Nurturing young minds
Can two hours of teaching a week for three months make a difference to a child? Shaarada K. Sriram, Managing Director, Ideal Play Abacus India Pvt. Ltd. (IPA) is convinced that it can. Her conviction is based on feedback from thousands of parents who have found tremendous improvement in the overall academic performance of their children after they joined IPA. Shaarada’s organisation has grown rapidly ever since it was founded in July 2003, in Chennai. Today, she and Chitra Ravindran, her business partner and Director-Training, and their team of about 1,000 teachers spread across India cater to 50,000 registered students, through 400 centres.
Abacus is an ancient Chinese tool still widely used in place of the calculator in China. On each rod of the abacus, there are four beads below the beam and one bead above. The beads blow the rod are each equal to 1, while the one above is equal to 5. Analysis has shown that the development and growth of the brain is most pronounced when a child is 4-12 years old. Using abacus, children are trained to use the right and left halves of the brain effectively, helping them concentrate better, improve speed and accuracy, and develop analytical thinking. In 2000, when abacus was a new concept in India, Shaarada had gone to see the product as a parent. She was so impressed that she decided to pay Rs 60,000 and become a franchisee. It was a difficult task convincing parents to send their children to try out a new concept, but Shaarada’s door-to-door canvassing helped.
IPA, ISI 9001:2000-certified from the British Standards Institute, is affiliated to Play Abacus Sdn Bhd, Malaysia, and Guang Xi Abacus Association, China. It is the only Indian company to have received the Premier Achievement Training Certificate from the Chinese Abacus Association. Shaarada and her directors are trained in advanced concepts such as square-roots, cubic-roots and fractions. All teachers are graduates with good communication skills and love for children. Stevan Tan, President, Play Abacus Sdn Bhd, formulates the curriculum training.
IPA’s success with abacus led to the introduction of Vedic mathematics in 2006. IPA’s Vedic mathematics programme now covers 125 centres in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan.
A system of mental calculation based on the Atharvaveda, an ancient Vedic text, Vedic mathematics can speed up arithmetic calculation and has applications to more advanced mathematics, such as calculus and linear algebra. Calculations are carried out mentally – students can invent their own methods, there is no one ‘correct’ method.
Abacus includes a lot of writing activity for children. Noticing that several children had bad handwriting, Shaarada started classes in handwriting as a summer activity, and recently launched IPA’s handwriting programme.
Another recent introduction from IPA has been the Creative World of Colours, an arts programme that makes use of a wide range of teaching aids and colouring material such as colour pencils, oil pastels, and water and poster colours to stimulate creativity in children. The programme, conducted in association with the Malaysian partner, comprises six levels and includes recognition of colours, shapes, simple drawing and craft, drawing animals and cartoons, mastering colouring skills, and using poster colours. Certificates are presented to students who pass each level.
The winner of the Best Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 Award from Franchise India Holdings Ltd., New Delhi, Shaarada owes her success to her excellent network of franchisees and high quality standards. “We have made a lot of difference to women too. Most of our franchisees are women. We have seen the attitudes of these women change, their increased confidence. There’s also satisfaction in seeing children wearing our T-shirts and carrying our bags in different parts of the country.”
IPA demo students have travelled to Jammu in the midst of army tanks and escaped bomb blasts in Assam. Shaarada and Chitra have several stories to narrate, of how they came up the hard way. Once, while travelling to Bangalore by train, for a presentation in Hosur, they had to get down at Krishnarajapuram and take an auto to the venue. There was no time to change clothes or have breakfast. And while Shaarada was making the presentation, her student helping her with it almost collapsed, tired after the journey. Another time, Shaarada had to rush to for a demonstration to Amritsar from Delhi. No train ticket was available. She chose to go by the night bus, without her family’s knowledge. “Only Chitra knew. Seated next to me was a Sardar, and I spent a sleepless night,” she recalls.