In an age where regimented thinking has taken firm ground, education start-up Open Door is trying to unbox critical thinking in school children. Aneesh Bangia, the co-founder of Open Door spoke to The Indian Express about the start-up which he founded along with fellow IITian Abhishek Kariwal.

1) What led to your interest in the educational sector and especially, how complex subjects are taught to kids?

I have always been a slow learner. I remember in Grade 11, our teacher was teaching centrifugal force. I was trying to understand but I had several questions in my mind. So, innocently, I asked a question to the teacher. But, I wasn’t fully satisfied. So, I asked a few more questions. Each time I asked a question, my classmates looked at me smugly. They thought they had understood the concept while I was stupid to be asking silly questions. It took me a lot of time to understand that concept and when we were tested, it was found out that I was one of the few people in the class who had really understood centrifugal force. The classmates, who were confident in their understanding, were the ones who did not understand at all.

Many such triggers through my childhood made me realise that it takes time to understand. If you truly want to understand something, you need to think from many angles and question many times. It took Newton many years to make his laws of motion. Humans still do not understand light completely. How do we expect children to understand such topics in a few periods?

We noticed that many children in the school system were scoring high marks but not learning anything. They were passing year after year with the delusion of learning. In the process, they were becoming poor thinkers and losing the habit of questioning.

We also realised that learning by thinking has many benefits. Once you learn to think critically and deeply, you can learn many things. We noticed how people who master one thing are usually good at mastering many other things. Why? Because they have learned how to learn.

How different is the approach of Open Door from the present system of teaching or coaching, for instance, the way IIT entrance tests are conducted?

In the age where everyone involved in the education sector is constrained by the need to prepare children for examinations, Open Door absolved itself from preparing children for any test very early on. We realised that if we work in the education sector, we will always do the right thing. Profits will come later.

School leaders and parents who love Open Door understand very clearly that Open Door will only try to develop thinking skills in children. So, we have no burden of exams on us!

This freedom (from expectations of exams) allows Open Door to do the right things. Open Door is different from present day’s coaching/teaching in many ways. Let me share some unique examples: a) Open Door’s assessments have no time limits. Children can take a long time to think. Sometimes, children learn in the process of slow thinking. b) In an average school session, teachers speak for roughly 80 per cent of the time. Open Door helps teachers to speak less and make children think more. c) Open Door designs questions that no teacher and no student has seen before. They can only be answered when children understand the topic well. This encourages thinking and understanding. d) In most coaching classes and classrooms, slow learners get left behind. With Open Door’s programmes, slow learners get equal time to think and improve the most!

Open Door tries to improve teaching and assimilation by children. Can you share your observations about the present education system or the way science is taught to children?

Science is the understanding of the world around us. If you understand science, you understand what you are made of, what would happen if the Earth stopped rotating for a minute, why do we rest back in a chair when tired, what pushes a car forward, what makes a flower colourful and so on.

Such a beautiful subject is currently taught as definitions and formulae. Open Door is helping schools unbox the beauty of science using interesting questions. Many teachers tell us that they never thought about science in the manner Open Door has shown them. Many children have told us that we ask questions that did not even occur in their mind.

Portion of your programme is aimed at teachers. How efficient are our science and mathematics teachers in normal public schools? Is Open Door aimed only at public schools or can they be adapted in government-run schools too?

Open Door is best suited for private schools. We currently work with around 200 private schools across India and the middle-east. In many private schools, the teachers have come from the same school system where they were prepared for examinations but they are also open to change.

Teachers are a very important component of Open Door’s programmes. They execute the programmes in their classrooms and make Open Door come alive. When the programme is first implemented in a school, some teachers have apprehensions. There is a sense of discomfort because of the introduction of a new agency. But, slowly Open Door and teachers become a single unit. Slowly, teachers start seeing a change in the children and start warming up to our programmes.

Tell us about your business model. Any plans of expansion and further fund raising?

Open Door currently works in the B2B segment. We offer two programmes to schools — Mastery Assessments and Thinking Classroom. When schools opt for these programmes, they become an integral part of the teaching plan. For each programme, we charge a certain annual fee from the schools. Schools can renew Open Door’s contract after each year.

Open Door has developed two new products in the B2C segment. They are called Unbox and Thinksheets. Unbox is a set of physics courses that make children smarter. Thinksheets is a set of thinking worksheets that will be evaluated by the Open Door team. These products will be offered as mobile apps. They will be open to curious children across the world in October 2021.

Currently, we do not have any funding plans. We would like to remain lean and profitable as much as possible. We would think about funding only if it is required to grow the business and we are able to generate unit economics.

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By Wyatt

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