Raj Valli was helping his three daughters make corrections in their schoolwork a few years back when he got his first education revelation: You can't help a student learn how to get to the right answer unless you know why they got the wrong one.
With that thought in mind, Valli asked his daughter to go step by step through a problem to learn where she was getting off track.
“She shows me how she's solving the problem and then I say, 'Ah ha! I think you're making a particular mistake in this step. If you correct that, I think you'd have a better approach toward actually getting the answer,' which is exactly how learning is supposed to be happening,” he said.
That led to revelation No. 2: He could use this knowledge — combined with his background as a vice president of marketing and business development for a provider of vehicle control systems — to bring this idea to kids all over the world.
So in 2010, Valli founded Tabtor, an educational technology platform for use on tablets.
“Imagine digital paper being combined with a GPS device where we can keep track of every pen stroke and keystroke at the millisecond level,” Valli said. “This enables teachers to understand how students have actually gone through the process of solving a problem rather than correcting for right or wrong answers.”
Valli began marketing his product to school districts, signing up South Brunswick in 2013.
Superintendent Jerry Jellig reported that teachers in the district have seen a marked improvement in students' performances in classes where the technology has been implemented.
“(The teachers) have every confidence in Tabtor and that it is in fact making a discernable difference for our students,” he said.
Jellig also cited the program's customizability, its ability to be personalized to individual students' needs, as a key factor.
“Whether a student is trying to learn math two years in advance of state standards or whether a child is two years behind and trying to catch up, Tabtor meets those students where they are and builds a program around their progression,” he said. “They don't move the student any farther or faster than they should, but at the same time they can accelerate a student through an entire year of mathematics in just a few short weeks if they happen to have an affinity for it.”
Tabtor's growth has been slow but steady, attracting schools in and out of New Jersey, including Rutgers Preparatory School in the Somerset section of Franklin and City Year, a nonprofit organization in Little Rock, Arkansas.
This year, Tabtor is expanding its global reach.
On Jan. 5, the company announced a partnership with Via Afrika Publishers, which will create a division around Tabtor and bring the technology to South Africa, targeting families.
“They are completely taking over our interests in South Africa. We are providing all of the content and all of the technology and they are going after the consumer market,” Valli said. “In addition to the consumer market, over a period of the next three or four years, they are also planning to have some significant entrance into the school marketplace as well.”
Valli believes this platform has the possibility to bridge a gap that was created with the previous generation of technology.
“South Africa is completely skipping the personal computing revolution and they're completely adopting tablets, which is obviously a much more personal device and a lot less expensive.”
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THE BIZ IN BRIEF
Co-founders: CEO Raj Valli and CTO Balraj Suneja
Location: South Brunswick
One more thing: The company created the online information source howlearningworks.org in order to build a dialogue around the issues facing education today.