Prasad Ram and Amara Humphry share the belief that education is a fundamental human right. In 2011, they started Gooru, a California non-profit with a social mission: to honor the human right to education. They call themselves “engineers for educators.”
How did this passion for education begin?
Amara Humphry is a product design and engineering graduate of Stanford University, and was recognized by Forbes 30 under 30. When she visited her mother’s family in Cambodia at the age of twelve, she was struck by the sharp contrast between schools there, and in Hawaii where she lived. “That was probably the first point in my life where I realized how precious education is and how lucky I was to have access to it,” she explains. She became convinced that education should be a right for all and decided that in the future, she’d like to provide students around the world with successful opportunities to learn.
In 2011, Prasad Ram (“Pram”), the former head of R&D at Google India was working on projects like Google Maps and Google Books. The company is known for letting its employees spend 20% of work time on a topic of personal interest. Pram spent this time designing software to help people find appropriate educational content on the internet.
He came up with idea while looking for resources with his kids online– he realized that it was difficult to find age and topic appropriate educational content. “I wondered how could I help my kids navigate from what they knew to what they wanted to learn. Everything is there on the web, but finding things and laying them out so people can actually learn is extremely cumbersome.” It struck him that the experience should be a lot more like Google Maps. “With Google Maps, you always know where you are, and how to get where you want to go.”
The ‘Google Maps of Education’
Pram decided to create educational software that worked like Google Maps. “It should start by knowing where you are (what you know) and when you tell it your learning goals, it should take you from point A to point B.”
“Google Maps guarantees success. It doesn’t say, ‘I’ll tell you roughly where something is’, like if you ask someone on the street for directions. If you have Google Maps with you, it will walk you there, turn by turn. If you miss an exit it will reroute you. If you want to stop along the way at a gas station or a coffee shop, it will allow you to take a break and then continue your journey. The Google Maps analogy is fitting, because in education it’s all about knowing where you are. The more precisely you know where you are, the more precisely software can support you.”
Pram’s Google 20% project, to improve the learning experience, was extremely important to him. “I come from a middle class Indian family where education is the only option.” So, while working full-time, he turned the project into a year-long Google-supported pilot in India that included 1,000 students across 25 classrooms. But he did not want it to end there…
The founding of Gooru
In 2011, Pram and Amara were introduced by common friends. When they realized they both wanted to empower students to own their learning, they decided to join forces. Together they created Gooru, a nonprofit with a social mission: to honor the human right to education.
“We are a team of mission-driven nerds in pursuit of social justice. We don’t accept the status quo, and we are passionate about building technology to honor the human right to education,” they proudly report.
Gooru is now being used by teachers and students across the United States and around the world in schools from South Africa to the Philippines. They plan to expand a successful pre-algebra math program, Navigate Math, that has increased student growth to nearly three times the US national average, and further develop tools for 21st-century assessments and non-cognitive skills.
Read all about itslearning’s partnership with Gooru here.