If you can remember a time when you missed classes at school, you can surely relate to the dreadful hours spent collecting notes and hoping to understand the topic on your own.
Jihadul Islam Saham, a ninth grader, also thought he could manage notes from his peers and solve his maths problems. But little did he know that the topic – rational and irrational numbers – would turn out to be so complex.
"As I was trying to catch up with my class, I missed the opportunity to consult my mathematics teacher. Eventually, our school was closed due to the lockdown," said Saham, during an interview with The Business Standard.
Saham could not understand the very concept of rational and irrational numbers and just like that, half a year passed by in lockdown.
At the end of October, while scrolling through his Facebook news feed, Saham came across an advertisement of a new app - Shikho. "I found their content to be very interesting, so I signed up for some trial classes and later subscribed for their grade nine and 10 general mathematics course," he said.
"I like Shikho's content and the techniques they use to explain everything. It is different than our traditional learning process," he added.
The concept behind the app
Like Saham, there are many students who have found the Shikho app to be useful for their studies.
Since its launch on October 30, 2020, Shikho has seen a surge in users with over 10,000 downloads on Google Play Store.
Shikho is essentially an ed-tech start-up offering quality education with a blend of innovation at a highly competitive price. According to its Head of HR and Communications - Tahiya Chowdhury, Shikho is an intersection between three elements - academic expertise, creative design, and technology.
The team behind Shikho consists of a pool of experts specialising in their respective fields.
For quality assurance, this start-up has a team of script writers and "subject matter experts" who design the lectures in a manner that best meets students' needs. They also have a team that solely works on questions, illustrative solutions, and text and image-based resources which they call "smart notes".
This practically removes the need for bulky guidebooks that students traditionally have to buy separately.
In terms of creative design, Shikho has taken up to the challenge of diverting students' attention from using smartphone applications for entertainment purposes to effective and engaging learning.
How the app works
All the video lessons use high quality animation to enhance the learning experience and help explain complex concepts visually, placing the student in real life settings and making sure that visual learners are not disadvantaged.
They have also brought in gamification at multiple levels in the app - a universal Shikho points system that dictates one's profile level as a beginner or a legend, localised reward badges where students can get a CNG or Rickshaw badge, depending on their answering speed as an example; leaderboards where students can compete with friends and others they connect with in the app.
This aids in further enhancing the user experience.
Gamification is very important when it comes to learning. Kids nowadays love playing games and the more points they receive, the more they find the app interesting. So, we are using gamification to keep them engaged in learning.
When asked why they included this feature, Tahiya said, "Gamification is very important when it comes to learning. Kids nowadays love playing games and the more points they receive, the more they find the app interesting. So, we are using gamification to keep them engaged in learning."
The founders say that the Shikho app is built on a data driven architecture. They already have a recommendation engine in the pilot app and have ambitions of using advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to smooth out a student's learning journey.
About the app design, Tahiya mentioned, "We spent an exceptionally long time perfecting the look and feel of the app so that the UI and UX was appealing to younger users. We wanted to ensure that all the content was organised and easy to find."
For now, Shikho is only offering mathematics course for grades 9-10 on its app.
This pilot product includes 122 video lectures, 700 smart notes, 3,000 mock questions with solutions, and more than 1,000 diagrams on grade 9-10 mathematics alone and that too for just Tk100 per month.
Shikho chose to follow a step-by-step approach and launch one course at a time. Following the reception of its pilot project, this ed-tech start-up will be launching more courses and subjects in the coming six months.
The pandemic effect
Though Shikho hit the market last month, its team has been operating since 2018.
After two years of researching and developing the curriculum, this start-up applied for funding in January 2020 to scale its business. In June, they received their first funding from Learn Capital – a Silicon Valley-based global ed-tech investor.
Like any other ed-tech start-up in Bangladesh, Shikho too benefitted from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
When asked about the pandemic's impact on Shikho's operations, Tahiya said, "Covid-19 accelerated the external viewpoint of all stakeholders – parents, students, and the government. Everyone now acknowledges the power of ed-tech. Before Covid-19, the market for ed-tech services was very niche but now, it is expanding."
"There have been no changes in our business plans apart from accelerating the process of content creation through external investment," she added.
Our aim was to create a curriculum that would not only be useful for the weakest student but also be equally challenging for more advanced learners
Like Shikho, other ed-tech start-ups have emerged during the pandemic as well. But Shikho has been able to stand apart.
"We did not want to follow the traditional route of shifting the basic classroom curriculum online. The lesson plans are designed in such a way that someone who is struggling with a concept can gradually build up their understanding on the topic. Our aim was to create a curriculum that would not only be useful for the weakest student but also be equally challenging for more advanced learners," said Tahiya.
Shikho, indeed, has introduced a variety of methods that can help students start from scratch and ace a course.
However, most of the newly launched apps have been facing hurdles in the market, and Shikho is no exception.
According to Tahiya, moulding the script-writers to break free of a traditional mind-set was challenging. And speaking of a traditional mind-set, convincing guardians to consider online education as a substitute for traditional after-school learning is also a very big concern for the Shikho team.
"To break the barriers, we always knew that we needed to provide a very authentic value proposition to both parents and students and make sure we were communicating the benefits of the app appropriately. Changing customer behaviour is always very difficult, but we know that over time, the product will speak for itself. We also wanted to ensure that the price was not a barrier. Compared to the quality we are offering our prices are very low," said Tahiya.
"We wanted to present the opportunity cost to students and guardians – would you rather have a small sized burger or have access to a comprehensive mathematics course for a month, with the same amount of money?" she added.
Since the beta launch, Shikho has seen positive results; subscribers just for the grade 9-10 mathematics are spending more than 25 minutes on the app every day.
Over the next five years, the Shikho team hopes to expand its market all over Bangladesh, providing quality education and empowering our digitally enabled young population.
To know more, you may visit their website: https://shikho.tech/