Society

From law and order to Newton’s laws

Rajan Singh demonstrating Newton’s third law using the balloon- powered toy vehicle   | Photo Credit: Aswin VN

“I am actually relearning a lot of topics from my student days,” Rajan Singh says, while showing me how a math software works by solving a quadratic equation using it. The erstwhile police commissioner of Thiruvananthapuram, who used to handle tricky law and order situations, is today an entrepreneur who is into high school physics and math problems.

Founder of Concept Owl, an education start-up in collaboration with Bansal classes, Singh is brushing up on his maths and physics basics to coach students preparing for various entrance examinations. Rajan is all smiles when MetroPlus catches up with him at his office at Kuravankonam. “ Since my father was in the Air Force, my family have moved around a lot. Thiruvananthapuram is the city I have spent most of my life in. I think the city is underrated as a start-up destination. I love the laidback nature of the place. It’s good to be back, ” he says.

Rajan Singh

Rajan Singh   | Photo Credit: Aswin VN

So, why did a rising star among IPS officers quit the service? “I had a great time. The civil services was an interesting arena, especially for an engineering graduate like me. I enjoyed it for the first few years. But once you learn the ropes, it becomes less challenging. So it started feeling monotonous by 2004. I was barely into my 30s and I didn’t think I could do it for the next two or three decades,” says Rajan, who joined the civil services in 1997, after graduating as an electrical engineer from IIT Kanpur. His first posting was in Karunagapally as Assistant Superintendent of Police. In 2001 he was assigned as city police commissioner of Thiruvananthapuram - one of the youngest to hold the post.

The high point of his stint as commissioner, he says, was the setting up of a database of known violent criminals of the city. “We used that to keep track of their activities. The credit goes to the whole team of inspectors and constables who used to go on night patrols to check on them. I would consider all the precarious situations where we could enforce the law with minimal amount of force and avoid loss of life as proud moments of my career,” he adds.

New direction

In 2005, he resigned and joined for MBA at Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania. After the course, Rajan got placed at McKinsey and Company, New York, for two years and then returned to India. Rajan then worked for a private equity fund in Mumbai till 2012, which he terms as the most interesting job he ever did.

“Investment management is, intellectually, extremely stimulating. You have to make crucial judgement calls. It was during my time in Mumbai that I felt like I should start something of my own. Entrepreneurship is just like investing, except the risk is much higher,” Rajan says. He has always been interested in science and mathematics. Rajan saw a great opportunity in the education market, especially in entrance preparation and school science education. He points out: “Entrance coaching is costly and exhaustive, as far as students are concerned. With this venture, I aim to bring down the cost as well as make the learning experience entertaining for students.”

The venture intends to change school science education as well. Concept Owl is tying up with schools to train teachers in creative teaching methods using science learning tools.

Teaching concepts

“The condition of science and mathematics education in the country is terrible. It is highly exam oriented and there is little focus on actually understanding a concept. We want to show students why these topics in science are being taught instead of the usual chalk and board approach. With these learning tools we aim at making science education more exciting and help students understand how things like Newton’s laws of motion work in the real world. Students should see these laws in action around them every day, ” he explains.

They are currently testing the programme at a school in Adimaly, Idukki.

Rajan then goes on to demonstrate his teaching skills with some of the tools developed at Concept Owl’s Kottayam office, like a toy vehicle powered by a deflating balloon that shows how Newton’s third law works and a set-up of two toy trucks connected to each other using rubber bands that demonstrates the conservation of momentum.

Rajan Singh explaining conservation of momentum

Rajan Singh explaining conservation of momentum   | Photo Credit: Aswin VN

The former top cop seems to have rolled the years back to be an enthusiastic student immersed in the wonders of science and technology.

STUDY HOUR

The Concept Owl app, which the start-up has launched, gives users access to study material, practice questions and mock tests along with detailed assessments. “The app is free and is aimed at those students who may not be able to afford the costly entrance coaching. School teachers from remote areas can also use these materials to coach the students,” says Rajan. Apart from the app, Concept Owl will also be opening their own coaching centres.

WHY THE NAME CONCEPT OWL?

Concept comes from the fact that the start-up targets to facilitate concept learning rather than rote learning. The owl was inspired by several things. In stories the owl is considered to be a wise animal. “Another reason is that I really like Hedwig, the endearing owl from Harry Potter series. Also on a lighter note, all IIT aspirants are night-owls,” says Rajan.

IN CHARGE

Rajan Singh was the Police Commissioner of Thiruvananthapuram from 2001 to 2004. He introduced radical changes in the law and order machinery of the city. It came as a surprise to many when he quit the IPS in 2005 and went for higher studies abroad.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 3:10:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/interview-with-cop-turned-entrepreneur-rajan-singh/article17466567.ece

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