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 that includes courses in Abacus, English and cyber awareness for young people. She started the business when her son was struggling with his math and she taught him the benefits of an abacus. Here she tells her story…

I’m an award-winning entrepreneur, IT expert, and the founder of an online academy that provides math, English, programming, and cybersecurity lessons to over 1,000 students worldwide. But above all, I am a mother and an educator.

I started my career as a computer scientist in Glasgow. After earning a PhD in Computer Science from the University of the West of Scotland, I worked as a software developer, industry trainer and college professor. In 2015 I founded the British Youth International College (BYITC) to teach children around the world – not computing, but maths.

The motivation behind this change can be attributed to my son, Dhruv. My career focus completely changed after a 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 make and was shocked when he couldn’t respond. I was struck by the fact that his inability to calculate this simple sum reflected the true state of math skills of a large number of 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 in school in India – the abacus. It took time, but after learning math using the abacus method, Dhruv could do calculations even faster than a calculator.

Thousands of counting devices have been invented throughout human history, but only 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 for training your brain in mathematical calculations involving large numbers.

Abacus training teaches children how to calculate sums first on a physical abacus, then by viewing the chart and using their fingers to manipulate imaginary beads. This not only enables them to perform quick calculations, but also boosts cognitive development, improves memory, concentration and problem-solving skills, and builds confidence in the classroom and beyond.

Dhruv responded very well to the new method and learned the mental theory of the abacus in six days. He even appeared on STV live together and ITV Little big shots to show off his remarkable ability to solve difficult sums in seconds, earning him the nickname “the human calculator”.

Following the TV show, I received a growing demand from parents across Scotland asking me to teach their children using the same method. They just couldn’t believe it was real.

I decided to start an after school programme, teaching Abacus math to small groups of pupils in Glasgow and Edinburgh. This marked the founding of the BYITC Supermath, which has since evolved into an international online education platform. To this day, Dhruv continues to help develop our course content – ​​now 16, pursuing a career in data science.

BYITC now offers several programs covering math, English, programming, and cybersecurity, as well as accredited summer camps and challenges. When I founded the Academy, I had to learn very quickly to juggle several roles at the same time. Besides my main role as a teacher, I had to be my own accountant, human resources manager, researcher, consultant and software developer.

The business has since grown, and I now have a staff of twenty and over 70 teachers. The challenges I faced initially presented a steep learning curve for me as an entrepreneur, but I’m proud to say that I managed to turn my vision into a thriving business. I think the key to our success is that we’ve created a really fun and engaging way to learn.

In 2018, we developed the world’s first Abacus Maths e-learning web application. It was not only a pivotal moment for the company, but it also fulfilled my personal ambition to make Abacus mathematics and the 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 void in society. Above all, your basic concept must be useful. Few sayings say 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 prioritize utility. Who is it for? Why do they need it? Why am I the best person to deliver the product?

Once these questions are answered with integrity and pragmatism, your business becomes more of an ancillary by-product. Our interactive Abacus Maths app is a great example of this – and has proven particularly valuable to the company 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, the current circumstances have now highlighted its usefulness. We were able to provide parents with peace of mind and ensure that children still received the high quality education they needed and deserved while studying at home.

The shift to digital learning during the pandemic has given us the confidence to deliver our online courses internationally. After positive feedback from students and parents, the business began to grow very quickly. I believe that because of our virtual education capabilities, we can become one of the world’s leading education brands.

This year, I experienced some particularly memorable career highlights. I was honored to receive the “Best Entrepreneur” award at the Inspiring Indian Women She Inspires 2022 awards, pictured left, and I was also awarded by the 100 Successful Women in Business network. I consider these accolades a testament to the real impact our teaching has had on our young students, and I am thrilled that BYITC’s innovative program is being recognized globally.

I was especially thrilled to be honored by organizations that recognize, inspire and amplify the voices of businesswomen around the world. As a leader of a female-focused workforce, I have strived to provide mentorship to women in all fields throughout my career. I hope I can inspire others to pursue their ambitions, share their ideas and have a positive impact on communities.

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

For me, success comes from a real investment in training the leaders of tomorrow. I believe that to create a better future, you have to reach out to young people, support them and nurture them. For me, there is simply nothing better than providing an education.