Jay Amaran

Project AHA! Attractive Hobbies for All


During his 15-minute talk, Professor Jay Amaran discusses and explains:

  • Developing a model school, from 1 school in 1 city, to 100, then from 10 cities in India to 30 with the goal of 10 million students in India and the English-speaking world by 2025;
  • Scaling online learning since the pandemic in botany, photography, chess, and language;
  • Blended learning and the power of “online”;
  • Developing critical thinking

Amaran defines a "Prepared Adult" as:
One who is ready to “play out her or his role on the stage”, to be the best of her or his ability - where the stage is an interconnected and interdependent world. It is a world that is free of hunger, slavery and poverty, a world that provides equal opportunity for all of humankind, a world that celebrates diversity in all its glory.


Professor Amaran is an trained engineer who has worked at the Education Ministry and is today a school director of 15 schools that he and his family operate for students K through 5, representing 81,000 students.

An “Order of Merit” alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras, “Professor Jay” also studied at the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad (set up by Harvard Business School) and MIT’s Sloan School, at Boston.

He has also been involved in Software Programming, Healthcare, Project Management, and Technology Transfer and has worked at the International Finance Corporation (the private sector of the World Bank.) He was a pioneer in the design and use of spreadsheets in the early ‘80s and part of the world’s first Y2K fix (DA-TE-2000).

Professor Amaran runs an incubation center that has supported over 126 companies in the last 10 years and currently manages a cluster of 23 largely tech and education start-up companies located in the US and India.


I'm looking at all the images on the screen. And I can easily see that I'm the youngest person in this audience. I'm only 77 years old. I like to say 77 years young. And I've been in the education field in India for the last 50 years. So I run a bunch of 15 schools. And I used to be in the Education Department working for the government. So I had a lot of access to schools. And now when I when I retired 15 years ago, I decided to start my own schools. So now I have a bunch of 15 schools, as you can guess. India is a large country. We have a population of 1.3 billion people and approximately 1.1 million schools in India. Okay. At one time, I was a bureaucrat, but now I run schools. And each of my schools has about 5000 students. So compared to the schools in America, our schools are fairly big. So 5000 schools. And as of now, we have 15 schools and we have a strength of about 81,000 students. So that's the background about myself. And can we go to the first slide? Yeah. The first one, yes. So we wanted to make the project. Attractive for students, especially during the COVID pandemic, because the government mandated that we should all go online. So we created some attractive hobbies for our students to take part. And so many students were from other schools but also wanted to take part.

So we said, why not? We love any number of students to join. And then we launched four specific projects, which I'll talk about. So this is what we did. We created an experimental site in one of our schools. We took it to all the schools in the same city. It's the city of Bangalore. Then we took it to other cities in India and now we are ready to take it to other cities across the world. So our goal is to cover the cities that are listed here based on inquiries that we got from parents and friends of students who are not schools starting from Atlanta, going up to Tokyo. It's in alphabetical order. We're not restricting ourselves to these schools, these cities, but we're going to target these cities based on our initial inquiries. Our model is very scalable, so we can cover 10 million students fairly easily. So the last line, you can see my email and my WhatsApp number. So the start of this project about eight, maybe nine months before this. And then today we are in about 113 countries. Almost all the work is done on the iPad, little bit of Windows PC as well. But if you next. So our program starts with training the teachers to manage the students. And this training is usually one hour over Zoom. So the pizza then takes it to the school. And then we work with junior students mostly grades kindergarten two through nine once they reach grade ten. We're all busy trying to get into colleges. So as in any school, we have stakeholders the school management, the parents, the students, the teachers, the computer industry, especially because you want to provide online access and the government. School management provides the platform for us to launch. The benefit they get is they will be seen as a progressive school. Also enables them to benchmark their students with other students in other schools, and they get positive publicity. So parents, they get an opportunity for their students to access a world class education. And opportunity for their children to showcase their abilities. And of course, student connect the students. So the students are actually helping improve their thinking skills. They enjoy the game and they enjoy taking part in competitions. For teachers, they have to re learn the way they deliver their lectures. They should be willing to motivate their students and of course, encourage their parents as well. A big, important component of this business is the computer industry, because they have to provide the hardware, the software and the broadband access to the Internet. And then, of course, government is happy if children can be kept busy while they're still at home. So there is some saving and cost for them because they can skip providing the mid-day meal and the transport infrastructure and so on.

A lot of this is getting documented and soon you'll have access to this in the form of media, books, videos, social media, visual aids and movies. A few movies are also being made. So we have covered one school and this year we'll be taking it to 100 schools in Bangalore. Next two years we are taking it to other cities in India and after that we plan to take this to other cities in the world. These are the four projects they call live sky, chess and vocabulary. The first point I'm going to talk about is called Leave your children. Learn everything about the leaves around them. So LEAF is an acronym that says Learning Everything about Foliage. It started this about four months ago, and we have about 27,000 students taking part. Men for grades 3 to 5. Each child is encouraged to take a picture of about five different, unique lives. The children then share the pictures with other children. We collect leaves, images of leaves, and the target is to reach 100 pixels. Of these hungry. They select any ten and do further research on them and make a report. Once they create ten reports to give them a leaf certificate. So as of today, about 27,000 students have completed this and they've found it to be great fun. We learn about the environment, we learn about leads, and I'll show you one example. So there's a leaf called the name Leaf, very unique to India, and this is submitted by one of our good students called Priya.

So this how a single leaf looks. And at the bottom, you see the same leaf on a branch. This is the leaf along with the fruit. The extract from this fruit are used as pesticides. Same name leaves can be seen as part of a sapling at the nursery, the saplings of four months old, and they are ready to be taken to the field to be planted as a tree saplings. So this is a name tree plantation. The number of trees, they are wonderful trees to look at and they are considered to be very healthy. Even if you walk by these leaves, they say breathing in the air around the neem leaf is a very healthy thing. So that is one project called Project Live. We have approximately 4 million live samples. Let's go back to this. Over 4 million live samples with us and students learn a lot more things about it. Some lives are medicinal. Some lives have very nice shape. Some leaves are have a certain geometry, which is interesting. And students go deeper into this depending upon their interest in the environment. The most important thing is about the chlorophyll functionality of the leaf, which is of great interest to biologists and students are learning about it. This is another interesting project which we initiated about one and a half years back.

It is helping students to understand their environment. And we said, let's focus on the sunset. So here students are encouraged to take pictures of the sunset outside their home and then share it with us. So again, meant for grade 3 to 5, each child takes a picture of the sunset. They share pictures of their children. We collect pictures over 100 sunsets. And then the best pictures are selected for framing. Here are some examples of sunsets which students have submitted. Their names are attached to those pictures. And the next slide, you will see wonderful sunsets about different locations in India. So people get to understand how a sunset looks in different parts of India and soon they want to extend this program to outside India. And I can already see many interesting photographs being exchanged. So sunset is a glorious thing. Even in the same city, you will not get the same sunset picture on a given day. Repeating itself every day is a new day and every time with a new pattern. So the pictures are selected for framing. We sell them to people who make calendars. We also enlarge them and sell it to offices. So this is a great method of fundraising and it's been a very successful project. We've raised about close to $100,000, which is a big amount of money in India, and we give this to a good causes. The children decide whom to give the money to.

This is a hugely popular program. It's called Project Chess. They started about eight months ago, and we have more than half a million students playing this game. It's an online game. Now, some of you might know chess originated in India. And just for the record, I want to share with you that I myself a chess grandmaster. So I was very happy to see students liking this particular program. Your test is followed by about 720 million people around the world. It's the most popular game in the world. The next popular game is soccer, which has a following of 360 million. And the benefit of chess is it helps improve your memory, enhances problem solving skills, increases your attention span. Those, they enabled the child to display a process, therefore adding to your confidence and self-worth. Children learn to interact with others, improve their communication skills and IQ. And through discipline and hard work, you can improve your game and you learn to play by a set of rules, and that helps you to be a good citizen. So this is what we do. We enroll students such as first, we identify a middle school teacher. We then train the teacher on the game of chess and how it's to how it has to be made popular. Next, we encourage students to learn tips from their teacher as well as from books, Internet and fellow students.

And students are very smart these days. They pick it up very easily. Students are invited to create teams of five students and give their team a name. The teams are then given an access to an online avatar. They can call their team with whatever name they want, and then they are ready to play with another team and some other part of the world. So I'm going to briefly show you a game. I don't know how many of you follow the chess, but this is a game between a team in Bangalore. Some Grade five called the Panda was playing a game with a team from London who called themselves Robin Hood. Okay, so this is the board position after 14 moves. And White is about to unleash an attack. So I placed a look and that takes the black king next. Blackpool looking back next. Wait up for one more square and text next. Acting moves in front. Diagonally. White makes the second check. It was like one step. The way to get to the Black Book. Meanwhile, Black Moon's counterattack. Why the difference in the bishop? Black takes upon no weight starts his attack. Give the check to the king. King is forced to move only, only available square. And then white makes a black. So this was a simple game that followed. And it's hugely popular because students interact with each other before they make a move.

And typically, they would spend about 5 to 10 minutes discussing 15 different alternatives in every case. And this helps to improve the problem solving skills of students. It's a very, very popular game, and more than half a million students are right now working on this. We also take the help of some grandmasters and experts to guide the students on what possible mistakes they might have made or what moves they overlooked. So this is a very popular game, and I wanted to share this with the team here. So I look forward to getting your comments. The last project I want to share with you is a project called Project Vocabulary. We started this again eight months ago. Again, the same number, almost 540,000 students are part of this program. So this is an interactive session. I want some of you to respond to my questions. So here's challenge number one. So you're given a board position for the game of Scrabble or words with friends? So you're giving these seven letters and more than L.B.J. And this is the board in front of you. And my question to the group here is, what would you play? So just to save time, I'll give you a few initial help. So one option is to play the role, and that gives you approximately 24 points. Next slide. You could also play Joe here where you get the same position, but it remains the same word, but different position.

And here you can see that you get a little extra points because of the presence of absence of DH one point more. And then next slide, when somebody says you can also use a word jolt. And that gives you the maximum possible points in this position. Okay. So this is an example to show you that if you played it right, you can get 35 points in this situation. So us do. What would he do in this case? The answer is Packard. Challenge three. What do you do here? So next leg. Relevance is one possibility. You get 42 points. What if you use another word for medals next leg? Then you get even more points. Next leg is the last. So here you have an option. Gives you one option. Next slide. Job gets another option next door. The third office and finally makes the job is the one with the maximum bullet points. You can score 50 plus points. My last challenge. What do you do with these letters? One option came up and that was good. And then some students came up with the better one cuddles. And finally, the best option is beltex. So these are word games are very popular and we have a following of more than half a million students. So with that in my presentation, I invite you all to give comments and write to me and I'll be happy to respond.

Made possible by the Prepared Adult Initiative.