!

Posted by Sherein Bansal on January 06, 2017

‘If you’re skilled at something, don’t give it away for free’ is a piece of advice that we heard so many times growing up, that just the fact that a thing called CC BY License even exists seems absurd and foolish by today’s standards. But that’s what Pratham Books' 1.5 year old digital platform StoryWeaver, all its illustrators, authors as well as translators believe in – free dissemination of our books in order to achieve our ultimate goal: ‘A book in every child’s hand’. In 2016, with 5326 stories uploaded on StoryWeaver, 25 languages added, and 1,19,132 new visitors (A warm hello to you all!), we feel truly grateful. It is indeed a Happy New Year for the StoryWeaver family. So we would like to express our heartfelt New Year wishes to you all in the best way we know. By highlighting here just 10 of our books that speak of themes that currently are, and will remain, points of discussion and action in 2017.



Chipko Takes Root written and illustrated by Jeyanthi Manokaran

We seriously need to drop the act that we are gracious hosts to nature, and are ‘allowing’ it to be. It’s the other way round. With some people claiming proudly that global warming is not real, and regressive environmental policies being made all over the world, it’s important to keep talking about conserving nature. Here’s a story about one of the bravest fights in India that made Chipko Movement a force to reckon with.



Bonda and Devi by Roopa Pai and Jit Chowdhury

Any one of us who successfully evaded technology as much as they could before, now must make their peace with it in this digital economy. We don’t know where technology will take us in 2017, but we know where it might reach in 2080! Read about this futuristic tale about two very unlikely friends. Maybe we can be friends with technology too, just like Devi in this story? Available in 9 more languages!



Counting on Moru by Rukmini Banerji and Nina Sabnani

It’s a failure of our education system for not recognizing students as individuals and keeping them at a ‘uniform’ pace of comprehension with each other. This moving story in Hindi, Kannada, Odia and Marathi, talks about how how easy it is to lose your spark when you're a student under the wrong teacher and regain it with the right one.


Community Activism 

Wildlife in a City Pond by Ashish Kothari and Sangeetha Kadur

When the good ones are silent, the misguided will shout and reign. Be the first voice to speak up against loss of beauty and justice. Here’s a story that flows like a poem and builds up your love for something that this neighborhood derives so much peace and wisdom from that you will want to protect it yourself.



Dhyan Singh ‘Chand’: Hockey’s Magician by Dilip D'Souza and Mohit Suneja

Let’s, for once, not talk about Hockey with a sense of guilt at not having given it too much traction in life. Let’s just read this story about Dhyan Chand- one of the best things to have happened to Hockey and one of the worst that happened to Hitler. Win, win all the way and yet he stayed humbly devoted to the sport all his life. A man worth knowing about, he will teach you the true meaning of sportsmanship spirit.



Yes, humour is indeed an important point of discussion. And more importantly, action. 2016 clearly needed a hug, and some jokes. So we are better prepared this time for 2017 with our fun story – Phani's Funny Chappals by Sridala Swami and Sanjay Sarkar, and our Spotathon entry Messy Miss Mitaby Jisha Unnikrishnan.



Dastkari Haat Samiti Books

Travelling inwards is just as important as travelling outwards. We need art now more than ever to connect with an ever-expanding world, and to convey our strongest messages and passions with more ease and solidarity. Experience beauty, talent and magic all woven, embroidered and sculpted together in our Dastkari Haat Books.



Gargi and Soapy by Preethi Unnithan and Sorit Gupto

Physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health. Let’s make a new year resolution to take care of it all. Here’s a story by our SW community member about a world where a soap called Soapy will fight the evil germs and restore balance and health!



Why is Nita Upside Down? By Roxana Bouwer and Sarah Bouwer

Dismissed someone lately or ridiculed someone in your mind (because doing it to their face would be politically incorrect) just because they did not look, talk or well… live, like you do? This one’s for you then. Let’s look at how a child sees a playground, and let’s compel ourselves to look at people and accept them the way they are in this judgment-reflexed world.


وصیت by Anis Azmi and Juhi Agarwal

There are all kinds of families. But as this Urdu story shows, not one can function without mutual trust and respect - Values that can make 2017 better for everyone. Ride a camel to Egypt and pay a visit to this family? Let’s go.


Which theme concerns you the most as we step into a new year? Tell us in the comments, or on Twitter and Facebook.

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