The pandemic was a giant reset for many of us, especially for many parents across the globe who suddenly had to don the double roles of parent and teacher every day. While many of us are still trying not to lose it all, two spunky women plunged headlong into the education sector with their innovative startup- Neobael.
As most entrepreneurial stories begin, Neaobael’s began when one of the founders, Aradhana Iyer-Vohra watched how home-based learning was being deployed for her two children in the times of the pandemic. Aradhana acutely felt the lack of personalization in the teaching. She noticed that their engagement and interest dropped drastically during the online learning hours. And so she did what any business needs as the very first step.
She spoke to many parent and educator groups across different schools and countries to compare results, and noticed the same hand-wringing from all corners. She pulled her children out of mainstream schools and began homeschooling them- rolling out their own home-based learning solution for them. Aradhana started up Neobael with co-founder Elaine Chew, a passionate educator with special expertise in international education.
Neobael grew from this seed of an idea and is now built into a full-fledged online learning curriculum for primary-aged children rooted in STEAM education. Neobael provides access to a live global classroom, personalized learning, a STEAM education focus, and most importantly emphasizes the application of the concepts in the real world.
Neobael learning modules are aligned to Singapore’s Ministry of Education, the UK National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2, and India’s National Education Policy. The projects are carefully designed with specific learning objectives and integrated, cross-disciplinary learning is a key feature of the learning modules. The modules integrate AI-based development tracking and self-paced learning, meeting the student where they are.
Neobael recently raised over 215K in pre-seed funding, which came as a huge validation for their brilliant initiative in the early stages.
Kidskintha had a brief chat with the founders of Neobaal- Aradhana Iyer-Vohra(AIV) and Elaine-Chew(EC). Read on for an interesting ride on their entrepreneurial journey…
Devishobha(D): Please take us through your plunge into education with Neobael.
(AIV): Originally from Pune, India I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to study, live and work in England and Singapore, which is my current location. I am a proud mother of three (two human and one fur) who lives to eat, teach dance, and travel. My educational qualifications are primarily in business studies which enabled me to work across industries such as banking, accounting, startups, and non-profits. My exposure to a global education and work culture has played a pivotal role in my journey so far and also massively influenced the mission and vision behind Neobael.
(EC): I grew up in London and I am proudly half-Malaysian and half-British. Education was always a central theme in my family and after a degree in Medical Biochemistry and a short stint in the charity sector, I decided to become a teacher in 2014. I trained in the UK through the organization TeachFirst and then decided to make the move into international education. After a year working in Malaysia, I took a position as the Head of Middle School Science at UWCSEA Dover in Singapore. I live with my fiancé in Belgium and as part of my commitment to lifelong learning have just graduated with an MBA. I have been lucky enough to live all over the world, and believe strongly in the merit of global collaboration.
Bridging the gap in school education
D: What do you see Neobael offering to students that current schools are not already offering?
AIV: Access to a live global classroom, personalized learning, and the ability to apply this learning to real-world problems are our biggest differentiating factors. We focus on building 21st-century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, public speaking, etc. through the learning objectives. Neobael is definitely ahead of the curve in preparing future-ready children through a blend of technology and educational expertise, making STEAM education fun and desirable.
EC: We offer the chance to have some fun while learning as well. We are driven by Leonardo da Vinci’s famous quote “Learning never exhausts the mind” and strive to develop lessons that are challenging but also give learners the chance to develop holistically. At Neobael, we use project and problem-based learning which gives our learners a really tangible end goal to work towards. By delivering lessons in small groups making a global pod, we are much more able to build in the soft skills that many children don’t get the opportunity to practice.
D: How is the education system different in India, Singapore, and the UK? How does Neobael connect the dots on all three?
AIV: I can only speak from my own personal experience of having lived in all three countries. It is important to note that all three countries have public and private schooling and there are tiers within each of these sections. As a result, there is a wide range in the educational experiences within a country in itself. I would be inclined to say that India and Singapore tend to lay more importance on academics whilst the UK seems to pay more attention to the application of these academics.
The biggest problem with most schools in these systems is that they follow a very siloed approach which doesn’t necessarily make learning fun for the child nor does it contribute directly to their holistic development. How do you coach a child who detests maths but loves coding? Elaine, my co-founder, is the expert in this area and will be able to elaborate further.
EC: When you look at the frameworks for curriculum in India, Singapore, and the UK there are huge overlaps and similarities in content. For example, solidifying an understanding of money is done in KS1 in the UK and Primary 3 in Singapore which is very similar ages. To connect the dots between all three syllabuses we use the base ideas and then build on them so there is a tangible point to the learning. Keeping to the currency example, in our “How do you manage a football club?” module learners have to use an understanding of money to budget for their football kits. Beyond just adding or subtracting, we bring in skills like weighing up options in quality and considering a laundry schedule. This practice of real-life problem solving and decision-making creates the opportunity to grow beyond knowledge, and STEAM education plays a major part in this.
D: How do you think online education during the pandemic has impacted children across all ages?
AIV: I am a big advocate of critically evaluating how online education is rolled out, and questioning what good quality online learning looks like. Is it webinar-style or is it personalized? Is it a collaborative environment for the child or is it an individual session? Are the content and delivery engaging enough for the child not to switch to other tabs or applications in the background? Is online education being rolled out as how it would be done in a physical classroom or has it been reimagined? These are some of the factors that have either made or broken the experience for children and families during the pandemic. If done right, there is tremendous strength in online learning especially to enrich and plug the gap that the pandemic has left in the educational pathway for children.
EC: I was teaching in Singapore when the pandemic started and I was initially dreading the move to remote learning for the sake of my students. And then when we made the move I realized that for everything that was lost, something else was gained. I had students who felt like they could focus better without the distractions of a full class, and others who thrived on the opportunity to work more independently. Online feedback methods increased my ability to spot students who were struggling and this meant a lot of my students were able to learn better. I think once the barrier of familiarity with technology is overcome, there is the opportunity for all students to be positively impacted.
D: What advice do you have for parents whose kids are enrolled in mainstream schools in India?
AIV: Having done most of my education in India, I would encourage parents to go beyond grades and look at the holistic development of their children. I am not saying grades shouldn’t be important but focus more on developing their interest in the subject through an inquiry-led approach vs rote learning. If children are able to rattle off times tables but aren’t able to explain the rationale behind the way the numbers increase to children younger than them, in at least two different ways – you may be shortchanging them in preparing them for a future of work that relies on skills and analytical thinking.
Similarly, if they can type at 40 words per minute but aren’t able to code their way to solve a problem with a multi-disciplinary approach they wouldn’t be any better off. Likewise, if they can beautifully draft long English essays but haven’t developed the skills to present their ideas you might put them at a disadvantage. This applies to other subjects such as Science, Art, Humanities, etc.
EC: I have never worked in India so I know I am not best placed to answer, but generically I would say that all parents should look for opportunities to build in learning which has a focus beyond exams. Knowledge is incredibly valuable and I would never undermine its importance, but skills development is integral for children’s ability to thrive both within and outside of the classroom.
The focus on STEAM education
D: Please shed some light on the various modules that Neobael offers.
AIV: Our learners are at the heart of everything we do at Neobael. Our modules are so much fun that learners often don’t realize how much they are learning! Our curriculum is proprietary and is pegged against the UK Key Stages, Singapore’s Ministry of Education as well as the National Education Policy of India.
We take a holistic view to enable our learners to solve a problem through an interdisciplinary approach such as S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). For example in our module on “Predicting chemical reactions.” learners would be introduced to the periodic table and gain confidence to explore it in an innovative way that combines literacy, mathematics, and code! My co-founder Elaine oversees this for us and would be able to elaborate more on our wide range of exciting modules.
EC: We have over 25 modules ranging from 3-30 hours so I can’t list all of them, but we have some really incredible opportunities. One of my favorites is a 3-hour module that I always recommend for the 7-9 age group. It’s called “Becoming a Survival expert” and the learners start by using the idea of camping to gain a conceptual understanding of the surface area. In the second part of the session, they use code to choose items to take on a raft to test their ability to survive on a desert island. It was so much fun to design, but it’s even more exciting to watch students think critically about space and decision-making. Our modules take over 100 hours to design because we think carefully about how to build context, curriculum, and creativity. I love knowing that our customers are getting an original experience each time they sign up for a class.
D: How have parents reacted to Neobael so far? What features are parents most excited about?
AIV: Parents simply can’t believe how seamless the entire process is from signing up their child for a module to receiving personalized feedback about their child. It has radically changed the way they now view home-based learning and can relate to the many benefits that they see for themselves and their children – access to a global classroom, high-quality learning, not having to worry about logistics such as transport, providing for meals and juggling multiple schedules. What they are most excited about is how humanized and collaborative our online S.T.E.A.M sessions are.
EC: A lot of our parents have also enjoyed the global aspect of Neobael. It’s not every day that a child in India can collaborate with learners based in Singapore or Australia, and engage with learning coaches in the UK. It’s great to be able to offer an international STEAM education experience from the comfort of someone’s home!
D: What challenges have you enjoyed working on the most through the journey with Neobael so far?
AIV: To ensure everyone in the team feels connected across borders and departments is the one challenge I absolutely enjoy working on. I’m a people’s person and human connections are extremely important for me. Neobael was born out of the pandemic and hence we are a global virtual team. I wasn’t going to let any of this get in the way of how we connect and imagine the future of work for us as an organization. You will be surprised by what a high-performing yet hyper-connected team of industry experts we are!
EC: This is a tough question because every challenge has brought some unique opportunities. However, I think my favorite challenge from a personal perspective has been finding and developing the right people. Recruitment for a startup can be difficult, but I am so impressed by what the Neobael team achieves on a daily basis.
D: How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey so far?
AIV: It is a challenging as well as exhilarating journey and I’m loving every minute of it! While I have been involved with startups before, this is the first one where I am working with experts across industries as well as borders entirely online. Being Asian female entrepreneurs, the journey can get harder when it comes to fighting for funding in a saturated market. I am grateful for having advisors and investors who see the potential in us as a team as well as the solution to an existing problem.
EC: This is my first start-up venture so I would say that it’s been a “steep but enjoyable learning curve”. My honest answer is that I enjoy every minute of it, but that there is a lot of hard work involved!
D: What is your one habit as an entrepreneur that you would advise other entrepreneurs to develop?
AIV: Don’t lose sight of your overarching goal by prioritizing your task list. Time and task management are key. This is what will get you through the mountain of work which will be a permanent feature for the initial years of your entrepreneurial journey.
EC: My number one tip is to be really careful when carving out time. I have balanced developing Neobael with taking a full-time MBA, and the only way I have managed this is to be really on top of my scheduling. It’s not very glamorous but it’s highly important!
D: What advice would you give women who are on the brink of starting their entrepreneurial journey?
AIV: Build your own ecosystem to back your entrepreneurial journey and don’t be shy to ask for help. I’m grateful to have the support of my in-laws, my parents, my brother, my friends, my co-founder, and last but not least my husband plus my kids. As the African saying for children goes, it does take a village to raise an entrepreneur as well.
EC: Constantly remind yourself that you have every right to be successful. I am lucky enough to have a mother who has thrived in her career, and she regularly reminds me of this. Part of my own journey is building the confidence to believe that I can be part of any conversation and that my expertise can always add value.
D: One word about Kidskintha
AIV: Holistic! A holistic way to look at the parental journey for our children.
EC: Community! The spaces Kidskintha provides for knowledge sharing are admirable.
Neobael invites all KidsKintha readers to try one of our trial sessions at 70 rupees INR through the coupon code KIDSKINTHA: