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Child’s play
DESIGNS ON YOU
E. K. Shaji & Usha Menon

PROFILE

A simple, double-coloured bead string represents the story of Jodo Gyan, a brand which works to improve the quality of education for children. The 100-bead Ganit Mala helps the child to easily add, subtract, multiply and even work on multiples and factors by grouping the vivid beads.

This attractive Ganit Mala is one among innumerable tools designed by Jodo Gyan, a brand that’s taken on the mantle of developing simple but effective educational tools for children starting from the age of two. Smiles E.K. Shaji, a partner in the Jodo Gyan enterprise: “Our educational tools can be used by everyone to understand the concepts behind maths and science.’’

Delve deeper and the creativity behind each of the 63 educational products in the Jodo Gyan kitty shows the company’s commitment to make mathematics and science fun for children. Jodo Gyan is a collaboration between Shaji, 43, and Usha Menon, 62, who’d both been working in the field of education.

Profit does not drive Jodo Gyan, so it cannot be termed a business. Neither is it an NGO. “We consciously decided not to accept donations,” says Shaji. They call themselves a non-funded, not-for-profit social enterprise. The duo operates out of a centre in north Delhi where they develop their products and even run a small school for children up to 10 years. Individuals can pick up the products from several NGOs — Vikramshila in Calcutta, Sutradhar in Bangalore, Katha in Delhi, Tulika in Chennai and 11 centres of Eklavya across the country.

Shaji, who has a Masters in Economics and a Masters Diploma in Journalism from Calicut University, was working with the National Literacy Mission. Menon was a scientist with the National Institute of Science, Technology and Developmental Studies at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). A chance introduction by a common friend in 1994 resulted in the venture which took off in 1998.

It’s a perfect partnership. Menon holds fort in research and designing technically sound products, while the organisational work, testing products with schools rests with Shaji. The duo also conducts workshops with teachers and principals in schools.

What makes the Jodo Gyan products stand out is the use of labour-intensive methods of production rather than the use of machines. The products are vividly coloured, thus attractive to children. They are made of inexpensive materials like plastic, wood, bamboo and rubber. Prices too are modest and begin at Rs 10.

The efficacy of each product is tested by teachers at their own Jodo Gyan School, Swami Sivanand Memorial School in Punjabi Bagh and The Heritage School, Rohini in Delhi.

However, it hasn’t been a smooth ride for Shaji and Menon. Initially, they could only find takers in schools like The Heritage, Sanskriti School across the country. Out of their yearly sales of over Rs 1 crore, 95 per cent comes directly from schools.

Till date, they have held 1,000 workshops in which more than 3,500 schools all over the country have participated.

Trends

The educational learning through toys sector is booming as most state education boards have set aside money for such efforts. “But most of the manufacturers focus on English, Science and Social sciences. Not many make educational toys for maths,” says Shaji.

They rue that many companies which are involved in making “learning” toys are business-driven rather than focusing on education itself. “There isn’t adequate research,” says Shaji.

PROducts

The Jodo Gyan range is a combination of educational aids developed by Menon and others.

The Rangometry kit (Rs 100) consists of rubber triangles, squares, hexagons and more in six colours. It helps in pattern recognition and in developing creativity. The rubber Mathmat (Rs 140) aids in small sums, teaching numbers and hand-and-eye co-ordination.

The Jodo Cube (Rs 300) consists of 100 small cubes that can be joined together to simplify maths. To learn addition for instance, four cubes joined together with four more makes it eight. Visualisation makes the calculations simpler. The Density Kit, the Bamboo Microscope, Optic Kit and Solar Filter help in science experiments. The Density Kit demonstrates that for the same volume, different materials have different density. Jodo Gyan also offers age-old games like the Tangram, (Rs 35) the classic Chinese puzzle.

Photographs by Jagan Negi

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