Creating Microschools Where Students Decide Their Own Pace

Amar Kumar

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. That reality has been a driving force for Ulupreneur Amar Kumar. When he was ten, his parents immigrated from India to the United States. He realized his family had the resources to pursue better access to education and financial opportunities—and others they left behind did not. The inequities weighed on him.

While growing up in Indiana, he became a tutor for kids and helped teach neighborhood seniors computer skills. He loved teaching…he still describes it as a dopamine rush.

After graduating from Purdue he became a software programmer, but there was something missing. He went back to India to teach as a volunteer—and the experience changed his life. When he returned to the US he earned an MBA at Harvard. He still wanted to teach, however, just not in a traditional classroom. Instead, he pursued jobs in areas where tech and education intersect.

He then went to work for Pearson, the world’s largest education company, which was working on a new digital transformation to help technology enter the classroom.

His big epiphany was realizing that the pace of learning should not be controlled by one adult (the teacher) but should be controlled by the child, who can decide how fast they learn…

And that’s where software can help. With the arrival of the pandemic people realized that although online learning can be beneficial, it still left a lot to be desired.

So in 2020, Amar came up with the idea to blend great online learning tools where children decide the pace of learning, and surround them with other students and enrichment activities like science experiments, field trips, or even childcare. He founded KaiPod Learning, microschools run by high-powered teachers he calls “founders.” We asked Amar to share how this unique learning system works.

What is KaiPod?

A lot of teachers are fed up with the traditional classroom but love teaching. We have 90 founders now; 82% of our cohort is current teachers who have said, “I’m not going back to the classroom.” They’ve told their principals they’re ready for something new. KaiPod empowers them to create a new microschool in their community that better serves a target group of students of ten to fifteen kids. Each learning plan is designed around a very particular student need and each teacher creates an environment dedicated to that. Our job is to make that possible.

What have been your biggest challenges?

Convincing people that we can and should rethink how education is delivered. So many of us see school as that big building down the street where children get dropped off, something happens, and then children get picked up. For most parents, that’s education. It’s hard  convincing people that there is no reason it has to be that way. It can be much more flexible, more transparent, and more personalized. I would argue this is the first new learning model since World War II and that’s scary for a lot of people.

You say KaiPod is also impacting local economies—how?

One metric that I’m tracking is not about the firm’s revenues. It’s about economic activity in communities, many of which are impoverished communities with terrible schools. Every time we help a teacher start a school, we ask them to report their revenues and how many jobs they’ve created at their school. We’re trying to say, “Look, these schools are engines of economic activity.” So already we’ve started schools that are contributing half a million dollars in revenue to their communities. They’ve created 15 jobs already in our first cohort. This fall, that number is going to more than triple.

What are your dreams for KaiPod?

My dreams are for there to be tens of thousands of microschools across America, even hundreds of thousands. Because what that means is that every parent has choices.The grand dream is for every child to love the school they’re in and if they don’t like it, they can go find another one. But that means there should be plenty of choices available. For example, right now, where I live, there is a public school and three private schools that I can’t afford. Wouldn’t it be great if there were 20 microschools within a ten-mile radius of me? And what if they had different learning philosophies, different tuition levels, different populations that they were serving, and I could pick the right one for my daughter? That’s the vision.

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Rusty Dornin
Rusty Dornin is the director of marketing and communications for Ulu Ventures. An award-winning radio and television journalist, she was a CNN correspondent for nearly 18 years covering domestic and world news ranging from war to natural disasters and tales of crime and politics.
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