CBA: Bringing learning applications to Sri Lanka
Ceylon Business Appliances Ltd (CBA) is introducing a series of 'IQ Centres' in Sri Lanka which are aimed at training children to improve their thinking skills by measurably improving their ability to concentrate better for longer. These learning centres use technology which was originally developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States in the early 1990's as a method to assist pilots in staying alert during long flights. CBA Managing Director, Tony Singarayar, told The Sunday Times FT in an interview that the technology was based on a flight simulator which can be thought of as a sophisticated videogame.
The success of the method led by NASA to adapt the approach to use non-violent videogames in place of the flight simulator, this technology which was patented in 1994 was exclusively licensed to CyberLearning Technology LLC (CLT). "They use advanced, completely proven computer based learning tools to improve what I call 'thinking horsepower'", said Singarayar. "They will serve children and adults who wish to use their brains better to learn or work." He explained that the methods used in the centres have delivered real life results for many years, primarily in the US. The learning centres should be thought of as a 'fitness centre for the brain' in which the brain's horsepower can be measurably improved using the technology. CBA is bringing this technology to Sri Lanka and offering it at an affordable price. The first such technology is called SMART BrainGames (SBG).
Singarayar discovered this technology in 1999 and says his interest in the technology and how people learn has been profound. "It used to be thought that neurons in the brain never regenerate but in the last 10 years, that has been completely disproved. The second myth is that as you get older, new connections between existing neurons cannot form. That has been changed. Even as you get older, learning continues to be possible."
The technology has three types of uses. "One is used for health and that means people who have clinically diagnosed conditions such as attention deficit disorder. The second is used for entertainment purposes. The third, which I intend to bring to Sri Lanka, is for learning." Brain activity is measured by an electroencephalogram or EEG. "When I am asleep, my brain chemistry is light and wave form is low. If I'm nervous or agitated, the wave form is high. We have all been in situations when our body is calm but our brains are active and we can absorb information like a sponge. The range of brain activity is called Sensory Motor Rhythm (SMR) waves and they are considered the ideal zone for learning. The games are designed to help children and adults to understand what it feels like to be in this zone, how to get into this zone, and how to stay in this zone."
SBG are videogames designed to teach children and adults on improving concentration. Using a headset with embedded sensors, the system tracks the frequency of a player's brain wave while playing a racing game. "When the player exhibits low-frequency patterns, his race car slows and other cars pass him. That gets his attention so he concentrates, producing higher-frequency brain waves. His car then speeds up, providing positive reinforcement for his cerebral change," explained Singarayar. The videogames are highly engaging and offer instant rewards for learning how to shift the brain into a higher gear that exactly matches what is required for ideal learning. "With practice, he learns how to achieve this higher level of concentration without the game."
The games are designed for players to achieve an unprecedented level of control over the largely involuntary function of concentration. They are played on game systems such as the Sony Playstation and Microsoft X-Box. "Learning how to concentrate takes practice," said Singarayar.
"There are 40 hours of practice, usually done in 40 different sessions during which the user plays the games." Singarayar recommends a minimum of two weekly sessions lasting one hour each. Sessions can be completed anywhere from 8 weeks to 5 months.
There is an initial assessment that measures the person's concentration skills prior to the training, during and at the end of each training session. Measurements are repeated to readily assess progress. "You can measure how long it takes to get into the right learning mode, how long you can maintain the right level of concentration and so on," said Singarayar. He emphasized that there are 'absolutely no risks' involved with these games. "It's really no different than the risk of learning a new subject at school or the risk of learning a technique from a tennis pro to make you play tennis better.
You are just learning how to concentrate better." Singarayar explained that this is the most ordinary way to learn something new. "When you try something for the first time, you aren't very good at it. Then with practice, you get better. What's new is that this is the first time one can actively learn how to get stronger concentration skills."
The primary group to benefit from developing these concentration skills is school age children, above the age of 8 years. Singarayar says the learning centres will be started on a small scale with around 25 participants. They will have access to the best technology based learning tools readily accessible to average Sri Lankan families. The progress of the first group of children to enroll in the learning centre will be monitored directly by Dr. Domenic Greco, CEO and founder of CLT who has been involved in the field for over 25 years. Moreover, CLT exclusively uses CBA Electronics to manufacture their equipment.
"As a result of this process, our staff has been intimately trained in programme," said Singarayar. "Dr. Greco visits us often and actually trained people in September 2006 in the use of the software." CBA has already visited four top schools in Sri Lanka and has spoken to the principals, introduced the technology and invited them to form an advisory board. CBA has staff who are technically trained as well as trained educationists. "We will also have a senior advisory board of education leaders who really understand what education in Sri Lanka is all about and what challenges parents face."