Mathematics is not a subject to be scared of, but one that can become really fun. This is what Unmath School conveys. Its tagline says, “Math Beyond Textbooks”, and Raashi Bathija, the Co-Founder, wants to convey the same message that doesn’t restrict math to books. Math is everywhere around us.
UnMath School, located in Maharashtra, looks to change the notion of mathematics being limited to books. It offers both offline and online understanding of the subject for students in a completely different way.
As UnMath School continues to grow and crosses borders and reach the USA, UAE, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Raashi shares with Business Upside India how it all started, what are the future plans with this school and how she wants to help the students think beyond textbooks to get the best lessons for life.
Edited Excerpt of the Interview
Business Upside [BU]: How did You Get your Concept of Starting a New World of Mathematics for Students?
Rashi Bathija [RB]: I have always had a love-and-hate relationship with math. I was petrified of it throughout my school. So, growing up, I realised that math needs to be more kid-friendly and how to make math a likeable subject was my main aim. UnMath was founded in 2012, with its headquarters in Mumbai. The program, which was created with the goal of creating a new solution for learning a mundane subject with an understanding of its relevance in practical situations, focuses primarily on school students and teacher training.
[BU]: What Was Your Mission at the Outset?
[RB]: Mathematics is all around us, yet most of the time, we fail to answer the most common question asked by our students: Where am I going to use this in my life? For ages, Math has been stereotyped as a subject that requires a lot of practice; it is all numbers and equations, and to solve this purpose, textbooks were designed with tons of problems in them which were to be solved by the learners without even realising the significance of the problems and their application in the real world. In the rush of completing the problems, the textbooks started getting monotonous, and as a result, students started losing interest in the subject, and a phobia around the subject started blooming. We wanted to show that everything we do in math has such a logical application and a beautiful way of thinking; it develops how we build our mindsets. Our approach of going step by step comes from math which no other subject can teach us. We wanted to make the students aware of how Math is the basis of essential skills like decision-making, problem-solving, and design thinking.
[BU]: How do You Want Your Students to Envision Mathematics?
[RB]: We want the learners not to be afraid of Math, not associate Math with just numbers or rote formulae, but to realise the beauty and relevance of the subject in the world around them. We want to ensure that every school can enable the students to interpret Math in the long run and that people visualise math as a very practical subject.
[BU]: What are Some of the Most Important Lessons that Have Influenced Your Work?
[RB]: The current state of how we all approach the subject motivated me to work towards changing the approach as it is not just the school environment but also the involvement of parents, students, and all the pillars of the education system need to change the perspective towards Math, and that is what we want to focus on. I felt there was a huge gap, and we, as a whole community of educators, can greatly influence the educational environment.
[BU]: What, According to You, Will Help Students Grasp Mathematical Concepts Beyond Textbooks?
[RB]: I believe that visualising and experiencing the application of mathematics in the things you enjoy doing the most is the best way to understand the subject. When we are able to create a creative Math based environment for the students, they enjoy the activities while subconsciously experiencing the application of different concepts, and they will never forget it. As they say, experience is the best teacher.
[BU]: How Can You Add Value to the Conventional Education System?
[RB]: We at UnMath design all our programs in a way that queries are addressed even before the questions bother the mind of the students and whirl their minds in a web of myths. Until and unless a child explores a concept on his own, it is practically impossible to make him understand the beauty and significance of the concept in the real world.
One of our programs, UnMath District, is all about converting the school campus into a Math museum. Each module uses a different approach and technique. Green Math uses the existing waste material and converts them into teaching aids. Math Hotspots is a virtual city tour planned to show the role of Math in tourist spots. Gamify Math is about mapping the curriculum through various games.
[BU]: What Were the Biggest Roadblocks or Challenges When You Started Taking Mathematical Sessions, and How Did You Overcome them?
[RB]: When we had just started introducing our models, not many people believed that Math could actually be fun, beyond presentations and classrooms. They misunderstood our approach and thought we were just talking about additional practices and support, whereas we believe that math is much more than practice; it is about design thinking. So changing their mindset was the biggest challenge we faced initially. As time went on, many schools started understanding the importance of change in teaching Math, and parents tried and understood the need for it. It was the biggest challenge ten years ago, and now it is becoming the new normal.
[BU]: What has Been the Most Satisfying Moment in Your Journey?
[RB]: Each time I walk into a classroom and see the children smiling while knowing it is a Math class is the most satisfying moment for me. The excitement on their faces while the session is in action and the amount of fun they have is something I really enjoy. Even when I look at the videos from our online sessions, I just love to see them having a great time.
[BU]: What is Your Next Goal?
[RB]: We are trying to focus on building a long-term experience around Math rather than trying just to give tips and tricks to children to get marks. We are here to make learning experience based, more acceptable and relatable and at the same time, the children should feel this is something they should never forget.
[BU]: How do You Define Success?
[RB]: Success is very subjective. I believe in evaluating myself and my personal goals; when I achieve them, it becomes a part of my journey. My success mantra is – to push yourself to do better, motivate yourself to perform and achieve your goals, and this defines success for me.