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This Entrepreneur Already Is Where Education Will Be

by Loknath Das

Shanti Elangovan has built her company around inquiry education.

Shanti Elangovan, cofounder, CEO of inquirED.


Shanti Elangovan is all-in on inquiry education. So much so that she even named her education company InquirED.

For the unfamiliar, inquiry education, or inquiry-based learning, is a teaching framework rooted in helping students follow a learning roadmap based on their own interests and curiosities. It focuses on guiding students through a process of discovery and learning as opposed to memorizing facts and figures. As such, it represents a major shift in educational philosophy from the testing and outcome driven models that have dominated domestic education for the last several generations.

It would be unfair to call inquiry education a fad. A significant number of foreign systems are moving to it or have already, including some of the best in the world. Some American districts are moving that way too, including the Lakota Local School District in Ohio, about midway between Dayton and Cincinnati. Lakota has brought in InquirED to move its early grade social studies curriculum to the inquiry model.

The point is that, education-wise, Elangovan may already be where the world is headed.

Today In: Leadership

It’s a place she did not land by accident.

Elangovan has three Masters degrees – one each in public health (Boston University), business (University of Iowa) and elementary education (Teachers College at Columbia University). She taught science at a public school in the Bronx, was a teacher and instructional leader at a private school in Iowa and worked as a director for the National Center for Teacher Residencies – all before founding her company about two and a half years ago. In other words, she gets this stuff.

It’s ironic that she says she was, “never someone who enjoyed going to school that much. Did not enjoy sitting at a desk, doing something. In college, I still had shrink-wrap on all my textbooks.” The standard models were, Elangovan says, “just not how I learn.”

Like a great many students, Elangovan learned best by doing. In this case, by teaching and designing ways for others to teach. She learned by experience.

When she was teaching in the Bronx, for example, she says, she “wasn’t given a lot of material to get going and what I was given, was boring.” She “threw out the textbook and moved to an inquiry-based model that started pretty basic, something like ‘let’s do the science fair.’ Then I had to figure out how to do that with 45 kindergartners.”

The light went on when she started to give her young charges choices, options to pick things that might illuminate their curiosities. “Right away I saw huge differences,” Elangovan says. “In the beginning, there were really hard behavior issues but as soon as I moved to more inquiry, where lessons were connected, where they saw a progression in the work, they wanted to come back, continue and the behavior issues decreased.”

As a curriculum designer and leader, Elangovan saw “that implementing that model across a whole school was very difficult, even in a small school,” she says. “We say, here’s a framework, change what you teach and how you teach it. It’s like asking someone to learn how to play an instrument and write the music at the same time. It’s not easy.”

As a result, Elangovan started to think about what it meant to support and develop teachers, and how to do that at scale.

“I was always interested in the scale of ideas, what caught on and what didn’t,” she says. “I saw  that a lot of people were coming into education with a business mindset saying, ‘if we just take these business ideas and apply them, everything will be fine.’ They didn’t understand the other side, things like the importance of teacher passion and sustainability.”

Elangovan founded InquirED in 2017 and rolled out a full K-5, inquiry social studies curriculum in 2019.  The company announced its integrated sixth grade component last month.

Right now, Elangovan is bootstrapping InquirED but says the company, “might consider a raise” in the fall.

That does not mean her efforts have gone unnoticed or unrewarded by donors and potential investors. InquirED was part of LeanLab, the respected Kansas City education accelerator – it scored the largest grant in the 2018 cohort. The company also has outside funding from the New Schools Venture Fund.

It’s an impressive, if unsurprising start considering that entrepreneurship seems to run in the family. Elangovan’s father started a private surgery center in Illinois which has a staff of 100, an enterprise she describes as “a very entrepreneurial model.” And her brother founded DivvyDose, a pharmacy alternative delivery company.

Finding better ways to do something, she said, “is just part of our family.” For Elangovan, that may be as true of business as it is of education.


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