Unable to make up for missed classes due to lack of online material in his mother tongue, Hitarth Sheth realised how many students would be facing gaps in their lessons due to a language barrier. His passion for developing apps, pushed him to incubate an online learning platform – the Gujju Student app for his peers facing difficulties in accessing quality resources and educational materials in Gujarati.
From turning his curiosity for technology into learning and developing apps, winning at the Global Entrepreneurship Week and launching his pet project Buddhimaan, Hitarth has had significant milestones at such a young age. From developing apps for his fellow classmates in class 7 to launching his 12th app this year, 17-year-old Hitarth has come a long way. The Gujju Student app developed by him has seen a huge success, with over 1 lakh downloads.
His ambition to scale his apps and make them accessible to all, searching and working towards building solutions to reduce the digital divide in India, children like him are leading the way to address the world’s most pressing problems today.
Q) What inspired you to develop this app? How did the idea of developing apps come to mind?
Ans: While studying in standard 9th, I got selected for the Ashoka Youth Venture programme for my work and commitment to bring a social change as a part of my initial project, the Diabetes Doctor app. As part of the program, I had to travel to Bangalore to attend their workshops, due to which I wasn’t able to attend school and missed a few lectures. After coming back, I thought of learning the missed topics from the internet, but to my surprise, there was not much information available in my language – Gujarati. As a Gujarati medium student, I realised that the few videos available were not relevant to my syllabus and included different terminology. That’s when I thought to myself, why not create an app for other students like me who don’t have much access to proper study material and resources in my language? That’s how the idea of Gujju Student came to mind and I launched the first version in September 2017. Today, the app has reached over one lakh students.
Q) You’ve made 12 apps already! How did your app developing journey being? Which was the first app you made? Share with us your memories and thoughts from that time.
Ans: My app development journey began when I was 12 years old and studying in class 7. My friends and I would often forget to complete our school homework and were lazy to even note it down in our diaries. Even though WhatsApp was very much in use at that time, our parents didn’t allow us to use it and our school didn’t have an app of its own. That’s when I decided to develop an app for all the students from my class so that we could easily discuss our homework. We were being taught the basics in school, but I didn’t really have an idea of making an entire app. My father took me to various institutes, but most of them suggested that I should study more age appropriate software and not a complex software like Java. So, I thought of learning it on my own using the internet and when I looked up for information, I found videos with every single step explained in detail. That’s how I learnt to develop apps on my own and developed an app called RemindMe, and then started to learn further languages and software with the help of YouTube.
Q) What was the inspiration behind making learning easy for Gujarat students? What gaps did you see and how did you believe this app would solve it?
Ans: The lack of videos and other learning resources in Gujarati language online led me to this idea. The major gap I saw was a language barrier which even I faced while learning from the online resources. So, while developing this app, I made sure that it would be easier for the students from a Gujarati background to access the study material online in their own language.
Q) Share with us the challenges and opportunities while developing the app, and in terms of the response/ use after you launched it.
Ans: The very first challenge was learning to develop the app on my own with the help of the internet. Then there was a continuous process of learning programming languages, troubleshooting unexpected errors etc. Apart from the internet, the other programs and organizations which I am a part of like Ashoka Youth Venturer, Child Friendly Surat, Global Dignity, Global Shapers helped me grow a lot in my journey. Along with these the local start-up community in Surat has provided me with many such opportunities, and that is how I have been able to build on my interest and passion for apps.
Q) Developing an app takes a lot of effort. How do manage to balance this along with school and homework?
Ans: Initially, when I launched the first version, it had textbooks in digital format, which students could read at their own convenience in the app. Later on, with the help of my teachers and some friends, we started creating learning videos. Creating learning content for all the 12 classes & their subjects is a very long process and a huge task. As I am in the 12th grade right now, it is difficult for me to manage videos, other content and user queries. But I manage to give it time every day and try to do the best of my capacity. As it has been more than 3 years from the launch of the first version, users request for new features and content and the requests keep increasing daily which is being managed as of now. It’s definitely tough sometimes to manage both together, but then the fact that my work might be helping someone in their learning process, is what keeps me going.
Q) How encouraging or non-encouraging were your parents, teachers, friends, and peers related to this app? Share with us some anecdotes.
Ans: From the very beginning, my parents were supportive and always encouraged me to continue my work along with my studies. My school teachers were also supportive of this. In fact, some of my teachers and friends have previously helped me in creating video content and always encourage me to give my best.
Q) What are the future plans for this app? You must be aware of the digital divide that exists with so many children not having access to school? Do you have any ideas for children less privileged than yourself?
Ans: In the past few months, as education has gone completely online for everyone due to the pandemic, many students who previously were not exposed to mobile devices and online learning platforms are now actively using it for their studies apart from the online lectures provided by school and possibly when they look for the content in their language, they’re left with nothing or very limited options (such as old videos with poor quality video/audio) which in a way acts as a digital divide in online learning. I’ve started a new project called Buddhimaan, where we aim to create learning content in 8+ Indian languages to bridge this gap, the digital divide.
Q) The app was also a winner at Global Entrepreneurship Week, Surat, 2017, under the education category. How did you feel about it?
Ans: Winning at the Global Entrepreneurship Week was a confidence booster for me as the app was in the initial stages of development. During the event I was lucky enough to meet many industry experts and engage with them. One of them is mentoring me and helping me out with some of the aspects too.
Q) What are your future plans? Will you be focusing on developing more apps or planning for your higher education?
Ans: I’m currently preparing for various entrance exams, but even during college and after that, I’ll surely continue working on my social impact projects and scale them so that they help more students in the coming years.