InnovED Member Spotlight: Bhairavi Shankar, Founder of Indus Space & Diana Al Dajani, Founder of eduTechnoz
The InnovED Member Spotlight allows us to share with the wider education community, the entrepreneurial stories and ongoing work of InnovED Members as Education Innovators. We spoke with members Bhairavi and Diana about their recent collaboration.
Can you tell us, Bhairavi, about your motivations to launch Indus Space? And yours in launching eduTechnoz, Diana? What problems, challenges, or opportunities are your organizations engaged to address?
Bhairavi: When I moved back to the GTA in 2016, I noticed many friends and kids were not aware of all the current STEM or space-themed things happening at the time even though they were interested in STEM overall and were often enamoured by space topics. Often, if I asked if they were planning to attend a Space exhibition or event that was happening at either the ROM or Ontario Science Centre, many (who resided across the GTA) said they couldn’t because it didn’t fit their schedule, or it was too far away and different family obligations meant they couldn’t spend the time. So, Indus Space was formed to resolve that challenge – bringing Space and STEM programming to youth who otherwise don’t have that access. To inspire girls and especially youth from marginalized communities to pursue space careers. We know from studies that while 70% of high school youth see the value in a STEM career and want to participate actively, less than 20% of girls end up choosing a physical science or engineering path. So, we at Indus Space want to bring that access early to inspire the next generation of STEM professionals. To date, our programs have reached nearly 3800 youth of all ages and we are excited to expand that reach even further through this initiative.
Diana: When my son, back then, told me that he hated Arabic and preferred English because it was easier and more fun, I realized that he might lose the most important pillar of his identity and culture. I could not find any resources or games that are as fun or attractive as English ones. Therefore, I used my Computer Engineering education from the University of Toronto to create games that helped him master specific skills required in his Arabic homework. It worked! My friends started to ask for the games for their kids and teachers started asking for the games after I gave them to my son’s teacher. The demand was there in the market, where children would perceive Arabic is hard, but, back then, I was not sure if the market was ready. I decided to give it my best shot and quit my FinTech Business Development (B2B) job. It was indeed a very scary time when I left the FinTech industry to join the EdTech industry. Today, eduTechnoz has over 250,000 users from over 45 countries and we are inspiring children to fall in love with Arabic everyday by gamifying the whole teaching and learning experience. We started expanding our products portfolio to include an Academy for teachers to learn how to teach using our innovative new Arabic literacy un-contextualized model, which we spent over 10 years in R&D and was the reason we were listed in the Global Index of Top 50 Makers & Shakers of EdTech, among other international awards & recognition. And now, we are at a position where we want to better serve our audience and provide them with more localized, contextualized services. Hence, it made sense to collaborate with Indus Space to provide Bilingual (Arabic and English), gamified, and asynchronous educational experiences.
What sparked the collaboration between your organizations? What product or service are you providing and what stakeholders and systems are you seeking to serve? How might your collaboration enable this?
Diana: After I did a presentation at InnovED about scaling our business to international markets, Bhairavi reached out to learn more about how she can do the same for Indus Space. The collaboration was not born from the first conversation. However, we kept each other posted. After an international opportunity presented itself, we both reconnected and tried to figure out the logistics of delivering the Indus Space workshops; and explored possible delivery styles. Would it be completely online, hybrid, or in-person and what kind of materials need to be shipped, printed, etc.? The more we dove into the details, the more we realized that the risk is too high for our objectives – which is business continuity. Therefore, we started exploring other ways to deliver the workshops. After multiple co-working sessions, we realized that we could combine our eduTechnoz gamified eLearning platform with Indus Space workshops digital content and offer this invaluable education experience to children in multiple languages starting with English, Arabic, and eventually other languages including French. We realized that this was becoming a full-fledged collaboration and a new product was born! We called it SpaceNoz!
SpaceNoz consists of a series of informational micro-learning activities (hands-on or coding related) around popular space topics for students in grades 1-8. Students are introduced to the topic through a short, animated video and encouraged to try a series of games and activities to test and apply their newly acquired knowledge. These activities are designed to be self-paced, experimental and multi-sensory experiences. The content and approach get slightly more complex as the grade level of the learner increases. Students are rewarded with a badge or certificate at the end to encourage their progress and motivate them to try out other topics. Currently, starter topics include Astronomy, Space Collisions, Life Cycle of Stars, Our Sun Our Star, and Feed an Astronaut.
Bhairavi: For us, it would be wonderful to expand that awareness to a wider audience. The Space sector is often touted to be a global community so we would love to share engaging space themed content that can be enjoyed by youth of all ages, in their first language and where they can learn not just about the activity topic, but who works in that area and celebrate the diversity of all space professionals to inspire them.
What outcomes are you hoping for out of this collaboration? What have you learned from, or contributed to one another?
Diana: We are both educators and we both care about providing affordable access to youth on a range of topics such as space exploration. We would like to see our solution serving children in their first language, wherever they live. We want to break the language barrier. Also, we believe that this gamified, asynchronous educational experience can add value to educators across Canadian and global communities.
Our collaboration added value for eduTechnoz and Indus Space respectively, on many aspects including the design of our solutions, stakeholder engagement strategies, and general business planning approaches.
Bhairavi: As mentioned earlier, it’s very important for us to promote that youth – no matter how they identify – can be part of the STEM community and occupy various leadership roles within the space sector. There is truly a place in Space for everyone! As a woman in entrepreneurship, I have learned much from Diana given her longer experience as an edupreneur! Each conversation we have leads to a discovery moment! I look forward to seeing where this new approach takes us.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our educator and edupreneur community?
We have recognized that collaboration is a very powerful and key element where the spark of innovative solutions happens that otherwise would not exist. Getting feedback helps elevate the whole entrepreneurship journey overall.