It’s Friday afternoon and being a weekly holiday in Kuwait, both the parents of 15-year-old Aditya are having their siesta while the teenager is immersed in his GrainEd session by a Malayali finance enthusiast in New York on the role of stock markets in a liberal economy and how they work. But Aditya is not alone. There is Clemi from Alappuzha, Deepak from New Castle, Shreya from Bangalore and there are around 30 other grade 10-12 kids like him in the class. Of them, Deepak is more than 8,000 kms away, outside Newcastle upon Tyne. It is morning there in the UK and sitting at his computer, Deepak also is barefoot and ready for the hour-long session on how businesses raise their investments. The high school freshman puts on a headset with a microphone and clicks on Zoom that will link him through the Internet to his mentor, Pradeepan Kunhiraman in New York while the class is also joined by other students scattered in three or four various time zones away.
Though COVID forced schools to go online, those classes did not go universal and wider using www’s biggest advantage but remained school-specific even in the era of digital classrooms. But then look at what GraindEd achieved, a crowd-sourced online learning platform founded and run by four engineering classmates sitting in three corners of the world? Govt Engineering College, Thrissur, their alma mater, was the only common spirit the foursome did have before they found their unique passion for excellence in each other, long after they parted ways with engineering degrees. It was after coming up in life in their own individual ways, Satish, Sherry, Feroze and Shyam, presently in Thrissur, Muscat, Boston and New York respectively, founded GrainEd as a not-for-profit organisation in 2016 to impart online education meted out by working professionals and not by professional teachers.
It took a couple of years and fifty plus classroom and online sessions for the team to prototype and fine tune the alternate educational model based on pedagogic method of “known to unknown”, application-based learning and integrated curriculum which is global and syllabus-agnostic. The idea struck its big moment in early 2020 when the world caught covid and online education became popular even in rural India.
Within one year, the portal has conducted 500+ sessions by more than 40 professionals across the world in successful careers in different domains like engineering to music, catering to mining, movies to scientific research and finance to history. Dr Rajiv Mohanraj, neurosurgeon at NHS, UK to Dr Najeeb Kuzhiyil, Scientist at Exxon Mobil, USA to Sybille Sajeet, Engineering Manager at Qatar to Nidhi Jain Seth, CEO from Delhi to Rajesh Muttath, Advocate from Malaysia to Dr Arun Thankom, Professor at Essex University, UK to Rohin Narayanan, Scientist at Large Hydron Collider, USA to Dr Seena Devaki, Adolescent Psychiatrist from UK – the profiles of voluntary mentors are telling! The beneficiary students? Again, from across the world.
“What makes GrainEd different is the encouragement for students to freely ask questions and the interest mentors display to answer all of them citing real life examples,” according to Dhanushree Suresh, one of the regular students from Kuwait.
“Till date, these kids have had a combined 12,000 student hours spent on our live and interactive classes and lately, the momentum has caught up really well,” explains Satish Kumar, one of those four founders. Most of the sessions are around 60 minutes long and parents and students can register through the portal www.grain-ed.com which provides the schedule, topics and meeting ID for each session. Notes, past session videos and offline activities are also managed through this portal. “It’s alternate education at its best as it’s meted out by working professionals and does not depend too much on theories which the students would be already flooded upon by their conventional classes though done online now,” Miriam Joseph, a parent from Bangalore, said.
Mr. Satish said all of the sessions are done live with interactive participation from students and once complete, will be available on YouTube as videos. Focus is on imparting fundamentals and the unique approach of professionals based on application-oriented training methods make all the difference here.
For instance, one of the recent sessions was by a mentor from Oman named Ms. Tessy Roy Varghese and was participated by 46 students, from India, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and UK. “Our aim is to make learning interesting and holistic, making children to be confident and self-reliant. The classes are taken voluntarily by working professionals and almost all the courses are integrated with linkage to multiple subjects. The access is absolutely free and restricted to first registered 100 students for any course which is the maximum capacity set for the Zoom sessions. Our intent is to build a crowd-sourced learning platform in Wiki-model wherein professionals from around the world can voluntarily disseminate acquired knowledge for the benefit of aspiring students sans borders. Also, many institutions including schools, libraries and social organizations are partnering with us to take the platform to masses”, he explained.