How my son’s homework led to a global education platform

Dr Rashmi Mantri, pictured above, is a computer scientist-turned entrepreneur who has an online training business which includes courses on the abacus, English, and cyber awareness for young people. She began the business when her son was struggling with his maths and she taught him the benefits of an abacus. Here, she tells her story…

I am an award-winning entrepreneur, computer science expert and the founder of an online Academy that delivers classes spanning mathematics, English, programming and cyber security to over 1,000 students worldwide. But first and foremost, I am a mother and an educator.

I began my career as an IT specialist in Glasgow. After completing a PhD in computer science at the University of the West of Scotland, I worked as a software developer, industry trainer and university lecturer. In 2015, I founded the British Youth International College (BYITC) to teach children around the world – not computing, but mathematics.

The motivation behind this shift can be attributed to my son, Dhruv. My career focus changed completely after one mundane exchange between us turned out to be a life changing moment.

One day when Dhruv was nine years old, I gave him an easy sum to do, and was shocked when he couldn’t answer. It struck me that his inability to calculate this simple sum reflected the actual state of maths skills in a great many children. I decided to change the way he looked at numbers. I started teaching him informally using a humble and ancient device that I myself had used at school in India – the abacus. It took some time, but after learning maths using the abacus method, Dhruv could do sums even faster than a calculator.

Thousands of counting devices have been invented throughout human history, but one has stood the test of time. The abacus is said to have been invented in ancient Babylon, and is still widely accepted as one of the most versatile tools to train your brain for mathematical calculations involving large numbers.

Abacus training teaches children how to calculate sums first on a physical abacus, and then by visualising the board and using their fingers to manipulate imaginary beads. This not only allows them to do rapid calculations, but also stimulates cognitive development, improves memory, concentration and problem-solving skills, and builds confidence in the classroom and beyond.

Dhruv responded to the new method very well and picked up the abacus mental theory in six days. He even appeared on STV’s Live at Five and ITV’s Little Big Shots to showcase his remarkable ability of solving difficult sums in mere seconds, which earned him the nickname “human calculator”.

Following the TV show, I received growing demand from parents all over Scotland asking me to teach their children using the same method. They simply couldn’t believe that this was real.

I decided to start an after-school programme, teaching Abacus Maths to small groups of students in Glasgow and Edinburgh. This marked the foundation of the BYITC Supermaths, which has since evolved into an international online education platform. To this day, Dhruv continues to help develop content for our courses – now 16, he is pursuing a career in data science.

The BYITC now delivers several programmes spanning mathematics, English, programming, and cyber security, as well as summer camps and accredited challenges. When I founded the Academy, I had to learn very quickly how to juggle several roles at once. Besides my primary role as a teacher, I had to be my own accountant, HR manager, researcher, counsellor and software developer.

The business has since grown, and I now have a team of twenty team members and 70+ teachers. The challenges that I faced initially presented a steep learning curve for me as an entrepreneur, but I am proud to say that I have successful turned my vision into a thriving business. I think the key to our success is that we have created a truly fun and engaging way to learn.

In 2018, we developed the world’s first Abacus Maths e-learning web application. This was not only a pivotal moment for the business, but it also fulfilled my personal ambition of making Abacus Maths and English language accessible to all children.

In my opinion, a successful business starts with a brilliant idea, something born out of a passion to fill a gap in society. Above all else, your core concept must be useful. Few adages put it better than “quality over quantity”.

That would be my biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs. Focus on cultivating your product, avoid chasing trends and prioritise utility. Who is it for? Why do they need it? Why am I the best person to deliver the product?

Once these questions have been answered with integrity and pragmatism, your business becomes more of an incidental by-product. Our interactive Abacus Maths app is a great example of that – and proved particularly invaluable for the business and our students over the past few years.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and schools were forced to close, our digital education format was already fully functional. Having already developed, tested and implemented our web application in our online courses for two years, present circumstances now highlighted its utility. We were able to offer parents peace of mind and ensure kids were still getting the high-quality, education they needed and deserved while studying from home.

The shift to digital learning during the pandemic gave us the confidence to deliver our online courses internationally. After positive feedback from students and parents alike, the business started growing very quickly. I believe that due to our virtual teaching capabilities, we can become one of the leading global education brands.

This year, I have experienced a few particularly memorable career highlights. I was honoured to receive “Best Entrepreneur” at the Inspiring Indian Women She Inspires 2022 awards, pictured left, and was also awarded by the 100 Successful Women in Business Network. I count these accolades as a testament to the real impact our teaching has made on our young students, and am delighted that the BYITC’s innovative syllabus is being recognised at a global scale.

I was particularly thrilled to be honoured by organisations that recognise, inspire and amplify the voices of women in business across the world. As the head of a women-driven workforce, I have strived to provide mentorship to women across all fields throughout my career. I hope that I can inspire others to pursue their ambitions, share their ideas, and make a positive impact on communities.

Moving forwards, my top priorities are to develop our courses and learning content, expand our team, and increase our student base. My goal is to make the BYITC the most trusted brand in the education sector – a brand parents trust to nurture their children’s talents and help them flourish.

Success to me comes from a real investment in furthering the education of tomorrow’s leaders. I believe that in order to create a brighter future, young people have to be addressed, supported and nurtured. For me, there is simply nothing better than providing an education.