Published: 16th October 2021
Let's do the OckyPocky and turn English education around for our youngest learners
This is the first app in India that promotes interactive self-learning among preschoolers, teaching them English via regional languages
It is certainly not a misnomer when someone says that all things in the world are getting fast tracked. You do something innovative only to find that someone has already done that before you. But we found someone who's done something innovative, that's the first of its kind in India. Meet Amit Agarwal, whose app, OckyPocky, fast tracks learning English, right from toddler age. We talked to the founder and CEO to pick his brains about what enables kids to connect with their content so effortlessly. Excerpts:
Take us through OckyPocky's journey.
I grew up in a family where education was considered a big deal. My parents themselves did not finish school so it was all the more important to them that my siblings and I went to good schools. I've always wanted to do something related to education, having understood its weightage on life more intimately. During my research, I came across this fact that 95 per cent of applicants are not fit for industry jobs and most of this is due to communication and soft skill gaps. So I thought to myself, 'What is the best way to fix a language learning gap?'. And the answer hit me right away. If we arm children with the right tools from an early age, we can enable smoother learning of a language like English. So an application made sense to me as I wanted it to be accessible by people everywhere.
We often see kids learning two languages at school and a third one at home. How do you see the learning process from a professional perspective?
It is a known fact that children between 2 and 4 years can pick up about 6 to 8 languages during that age. There are two reasons for this. The biological reason is that synaptic connections form very quickly in early childhood. 95 per cent of the synaptic connections are formed before the age of 8. The other reason is that the cosmopolitan nature of living today means that people from different regions come together to live in a city. You would have parents with different mother tongues and then a babysitter who speaks a third language. Kids learn from them and the school environment as well. I feel that is how they become multilingual so easily.
Could you take me through some of the processes of OckyPocky?
When we were designing the interface of the app, we kept in mind the world of a child. We went the natural and environment-friendly way by including a wooden theme and natural colours. We also thought about the characters that children become so enamoured with. So we did a lot of research on that and finally came up with an octopus character to connect with children and that is also how we came up with the name OckyPocky. We then introduced several elements to the app, which is built around providing information that is new to kids and in a way that they find interesting. We cover a lot of festivals that represent regions across India. We try to demystify new information for children through our interactive means. During the IPL season, we would explain cricket to them. This way, they not only gain information but learn English as well.
So, OckyPocky hopes to teach children English through their mother tongue?
As of now, we teach English via English itself as well as via Marathi and Hindi. As we scale up our operations, we intend to extend the services to all major Indian languages. Some parents are very particular about their children learning English in the English medium. So in the end, we want our users to have that option available to them. But what we are observing is that kids learning English via Hindi are engaging better and learning 30-40 per cent more words. I feel this is a significant numerical growth.
What are your ambitions going forward?
We are now trying to build a platform where kids can ask the teacher doubts whenever they want and however many times they want. In a conventional school environment, this would be very difficult to achieve. So, we are in the process of making teachers provide that service to our users. We are also developing the app to understand all types of accents and even lisps through the natural language processing technology.
Enumerate the challenges that you've faced along the way.
I think the whole process of setting up a start-up, especially when you are a rebel and are trying to do something for the first time, is particularly challenging. Another concern that often arises from the parents' side is addiction to gadgets. We overcame this by designing the app around deaddiction. We give the controls to the parents who regulate the time spent on the app by their children.