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Mar17

#20 Javier Arroyo – Smartick Founder, Providing Children With a Better Future, and Education at Home

PODCAST: Episode 20

Javier Arroyo – Smartick Founder, Providing Children With a Better Future, and Education at Home

In episode 20 of the Future Minds podcast, we spoke with the person who makes this show possible, one of the co-founders of Smartick, Javier Arroyo! We get the behind-the-scenes story about how Javier came to be involved in the EdTech space.

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About Our Guest: Javier Arroyo

Javier is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Executive Program. He holds a B.A. in Economics and an MBA from Solvay Business School in Belgium. Javier is a former strategic consultant at Accenture and Managing Partner of Fast Track.

javier arroyo

He was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship by the U.S. Congress to recognize his work in education worldwide. Serving as an Endeavor Entrepreneur, Javier spends most of his time building Smartick and is also a passionate marathon runner.

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Topics Discussed

  1. The origins and philosophy of Smartick.
  2. Why math is important.
  3. The value of online learning.
  4. What makes Smartick different from other online learning methods.

Full Episode Transcription

Guest Introduction

Philip von Ziegler: In this episode, I’ll be speaking with Javier Arroyo. Javier is the co-founder of Smartick, the leading online maths, and coding program for kids ages 4 to 14, and the company that makes this show possible.

Javier is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s executive program, holds a B.A. in Economics, and an MBA from Solvay Business School in Belgium. A former strategic consultant at Accenture and Managing Partner of FastTrack, Javier was awarded Eisenhower Fellowship by the US Congress who recognized his work in education worldwide. Serving as an Endeavor Entrepreneur, Javier spends most of his time building Smartick and is also a passionate marathon runner.

In this episode, we discuss the origins and philosophy of Smartick, why maths is important, the value of online learning, and what makes Smartick different, as well as a range of other topics. I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with Javier and I’m sure you will, too. Without further ado, I bring you a Javier Arroyo.

Javier, nice to have you on the show. To start off, obviously, for those that don’t know, you’re the co-founder of Smartick. So, tell us just a little bit about yourself, maybe your educational background specifically, and then we’ll get into how Smartick came about.

Javier Arroyo: Thank you, Philip for having me on the podcast. Well, a few words for myself. I’m from Spain. I have studied in four different education systems and I went to a German school and then I attended one year of high school in the US. And then I went through I went to college in Spain, and then I was an exchange student for one year in Germany. And finally, I studied an MBA in Belgium. So, that’s on the educational background.

On the professional background, I started my career in Luxembourg, actually in investment banking. Then I moved on to the European Federation of Investment Funds in Brussels, where I stayed for three years. And then I went back to Spain, after finishing my MBA, went back to Spain to start working in management consulting at Accenture. Where I moved on from management consulting, I moved on to where I joined a startup that had recently had started a few months before in sports management and consulting. And then I joined Daniel to co-found Smartick.

Javier’s Advice to His Younger Self

PvZ: Well, it seems like pretty much an all-star education background, if you really think about it. Multiple education, sort of, paths, if you want to call it that, but then going down the traditional university education, getting an MBA, becoming, sort of, enthralled in that management consulting world, you know, it seems like sort of the perfect path for any businessman to venture down. But if you had to look back and give yourself advice, whether you were 25 years old or 30 years old, would you do anything differently reflecting back on your education?

JA: I mean, you are, you’re very right. I had what you would call, you know, like a typical corporate career, you know, where you start at a multinational company, in this case, it was a consultancy firm. You go through university, MBA, and so on. But then, you know, based on personal reasons, like many of the projects that you start, there’s always like a personal reason behind it. And in this case, when Daniel started having nephews, in this case, and I started having children, then we started reading about education. I started worrying about the education of your, you know, your family, of your siblings, your kids, and so on. And then everything which we were reading was, you know, was like a poor performance of children in education, you know, mainly based on the PISA report.

So, if I would have to look back, you know, I, basically, I don’t regret my career. I think it was good. I learned a lot about consulting a lot. It gives you a very solid foundation and a very good methodology on how to structure and how to approach problems in your daily life and your professional career and so on. So, I think it’s an excellent school. I don’t regret anything. And in my case, it was a very good basis to build up a startup project later on.

How The Smartick Methodology Started

PvZ: Yea and you made reference now to it being a methodology. And I think a lot of people when thinking about online education programs, don’t necessarily think about it as being a learning, sort of, pedagogy or methodology. How did that come about? Was that something that you initially, sort of, consciously wanted to approach as, hey, let’s not just create an app or let’s not just create an online program, but let’s actually reinvent and redesign an optimal methodology?

JA: I think it’s a very good question and a very difficult one. The way we approached it was the following, you know, we wanted to give, and that’s part of our vision, but we wanted to give the children a better future. As simple or as ambitious as that. So, we thought the best way to give children a better future is to give them a good education. You know, since, you know, being an entrepreneur and working at a startup, obviously, you cannot cover everything. So we said, OK, let’s focus on math and why math? Because math is a crucial skill to have for this generation. It is in general, and there are many studies that prove that children who perform well in math, they have, they perform well also in all other subjects. But apart from that, most of the future jobs will be based on math somehow or will have math as a basis, you know, like a coding program in biotech, a data analysis and so on. So, it is as simple as if you focus on giving each child a very solid, good, very solid foundation in math, you are giving them a brighter future. And this is what we thought.

When you start a project, you have to be realistic and keep focused. You cannot cover everything. So we decided, let’s focus on math. There is no way because there are you know, it’s a huge task, there’s no way to change the traditional schooling system. It’s very difficult. Even if the methodology is out of date or even if they have not incorporated technology as they should have or as they could have. It is a huge task for a small startup. So, we decided we couldn’t I mean, that it was too much for us to try to change the school system. So, we decided to focus on the B2C business, just target individual families for whom education was a priority and we would be focusing on that. Try to change the lives, or at least have an impact on the math education of those children who could or would be interested in math. And this is what we did.

PvZ: In the early days, what were some of the biggest challenges in growing a business of this nature? Because education technology was really, sort of, catapulted to the fore in 2020 as coronavirus came about. And now it’s a hot topic, but Smartick’s been around for much longer than that. So, what were those early years like for you, for Dani and for the rest of the founding team?

JA: Ok. I mean, the founding team was basically Daniel and myself. And our main challenge, there were several, but I would say one, which is very obvious is money, funding. It’s a project which is self-funded. We don’t have any investors behind it. So, we funded the entire project with our savings. And until you reach the breakeven it’s tough, it’s tough because you have to, you know, put all your savings into the project. You have a very limited budget in terms of marketing, in terms of product development, and so on. That’s on the one side.

Second, is you cannot imagine how difficult it is, something that you have in your mind, in your head, you have a clear view of what you want, it is very difficult to implement it, to actually have it on the screen, have it working. And the third point, which was, is our big challenge, is to try to get users on board. That’s key, I mean, that’s key for Smartick because you need all the data in order for the artificial intelligence and the algorithm to start working and to start fine-tuning this adaptiveness. You need data and you need thousands of students using it in order to improve. Getting all those students and all those people on board is quite difficult with a very limited budget like it was at the beginning.

PvZ: And in the beginning, it’s, obviously, super important to build trust with your customer base. And that’s where a really well-developed customer care team comes into play. Was that something that you focused on right from the beginning, or was customer care something that came about a bit later?

JA: I think, you know, if you look at Smartick value proposition, it’s very simple. It is very clear and very simple. It’s a very innovative product and an excellent customer experience. So, you need to have a very good product that is reliable, has good results, and you need to have a very good customer experience. In order to achieve that, you need a very good customer team with highly qualified people so that whenever you had a problem, they solved it efficiently, quickly, and in the correct way.

So, with this very simple value proposition, it allows you to achieve two things. First, you can charge a premium price because you are giving a premium service. And second, you can extend the lifetime value of your clients much longer. So, in general terms, I think there are three keys. One is you need to have an excellent product, you need to have an excellent customer experience, and you need to have a very good team made of very talented people, committed, and so on. So, I think those three are the key pillars of Smartick.

PvZ: Yeah, and in my time working with Smartick, you know, I’ve, obviously, had a look at the way that the team has been built but what has really impressed me, and I think what goes unnoticed for many customers out there, is the dynamism and the strength of each individual in the Smartick team itself. I love the fact that it seems like everybody is there not just for a job, but for far more than that. There’s a much bigger vision that, sort of, has worked its way through the entire team. And everybody feels a level of responsibility towards building and improving on what Smartick already is. And I think one of the things that’s testament to that is the Smartick head offices. So, maybe you can just tell the listeners a little bit about the head office setup.

JA: Well, the head office set up, it was, it’s an old house, actually, it’s the house where my co-founder, Daniel, he used to live until he was 8. We are, the head offices are based in Madrid. Then he moved to the south of Spain to Malaga. So, it’s a big house, you know, when we decided to start the project, just at that time, the house was empty at that time. So, we like made a little refurbishment, it’s a house, you know, outside Madrid, it’s a quiet neighborhood, a nice garden with a swimming pool. We have sports facilities in the basement so that people willing to do pilates or are willing to play table tennis or are willing to practice some sports, they can do it and we value that a lot.

And as you said for us, both of us coming from management consulting and investment banking in the case of Daniel, who used to work at Private Equity, you know, those are very, very tough, very competitive environments where the working atmosphere is not given the value it should. So, whenever we decided to start with Smartick, for us, it was our priority that the working atmosphere was excellent. You know, the people would be really motivated to come to the office every day. They would be comfortable here. They would love it here. They would be committed. And they would feel the project as their own. So, for us, in that case, you know, the office is very peculiar, it has nothing to do with a traditional office in an office building, you know, in the center of the city. But we like it here. And it’s part of our identity.

More About Smartick

PvZ: And makes Smartick feel like a family. Because it’s no longer a startup, I mean, Smartick is been established as one of the leading education technology methodologies and businesses across Spain, growing aggressively in Latin America and now entering into the English-speaking markets. So, that transition from startup to sort of medium-sized business, as you slowly approach that 100 employee mark, which will probably be reached in the coming year or two, how is that process sort of felt to you moving from the startup phase into larger corporate phase, but still maintaining a lot of that startup culture and that startup mindset, which has been core to the way that we’ve adapted in the way that we’ve put ourselves into some of the markets?

JA: Yeah, you are. I mean, that’s an interesting question. We grew fast and, you know, within, I would say, a limited amount of years that we grew fast and it has been a transition which has been very, very smooth, actually. Smartick has a very horizontal organization, a way of getting organized, its hierarchy, it is not part of our culture. We try to push, you know, even the youngest employees without any previous experience, we try to push them to be proactive, to have initiative, to propose new things, to dare to propose a new project, to challenge any pre-establish or any pre-defined ideas, any predefined way of working. And it has been like this since day one. We try to maintain that and keep that spirit.

Obviously, you know, as the company grows, as the number of employees grows, we have to, I mean, the procedures get more and more complicated. You need to have more coordination tools, more project management tools in place, have more rules, more procedures, and so on. But, you know, in general terms, the spirit it is, it will be like will be always a startup. And it’s a very lean organization, you know, everybody is asked or is expected for everybody to give their opinion, to propose new things. So, as I said before, even though we are growing, you know, I would say Smartick is still a startup. We’ve been for almost 10 years in the market. We have obtained great recognition and awards from the education community from, you know, like Harvard, MIT, Oxford University and different awards and different recognitions from the education community and from the business community too. But, you know, we still maintain that spirit that we had at the beginning.

PvZ: Yeah, it’s amazing to hear. So, shifting gears a little and coming back to Smartick, I think a lot of parents that may be listening to this are really just asking themselves one question, and that is, how can Smartick help them and how can Smartick help their kids. Now in the context of a pandemic, in the context of a world where lockdown has become the norm, how does Smartick benefit kids ages 4 to 14 from the perspective of one of the co-founders?

JA: Smartick, you know, especially under these circumstances, but in general terms, Smartick is a great tool for parents to have their children mastering math. And why? For several reasons, first, it’s a very short period, it’s a very short amount of time every day, it’s only 15 minutes a day, which is very feasible to squeeze it into the children’s agenda. Second, the content is going to prepare the children for the future, for the skills they are going to need in the future. So, they will not only work on the traditional pure mental calculation, but they are going to work and will put a lot of emphasis on this, they are going to work on logic and reasoning, which are skills which are crucial for them to have. We also put a lot of emphasis on developing these critical thinking skills. And children would also learn how to code with us.

Third reason, why Smartick is such a good solution for parents. Children work on their own. They don’t need the help of their parents. The program is so well-sequenced and it adapts so well to the children’s learning style that children do not need their parents to support them, to explain new concepts, to sit next to them, to work with them. So, the children, they learn on their own, parents can do whatever they need to do, especially during this lockdown period, parents are overloaded with working hours, working remotely, trying to, you know, to be in different places, virtually doing many tasks. So, that’s important, too.

And the last thing I would say is like there are thousands of children in over 100 countries doing Smartick every day with extraordinary results like 94% of the children improve their mental calculation skill, logic, reasoning skills. And 83% of them improved their math grade at school. So, the results are there. And it’s a short period of time, maximum concentration, very curated, very well designed content, very well-sequenced so that all children feel motivated, they advance on their own level and their own pace and always feeling motivated and comfortable.

PvZ: So, you have kids, your kids seem like they’re just sort of out of that age range that would be using Smartick right now. But, you know, given what you’re doing at the moment, what are you doing with your children? Are you, have you decided on helping them to determine a career path? Or is this something that you’ve left up to them to decide themselves as a parent?

JA: My children are now 17 and 15. My daughter wants to study medicine. And my son wants to become a developer. It’s a good question. I have always been on top of their education. I have always, you know, I’m very close to them and I’m, you know, I have always been very, you know, very much on top of how they are evolving in education, how they are progressing with their skills, what are their weaknesses, their strengths, and try to like, you know, be there and try to support them in those areas that they need to reinforce and so on.

My opinion is that, yeah, it’s great that children can make their own decisions, you know, that you, obviously, you respect their will and their interests and their preferences and so on. But you have to be there. You have to be there. You have the experience. You are much older than them. You know what life is about. You know what the professional market is about. You know, what is life about? You know that at the end of the day, you want to be happy, so you need to do what you want but I think some orientation, it’s always good. It always adds from your perspective, being a father or being a parent from the experience of all the years, I think it’s a very valuable input that you have to give them always. So, you cannot leave them completely free to decide. I mean, I think your input has to be there somehow. You don’t have to impose it, but definitely, you have to try to help them whenever they have questions and you have to try to guide them.

What Makes Smartick Different From Other Online Programs

PvZ: And for many families right now, I think it’s a challenging time because parents are conflicted between, you know, having to potentially give up on some of their career goals in order to either work from home or institute some or other home learning program. Now, obviously, with coronavirus having been an absolute catalyst for the development of the online education space, there’s a lot of online programs that have come about. You know Smartick is one of many, many of them have positioned themselves as applications, some as programs and some as entire online sort of schools, in a way. What differentiates Smartick from some of the other leading or larger Ed-tech programs out there?

JA: Yes, there are many differences, but I will focus only on a few. First, as I said before, the content, any program out there focuses basically on mental calculation and arithmetic. Smartick goes much before it goes further beyond calculation. So, we work on developing these logic and reason skills, on these critical thinking, and on these coding skills. And why? The reason is very simple. It’s correct, it’s good and it’s great to be able to calculate, to be, for example, to be able to multiply five figures in a very quick way, to do it correctly, and so on. But that’s only a tool. It’s not the goal. The goal of math, it’s not calculating or multiplying five figures, very quickly, the goal is to solve a problem. So, in order to solve a problem, obviously, calculation it’s a tool that you have to master. But the goal is to solve the problem. So, you need to calculate right. You need to understand the text, so, you need to have some good reading comprehension skills. You need to be able to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information. You need to link different part of the problems and so on. So, math is much more than calculations. On the content side Smartick is much, much richer than any other program out there.

On top of that, we are, let’s say, a life tech program. And it means that every five weeks, we upload a new release and this new release, these new releases, bring new content, new features, improvement in the user experience aspects of the website, of the program, and so on. So, it is a life program that allows us to incorporate the very best of the world methodologies which are out there, which are working, having great results, such as the Singapore method, the Dutch abacus, Montessori cards, and many other things. So, Smartick is like that, it gathers the very best of the global methodologies which are out there. That was the first point, the content.

Second, the adaptiveness. Smartick is A.I. based, which may sound very futuristic, but it is with the A.I. we do the following, it is as simple as that. We run first an assessment test which allows us to know exactly, with the highest precision possible, what every student, I mean, what do they master and what do they don’t master. And that’s important because based on this assessment, we design a very unique and personalized study program for each child. And not only that, A.I. allows us to go much further than this. It allows us, on real-time, to adapt these predefined, which was already unique and individualized and personalized this study program, it allows us to adapt it on real-time, depending on how the child is performing. Depending on their learning style, depending on their learning pace and on their performance on the go, so, that if they answer one exercise incorrectly or too slow, the next one is going to be more difficult. It’s going to be, it adapts.

So, the A.I. just to try to summarize in a very clear way, it allows us to find out what is the potential or what is the maximum capacity of each student and have that specific student work as close as possible to this maximum capacity, but always a little bit below. And why? The reason why is that we are a big fan of positive reinforcement. We think the impact on learning is much higher. If you give a prize for what they do, what they have done correctly, rather than a punishment for what they do incorrectly, that in general terms. And specifically in math, it has a great impact. Imagine, you know, one day on a daily 15-minute session, most of the answers would be incorrect, the impact on your self-esteem, on your motivation, and so on is huge. While, if you do it the other way around, you do most of the questions that you ask them, they know the answer, but still, it is a challenge. So, in order to draw this very thin line, which is very difficult between, you know, they have to make mistakes, otherwise, they wouldn’t be learning. But you cannot have them, you cannot present them with content that they do not master at all and have constantly made mistakes. So, adaptiveness, it’s the second big argument of Smartick.

And the third one is, is pure logistics. They can do it from the comfort of the home, they don’t have to attend any learning centers. Exercises are corrected immediately, they get immediate feedback, and that way their learning process speeds up incredibly. Parents are informed all the time, they can follow, they have their own website. They can follow throughout the year all the exercises, all the answers of the student, how they are progressing, and so on. So, there are many differences, but I would focus on those three.

The Future of Education

PvZ: Great, so we ended off that last point perfectly. This next question is, obviously, a question that you get quite a lot, but that is what does the future of education look like?

JA: Well, that you know, in my personal opinion, that’s something very personal, in my personal view is that children need to attend school. I mean, virtual education it’s fine and I think it’s going to be, it’s probably more practical, more useful for higher education, such as university. But if we talk about schools, I think it is good, it is positive, it is very beneficial for children to attend school. I think it should be a 100% education model where children attend school every day. But technology has to be part of, has to be more integrated. You know, technology is there. It exists. It has great benefits, as we have proven with Smartick over the past 10 years with thousands of kids and over 100 countries. So, it’s there. It works with great results, but it needs to be somehow integrated into the education project of the school.

What does it mean? That the teachers will always be there and the passion, the love for a subject that a teacher transmits to their student could never be replaced by any machine. But what a machine can do is to personalize the training individually for each student in order to obtain the maximum out of each one. So, there has to be like group lesson to explain a new concept and so on. But then the practice should be done individually so that each student can feel comfortable and can feel motivated. Those who are more talented can advance much more. And those who struggle with math in this case, you know, with very personalized methodology, such as Smartick, you pull, from then on, you bring them back to the average level. So, this is the way I see the future of education.

PvZ: Yea, I think there’s a there’s this, sort of, school of thought that says, you know, technology is going to displace everything and teachers’ jobs are under threat. But I don’t think you hold that view. And I think any sort of rational professional educator or entrepreneur operating in this space would say the same thing, that we do still need educators to provide everything that the machine can’t. But that sort of hybrid model of where the machine is used to facilitate, improve and scale, fundamentally everything that a teacher is good at and replace and aid at everything that a teacher is perhaps not so good at, that’s sort of the perfect balance that we aim to work towards over the next coming decade or so.

So specifically, with regards to Smartick, what are the future plans for Smartick? At the moment it’s a world-class maths program. It’s got a coding component and we’ve just introduced the reading comprehension in Spain, in Spanish, obviously. What does the future of Smartick look like in both Spain and then potentially worldwide?

JA: Yeah, that’s a very good question. The future of Smartick, it relies on two fronts. First, is to increase the program portfolio. As you said, we recently launched the reading program in Spain, it will be launched by the beginning of March in Latin America, and then we will continue to roll it out. We are also progressing and advancing very fast and developing more, much more content for Smartick Coding. Also, we are working on improving and increasing the content of Smartick Brain, which is those scientifically designed games to train cognitive skills such as memory, attention, concentration, and so on, which are also key for children. That’s on the product side.

And the second growth driver for Smartick is to continue with its international expansion. We recently launched a few weeks ago Brazil with Portuguese from Brazil version. That’s a huge market for us, continue growing in Latin America. We are very strong in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile. And, obviously, continue growing in the English-speaking market, mainly the US, UK, and South Africa.

PvZ: Some of the challenges faced in, for example, building a program in a competitive environment like this. Are there other opportunities in the education technology space that you think Smartick may pursue down the line, or is it something that we say, hey, let’s focus on maths, build the best maths program there is, let’s take it step-by-step, build the best coding program, build the best reading program. I guess the question that I’m asking is, you know, is this a step-by-step play over time, or is there a time in the future where Smartick may look to introduce a whole range of programs or subjects.

JA: That is, it’s a very tough case and we have given a lot of thought since the beginning of Smartick and specifically in the last years. We are of the opinion, Daniel and myself, that we should focus on being the best world program in a niche market, which is like primary school 4 to 12/14 in math and reading, rather than to try to cover the whole range of subjects.

And why? Well, for several reasons. First, is a purely philosophical question. What is the real added value of Smartick if we are very critical with ourselves? Is that parents outsourced their task of having to look, at having to search and having to present their children with specific math exercises, for example, in this case. So, they would have to go on the Internet, look for exercise every day, come up with a whole bunch of exercises, correct them, and so on. So, parents know this great program, which is called Smartick, it’s intelligent, adapts to their children and they know they improve a lot in school and they have great results. So, they fully rely on Smartick and they outsource this task to Smartick. But Smartick hasn’t reinvented the wheel, I mean, the content of math for primary school, it’s there. It’s universal. It’s international. So, you know, it’s very basic. It’s addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and so. The added value of Smartick is to know exactly when and what to propose to each individual student.

So, this philosophy, it works in math because the knowledge or the learning is very sequential. So, you learn first how to, you learn addition and then subtraction, and so it’s very well sequenced. But it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t make sense in other subjects. For example, in history, you can study the Romans and not have studied the Greeks or you can study the Middle Age and not have studied the Romans, so, it is not so, so much applicable to other subjects as it is in math.

And the second reason is why should we focus on what we are doing, like reading, math? Those are the two really the two pillars of primary education. Or let’s put it in a positive way, if your child masters and is very good at math and is very good at reading comprehension, he’s going to be successful in secondary school and high school and university.

And the third thing is that, since the added value of Smartick is knowing what to present exactly and at which pace to each student, it makes sense up to a certain age. So, it wouldn’t make sense to go higher into a higher education because at that age a student is fully capable of going on the Internet and he’s got an exam in two weeks there are thousands of websites and apps with free exercises and they are perfectly capable of searching for the right content and doing exercises. So, at that age, for children, you know, from 14 to 18. And if they are not able to do that, we are talking about different problems which Smartick cannot solve. So, it makes sense at that age and at those specific subjects. So, we, you know, we rather focus on those two very specific areas and be the best in the world than trying to, you know, have a much broader content.

The Importance of Foundational Math

PvZ: Yes, that makes complete sense, and with the specific focus on mathematics as the foundation, you know, why is maths so important specifically at that foundational level, ages 4 to 14?

JA: Yeah, math is the universal language. So, it is not only calculating, it’s a way of structuring your mind. It’s a way of thinking in a very logical and very structured way. It allows you to approach any problem in life with the confidence to approach it, to be able to break it down into smaller problem sequences in the right way. So, math is a language. It is much more than calculating. So, a child who is able to structure their mind in a way that they can approach any subject, any problem with confidence, with trust, and with a solid way of thinking, solid methodology is going to be successful always.

PvZ: That’s a really good point in coming to that point of confidence, we have, obviously, seen this sort of problem with maths anxiety, and that stems from a lack of confidence and the inability, you know, to keep up with learning process in a traditional classroom, sometimes, and what that leads to, as you’ll know, obviously, is this maths anxiety condition that many children have and sometimes it follows into adulthood. So, how does Smartick fit into helping to solve that problem that many parents are facing at the moment?

JA: Yeah, Smartick helps a lot and we see it every day we get hundreds of testimonials every week from parents. And why? Because since Smartick is intelligent, it adapts to the level of each child, we present the content they are capable to solve correctly. Obviously, we challenge them once in a while and we go, we present them with exercises that they haven’t seen yet or with concept they haven’t, they do not master yet, so, because we need to challenge them and to know where the limits are. But we have them practice as much as we can, as close as possible to their maximum capacity. So, but always, as I said before, from a positive reinforcement perspective.

So, what is the result of this? At the end of the day, at the end of the daily 15-minute session, most of the exercises are correct. So, they, this really builds and it really has an impact on their self-esteem and on their trust in math. So, they see that they are capable of solving the exercises every day and this boosts their self-esteem and their self-confidence.

The Importance of Physical Exercise for Children

PvZ: All right, so, Javi, aside from education, we know that maths is important. We know that stimulating the mind is important. We know that repetition, grit, consistency, are all very important. How important is physical exercise and mental stimulation beyond just education in the development of a child’s brain and education?

JA: I think they got together brain and education or let’s say brain and the physical condition, it goes together, mens sana in corpore sano. So, I’m myself, I’m a marathon runner. I have run over 30 marathons in under 3 hours, which is, you know, I’m very proud of my performance. I’m proud of that. And it’s a sport I, I really enjoy because, you know, it helps me like, you know, have time for myself to think about work, family, you know, anything. So, I think it’s good, it’s relaxing, keeps you fit and, you know, it’s a good way of having time for yourself.

PvZ: I was actually having an interesting conversation last night about the human being and the human body, and interestingly enough, did you know that the human being is the highest endurance animal or mammal on the planet? Something that I didn’t know, but if you do the research, the way that human beings can regulate our bodies and regulate body temperature actually makes us the highest endurance mammal on Earth without having to stop and rest and recover. So, that was quite interesting. So, as a marathon runner, did you take part in any other sports at school?

JA: Well, you know, like any child in Spain, we love football and we have a great memory from South Africa, 2010.

PvZ: Of course.

JA: When we won the World Cup. Yeah, I love sports in general. I love football. And I love running.

The Impact of Technology on Education

PvZ: So, looking at the education system, you know, there’s a lot of debate going on at the moment as to what the optimal education model is, whether that’s the traditional Edwardian classroom model, online education, blended models, which a lot of private schools, at least in South Africa, are starting to introduce, which is a sort of combination of online and in the classroom. What are your opinions or do you have an opinion on what that optimal education model looks like given the current global climate and the way that technology is changing up the classroom?

JA: Yes, my personal view on what’s the optimal education system is, it’s, I’m talking about a primary school, right? I think the optimal way is children, having children attending school on a daily basis, but including technology, integrating technology and implementing technology, which has been there for years and with proven extraordinary results. So, have it integrated into the system. So, have the teacher, the teacher is the person who’s the leader of the class, is a facilitator, who should be inspiring children and should be leading children by taking all the less added value tasks, such as training, and taking it out, taking it away from them, having technology do that. Technology is going to cover this diversity of the class and be able to present the content in a personalized way to each student much better than than a human being. But at the same time, the teacher should focus on this, leading on this facilitating role. And at the same time, I think education has to integrate somehow these social-emotional skills and value into the official program.

PvZ: And the fact that Smartick is an online program, you know, you’ve just mentioned the integration between the classroom environment and the online space and that technology is bridging that gap. But one of the negative outcomes of the use of technology today, or at least in the eyes of many parents, is what’s referred to as screen time. How do you feel about screen time specifically as it relates to your children? And is this something that you think parents should be concerned about and should they regulate it? Or is it actually something to embrace and try to pivot into a positive?

JA: Screen time should be limited. I don’t know if an official way or it should be regulated or not, but I think there has to be a limit to screen time, obviously. And not only to screen time but to the content the children access to. So, what do I mean by that? I mean that technology per say is not good or bad it’s the use that you make of technology, which is good or bad. So, screen time, you know, if I would tell you that your child is going to spend 3, 4 or 5 hours a day in front of a screen, but really learning and really working on an educational purpose, that’s fine or that could be acceptable. But the problem is that children spend 95% of their time in front of a screen playing games, doing anything except for education. So, the technology per say, as I said before, it’s not good or bad it’s the use we make of this technology, which is good or bad. So, in my view, screen time should be limited. And not only that, but the content should be much more education-focused than it is now.

PvZ: Yes, I fully agree. So, to end of the conversation, there’s a question that we ask all the guests and you can take your time to answer this the way that you want. And that question is, what do you believe about the education system, whether it’s the way that it’s currently conducted, or any philosophical ideas about education as a whole that most people may disagree with? So, do you hold any unpopular opinions about education?

JA: My opinion about education, that education needs to, I mean, we need an evolution, not a revolution, you know, to start from scratch and to try to come up with a new system of new ways of educating, in my view, is completely wrong. I mean, we are all here today. We have all attend schools. We have all gone to university and we are here. So, it cannot be that bad. It is clear that education needs to evolve, but you know what’s out there, it’s good.

We need to improve it and how to improve it in my way, education, I have like very two very, you know, two very, very clear ideas. One, we have to start early. Any action or any program or any remedial solution coming from the institutions, coming from the government and so on, they are always for children like above 14, 15 and so on. But really, we need to start when you lay the foundations for any subject specifically in math in this case. But when a subject is much earlier, it’s when they are 5, 6, 7, 8 years old. That’s where the building is laying it’s heavy or it’s solid foundation. And we need to act and intervene much earlier than we do now.

And the second is that education has to be more and more personalized. So, one education, like one size fits all. You know, it’s not according to our time, we have technology there. Technologies is good. Technology has great results and we need to integrate it into the system. So, if we manage to do those two things, those two things, I think education is going to evolve rapidly and it’s going to be, you know, the improvement it’s going to be great.

PvZ: Yeah, great, that’s a perfect way to end off the discussion. Javier Arroyo, thank you for your time, the co-founder of Smartick. It’s been a very insightful and interesting conversation, and I hope that this is the first one of many.

JA: Thank you so much Philip for inviting me and for having me here, it was a pleasure.

The Future Minds podcast is brought to you by Smartick. Smartick is an award-winning, intelligent, online mathematics and coding program for kids ages 4 – 14. Powered by sophisticated, adaptive AI, Smartick teaches kids math and coding from the comfort of home in as little as 15 minutes per day. For more information, visit smartick.com or download the app on tablet or iPad today.

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Sabrina graduated from the AAA School of Advertising with a B.A. in Integrated Marketing Communications and prior to joining the Smartick Team she started her own digital marketing agency in 2014.
She is the founder and producer of Smartick's podcast called Future Minds with Phil.
In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys horseback riding, reading, and going to the gym. She also loves to travel!
Sabrina Jansen van Vuuren

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