Published: 29th May 2019
Beyond Books is a platform to help parents guide their children through each stage of development
The platform aims to go ‘beyond books’ and develop different skills that children need in the real world
In a country that's obsessed with academic excellence, other life skills and social skills are often ignored or not given the same importance in schools and colleges. Urvi Sheth, an educator by profession realised that this would be a huge impediment to the holistic growth of children. She wanted to ensure that children learn to interact with others, form opinions and learn life skills. Which is why she set up Beyond Books, an online platform that helps parents understand the different stages of development in their kids and educate them on how to bring out full potential. Excerpts...
1. How and why did you come up with the idea for Beyond Books?
In the last 16 years that I have been in the field of education, I have worked with a number of institutions globally. I have worked with child-care centres in Australia and with international schools in India, international schools including IB and Cambridge curriculums. Through my experiences, I realised the disparity in what is being taught and what skills a child needs to face the real world. There was so much focus on theory that the life skills that one requires in their daily lives were given barely any importance! I don’t think it is that important for a student to know the theorems in Math as it is to know how to find solutions to different problems even if you aspire to be a mathematician! And let’s face it, as teachers, we aren’t just teaching children all day, we are also planning lessons, planning school events, documenting administrative work at times. The focus of the classroom should be student-led with no restrictions on time and methodology. So I decided that if I want to bring a change to the teaching style of our education system, I should be the first one to take that step. And thus, Beyond Books was born!
2. What specific issues or needs does this platform aim to address?
The platform aims to go ‘beyond books’ and develop different skills that children need in the real world while keeping in mind the lifestyle of the parents. Most of the families nowadays have dual working parents. As a result, children often land up whiling their time away either in front of the television or playing on the iPad. While we aren’t against technology (which is inevitable), how are the children really benefitting from that? Why not use that time more productively and effectively? Through our activities which require minimal preparation and time, we aim to empower parents with ideas, books, toys and technology that will help their children be ready to deal with everyday issues. These range from motor skills for the young ones to emotional and social skills for the older ones and much more!
3. Tell us some of the features of the platform. What areas do you hope to target?
Our main target remains skill development in children. Skills can be classified into a number of different categories but primarily there are motor skills, cognitive skills, social skills, emotional skills, creativity skills and language skills. We share activity ideas with parents which help in developing the above mentioned skills. These ideas include materials which are easily available in every household but using it in various ways can help achieve a number of goals for children. We also provide reviews on books, toys and technology currently available in the market and look at how they help the child.
Also at Beyond Books, we design curriculums for preschools keeping the age and developmental stages of a child in mind. My experiences in Australia have helped given me a new perspective on child development and the different ways we can achieve that. I strive to incorporate that as I plan curriculums of the preschools. The entire process goes through a number of stages where first, an overview is planned and requirements of different grades are clearly defined. Then, the prerequisites for each grade are clearly highlighted. Once, we have the skill sets in place for the various age groups, we look at different activities that we can do to engage the child in the process as much as possible. We use a lot of resources and materials to make it an evolving and fun process for the children.
4. How is it different from online educational platforms for kids?
Most of the online educational platforms talk about theoretical knowledge that children require in different grades. Beyond Books does not focus on knowledge but on skills (yes, you will hear a lot about that at Beyond Books!). How many of us truly remember what we learnt in schools and colleges? Many of us don’t remember it a day after the exam! So how is that knowledge going to help us in our adult lives? Would it be better to learn the names of our Prime Ministers or what are the qualities that make a leader, so that our children inculcate them while they grow up? That’s the difference between the other online educational platforms and Beyond Books.
5. What, according to you is the biggest challenge with regard to child development?
As much as I hate saying it, it’s the mentality of number one among parents and schools. Thankfully, that is changing even if it’s slow. The pressure of being first or getting a good percentage in class doesn’t give the child the opportunity to learn anything logically! The pleasure of reading to understand is overshadowed by the need to ‘learn it up’ so exams can be taken care of. Is that what we want our children to grow up to be? Amazing at rote learning?? Let’s move away from the rankings so our children can love the process of learning.
Another challenge for child development is sticking to the textbook or the syllabus. By doing so, we are limiting the child’s growth and potential in areas that may not be academic or of their interest. This is a struggle I often face during my teacher training workshops where the teachers have been pre-trained to plan their lessons based on the ‘portion’ of the textbook. Through my workshops, they understand that learning doesn’t happen purely on the basis of that’s given in the textbook. Learning happens in many different ways for every child. It depends more on how you teach. Through my workshops, I hope to acquaint more future teachers to hands-on learning and involving the children in the process for better results.
6. What do you think parents or schools need to do differently, especially in India?
They desperately need to stop comparing their children to the others in the class or school. Each child is different and should be looked at as an individual. Every child behaves, talks and learns differently. As the old saying goes, all our fingers aren’t the same.
7. How this platform has helped? What was the feedback like?
This platform also answers parent concerns on their child’s growth and development. I have had parents coming and telling me how the books or activities for fine motor skills have helped their children. They have been referring to the website for activities and their children are enjoying these activities. One incident that particularly stands out for me is when an Indian parent residing in Africa and I conversed and she shared her concerns for her child with me. While the teacher was empathetic to the child’s situation, the other factors stopped the child from meeting his full potential. I suggested a few activities that she could do with him at home which will help challenge him and increase his interest in the learnings around him. She gradually started putting my suggestions into action and it showed positive changes in his behaviour and attitude towards school.