Interview: Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash, Founder of Bhanzu, a global math learning startup

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash

An interview with Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash, The World’s fastest human calculator, Founder of Bhanzu, a global math learning startup

Meet Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash, the visionary founder behind Bhanzu, a pioneering global math learning startup. With a passion for mathematics and a drive to revolutionize the way it’s taught, Neelakantha has embarked on a mission to make math accessible and engaging for learners worldwide.

Through innovative approaches and cutting-edge technology, Bhanzu aims to empower individuals to excel in mathematics, unlocking their full potential and fostering a love for the subject.

Can you share with us your journey to becoming known as the World’s fastest human calculator?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: When I was five I had an accident, which left me bedridden for a whole year. Doctors told my parents that I might be cognitively impaired hence my parents introduced me to math puzzles at a young age. Being introduced to maths is how I fell in love with numbers, and that love has only grown stronger with time.

As a 17-year-old, I surpassed the math records set by legends like Shakuntala Devi. Additionally, I became the first Indian and Asian to win a gold medal at the Mental Calculation World Championship held at the Mind Sports Olympics in London in 2020.

People feel that this is a talent I was born with, but anyone can achieve this if they practice. Even though I am currently the world record holder, I would love to see someone else break my record in the future!

How that led to the founding of Bhanzu?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: I’m grateful for all the recognition that I have received after breaking the world record, however, I always used to wonder how I could share my passion for mathematics with others. Everyone deserves to experience math like I did. Hence I started to do workshops and global shows for students worldwide.

For a lot of mental athletes, sporting achievement is the pinnacle of their career. For me it was just the beginning. After doing tons of stage shows and understanding how people struggle with math, I always felt privileged that my math experience was the compete opposite. That is when I had a vision to replicate my fond math learning experience for every student in the world. That was when Bhanzu was born.

What inspired you to start Bhanzu and what unique approach does your global math learning startup offer to learners worldwide

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: In my journey to becoming the World’s Fastest human calculator, I have taught thousands of students across the world. 3 out of 4 students worldwide are afraid of math. This was contrary to my experience growing up and learning math as I always liked math. I wanted to change this perception of math and hence decided to start Bhanzu.

Bhanzu’s teaching approach is focused on catering to different learning patterns for learners worldwide in the near future. Bhanzu focuses on teaching the ‘why’ before teaching ‘what’ or ‘how’. We also introduce speed math to students not necessarily with the intention of competing but rather to make students math confident.

We want to build the right skills where we create future thought-leaders and decision-makers by laying the foundation of relevant math skills for excelling in STEM Fields. Engaging in mental maths is a mind sport that would help students and individuals push the boundaries of their minds.

We want to promote math as a mental sport. This leads to faster and improved cognitive ability and logical reasoning skills.

How do you see the intersection between traditional math education and innovative technological solutions in shaping the future of mathematics learning?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: While traditional math education is very foundation-centric, the structure and sequence of traditional math fail to build a strong correlation between concepts. This often leads to confusion on why is a student even learning something in the first place. It also restricts a student’s ability to understand mathematics from different perspectives.

Data enables educational entities to forge optimized learning pathways for students to learn math. A counterintuitive finding such as “this particular student has learned division better after learning fractions” can never be possible if no data backs this finding.

Data-driven curricula will definitely reshape how mathematics is perceived. This is something that traditional and rigid ways of learning can never enable students.

By leveraging gamification techniques, educational technology can transform mathematical learning into a captivating adventure. Through engaging storylines, challenges, and rewards, students can embark on personalized learning journeys, where they actively construct their knowledge and develop a growth mindset, overcoming the fear or anxiety often associated with traditional math education.

What challenges have you encountered in the process of establishing Bhanzu, and how have you overcome them?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: We wanted learning at Bhanzu to be engaging but also ensure that students build a strong foundation in maths. The solution was to incorporate fun elements like games and storytelling but make sure that these were aligned with specific learning outcomes.

This was quite challenging given that every child learns differently.  To cater to the diverse individual learning approaches, we have developed a variety of content formats that include live sessions, self-paced video lessons, in-class practice assessments, offline interactive practice exercises, and quizzes. Building a sense of community can also be tricky in the digital space.

We implemented features like discussion forums, student leaderboards, and even live chat sessions where students can interact with each other and Bhanzu educators. This fosters a sense of connection and allows students to learn from their peers.

Every challenge has been a learning experience, and it’s all part of the ongoing process of making Bhanzu the best platform it can be.  We’re constantly innovating and looking for ways to improve the user experience and make math a truly positive experience for everyone

With the rise of edtech platforms, what do you believe sets Bhanzu apart and makes it stand out in the market?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: Bhanzu is a pedagogy-first startup and we are working every day to make math learning better for every child. We aid learning through technology, which is why we have made it our mission to reinvent math education through a holistic approach that blends the best of both worlds – technology, and pedagogy.

Bhanzu’s teaching methodology blends with various pedagogical approaches to create a holistic, student-centric learning experience. It emphasizes collaborative learning through conquest projects, inquiry-based exploration where students form and test hypotheses, and differentiated, customized instruction tailored to diverse abilities and preferences.

The Bhanzu way prioritizes understanding the reasoning behind mathematical concepts over rote procedures. It builds speed, cognition, and critical thinking by applying math to real-world scenarios. “Blitzkrieg learning” fosters a growth mindset by presenting concepts as engaging challenges.

This multifaceted approach nurtures a deep conceptual grasp, problem-solving skills, and seeing math’s practical relevance – equipping students with vital 21st-century competencies.

How does Bhanzu address the diverse needs and learning styles of students across different demographics and geographies?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: Bhanzu recognizes that every student learns differently. Traditional learning methods do not. To accommodate diverse needs and individual learning styles, we take a data-driven approach. First, we recommend assessments based on each student’s learning pace.

This ensures an appropriate challenge level. Second, through knowledge tracing techniques, we analyze data from interactive games and in-class progress to recommend personalized learning pathways.

We can further personalize these pathways by developing a comprehensive understanding of individual learning progressions from quiz data. This dynamic generation of customized learning journeys allows students to follow the optimal trajectory for their needs, dramatically improving their overall learning experience.

What role do you see artificial intelligence and machine learning playing in the future of math education, particularly within Bhanzu’s platform?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: Bhanzu’s team of expert educators and technologists work tirelessly to create immersive, engaging, and personalized learning experiences tailored to the individual needs of every student.

By leveraging cutting-edge advancements in AI, gamification, and data analytics, we provide teachers with invaluable insights into students’ learning progress and areas for improvement, making math education more effective and accessible.

Our innovative pedagogical approach, powered by AI and machine learning, is poised to revolutionize math education. We leverage AI to productize delivery, equipping teachers with an extensive toolkit that enables high interactivity through in-class games, real-time feedback, and standardized content delivery.

Knowledge tracing AI models analyze game data and in-class progress to recommend personalized learning pathways for each student. Additionally, we harness generative AI to create virtual AI tutors fluent in any language, engaging students through interactive lessons.

These AI tutors can tackle complex queries like optimizing classroom delivery independent of subjective teacher skill, or designing daily “brain workout” exercises to propel learning. With Bhanzu, we believe every child has immense potential to excel in math.

We are committed to unlocking that potential through our innovative, AI-driven approach that provides student-centered, highly effective learning experiences. We are thrilled to lead this transformative movement, paving the path toward a new era of personalized, technology-enhanced math education.

We have learning features within our learning universe which are AI-enabled.

What are your long-term goals and visions for Bhanzu, and how do you plan to achieve them?

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash: Our long-term goal is to positively impact the math education landscape and create a more math-literate society that can thrive in an increasingly data-driven world. 

Our vision is vital – to help conquer math fear worldwide. We aim to revolutionize how students globally learn mathematics, making it fun and relatable instead of a dreaded subject.

Our mission is to positively impact the learning trajectories of over 100 million students within the next 5 years, establishing ourselves as the world’s largest and most innovative math education entity.

We also aim to establish strategic partnerships with academic institutions, educators, and organizations that share our vision and values, and motivate more students to overcome their fear of math and transform it into a subject that is approachable and engaging.

Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash’s journey with Bhanzu exemplifies the transformative power of education and innovation. Through his relentless dedication and groundbreaking initiatives, he has not only reshaped the landscape of math learning but also inspired countless individuals to embrace the beauty of mathematics.

As Bhanzu continues to thrive and impact learners globally, Neelakantha’s vision and leadership serve as a beacon of inspiration for the future of education.

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