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WATCH: Zearn CEO Shalinee Sharma Talks About How Her Math App Revealed the Pandemic’s Widening Learning Gaps in Real Time

August 1, 2021

Since the pandemic first forced schools to close, Shalinee Sharma has had a front-row seat to the damage COVID’s fallout would cause to children’s academic growth. Sharma is the CEO and co-founder of Zearn, a nonprofit whose math app is used by one in four elementary-age students in the United States.

In this video interview with The 74, she describes how she watched as low-income students “completely dropped off,” and how, when those who reemerged started opening the app again, many were doing so on antiquated tablets and phones. This told her that kids were logging back on from homes that lack good technology and broadband internet. 

Realizing she was seeing the achievement gap widen in real time, Sharma contacted Brown University Professor John Friedman, one of the economists overseeing a novel effort to track the pandemic’s impact. Housed at Harvard University, Friedman’s Opportunity Insights team was able not just to incorporate information on students’ Zearn use and math progress, but to show, in many instances, the connections between poverty and children’s ability to learn in the midst of a global pandemic.

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Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation provide financial support to Zearn and The 74. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative provide financial support to Opportunity Insights and The 74.