Cuemath aims to raise our maths game, teaching children to love this ‘global language’ – and it’s offering free tasters. We speak to founder Manan Khurma

Online tuition has exploded over the past couple of years – in large part due to COVID – but Cuemath stands out for several reasons. First of these is that maths is all it does: this is a dedicated platform to teach what its founder and CEO Manan Khurma calls “the language” of mathematical thinking. Secondly, it has attracted high-profile and powerful backers, including Google parent company Alphabet Inc. And third – good news for parents – it is making some of its content free this year in a bid to hook children on its approach. The style is visual and aims to teach, as Manan Khurma put it in a TedX talk in 2018: “the Why of math”.

Khurma is a persuasive champion of maths. Speaking from his company HQ in Bangalore, he says: “The goal is to make them fall in love with it, to have them learn another language”. Making some content free this year is a way to raise Cuemath’s profile, but also show off its style. “We give a flavour of what we do and how we do it differently. For instance, fractions – why is the Cuemath way of doing fractions better than what kids will typically learn in a school? We want them to learn from it. We don’t care if they don’t sign up for more classes (although it’s obviously great if they do) but it’s part of our mission to touch a billion kids.”  

Such was his own passion for mathematics growing up that he began teaching it as a side-line while he was still a student in Delhi. Khurma calculates he’s taught it to over 10,000 students personally over the past decade and a half, so Cuemath has had a long incubation. In fact, it began in 2013 as a system – offline via home tutoring initially – to teach in fresh ways, soon gravitating towards online methods. It engages children with the technicalities (the What) of sums, algorithms and equations, but also the principles that lie behind them (the Why). “The inspiration for Cuemath was to create a new way of math learning that starts from the very early years. The idea is to teach them in a very visual way so that they understand what they are doing,” he says. “They learn why something works, and maybe different ways to prove why it works.”

“The goal is to make them fall in love with math, to have them learn another language”

Cuemath also provides context to show how maths underlies everything around us. For instance, Covid offered an opportunity for its students to understand more about an exponential spread – how the maths of pandemics works. Khurma says such grounded examples give meaning and make children more engaged, also more likely to discuss what they have learnt with family and friends. “It means a lot more than an abstract math class,” he says. What the system aims to provide, above all else, is maths confidence – and that includes the bravery required to test theories, explore and experiment. This includes, of course, getting things wrong – all part of the adventure.

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The Cuemath approach is all about teaching maths confidence and with an approach that focuses on context as well as numbers

Khurma says that, as with any other language, early immersion is critical. He believes senior years are too late to give young people real confidence as mathematicians. “If they’ve lost the math battle, then they’ve lost it and even a very dedicated teacher may struggle.”  Cuemath is not short of people to stop that happening. It has around 10,000 tutors, many of them females, and all based in India. They work with some 300,000 students in India, as well as the UK, Middle East and North America. “They teach kids across the world. Families like the fact that they are getting this teacher who is really good at math and who understands and works one-to-one with their kid.” And here is one of the beauties of a platform focusing only on maths – it is a universal language and that makes Cuemath scalable. “The concepts are all the same,” says Khurma. “Some contexts may be different, but the concepts are the same.”

India’s store of tutors is a big company and cultural advantage. This is a country with a long history of producing brilliant mathematicians – from Brahmagupta to Ramanujan and beyond. It makes a difference when it comes to tutoring for the home market because there’s huge value placed on science and technology and maths is seen as core to that. “It has been larger in the psychic landscape of the country,” he says. “Remember that India has this huge middle class and parents think that being good at math and science is a ticket to a good job. It gives you mobility. That actually starts very early on, to the extent that parents in India will typically say that if you’re not scoring well at math then you’re not really doing well at school.”

“Math should be treated as a fundamental right for kids because it’s that important.

In Khurma’s book, Indian parents may have a point. He believes that the mission to teach mathematics to all the world’s children is a critical one. “If you look at how the economy is shaping up, more and more you see that the jobs that are becoming valuable have math at their core. Whether it’s science, machine learning, programming, coding or AI, you need to have a math mind.” Ultimately, Cuemath won’t just be about online teaching but an omnichannel approach, giving multiple opportunities to learn in a way that suits families. He also envisages an education platform that employs machine learning to personalise learning. “So, if you’re a child who is advanced at math and likes cricket – can I offer you content that’s advanced and in the context of cricket?” he says.

 With the backing of venture capitalists and Alphabet, Cuemath is on course to reach out to many more children. “What excites a lot of people is the size of the opportunity – a billion kids need to learn math,” says Manan Khurma. But ultimately, he and his company have an even bigger goal. “We believe that math is not just another subject you learn at school it’s actually a life skill,” he says. “Math should be treated as a fundamental right for kids because it’s that important.”


Further reading: A parents’ guide to online schools