Tennis player Andre Agassi has joined the board of education technology company Square Panda.
Square Panda teaches pre-kindergarten age children how to spell using a tablet and a tray with eight squares into which users insert block-like letters. Its software tracks student progress and gradually increases the difficulty. The package is currently priced at $99 for its release in April after three years of development, writes Marco della Cava of USA Today. Right now only an iOS version is available, but an Android release is scheduled for later this year.
Both Agassi and Square Panda's founder Tom Boeckle struggled in school and are now using their influence to improve the American education system, reports Taylor Soper of Geek Wire.
CEO Andy Butler said:
It's always been the ideal of education to customize the educational experience to the learning style per child. Economically, that's never been feasible, except for the very, very rich to have one-on-one tutoring systems. But with technology today and the ability to understand a child through actual engagement, we can now have adaptive software that approaches this ideal. That's really what Square Panda is about.
Agassi's involvement in education began in 1994 with the establishment of the Agassi Foundation for Education. In 2001, he founded a college preparatory academy in Las Vegas, his hometown. According to George Anders of Forbes, the school provides tuition-free education for at-risk children. Since then he has helped start 50 other charter schools.
He said of his preparatory school:
"I regretted that we didn't start in pre-K. It turns out that nine out of ten dropouts were unsuccessful readers at an early age."
He receives hundreds of pitches from educational start-ups each year, and according to Daniel Rothenberg of the Las Vegas Sun, turns down 99% of them. Square Panda, however, was different.
He decided to get involved with Square Panda after visiting a Las Vegas preschool where children were using iPads with the company's software.
It was amazing to see how effective a tool it can be.
His investment in the company is not only a "double-digit stake" but also an investment of time. Agassi said:
It's easy to write a check. What's harder is to give time. â¦ I look for ways to open doors.
In an interview, Agassi spoke of his changing focus to earlier stages of childhood development, joking:
It's too bad that Square Panda doesn't show up in the hallways in maternity wards.
I'm learning to read with it as we speak.
Agassi himself quit school at age 14 due to academic frustrations in addition to the decision to focus on his sport.
In his autobiography, Open, Agassi wrote about his experiences in primary school:
I like books but feel over-matched by them. I have a steel-trap memory, but trouble concentrating. I need things explained twice, three times.
Agassi and Butler announced their partnership at the Consumer Electronics Show in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.