“Anda sombong.” (You are arrogant, in Bahasa Indonesia)
Two very simple yet seemingly harsh words addressed at me by an Indonesian orphanage teacher, little did I know about their true relevance, proved in time to come.
In August of this year, we travelled to Kinderhut village, Banda Aceh, Indonesia – an orphanage that brings together orphans and young women who lost their families to the Tsunami. The said task was to set up a Zaya learning space driven by our platform, Nomad Edu. And so, armed with experience, expertise and technology, we set out to impart learning.
In a make shift computer lab, we began working with kids on rented laptops (for <50 cents/laptop a day) and a rented projector. A foreign language and an alien culture, a day into the training we realized something was a-miss – the kids didn’t seem as engrossed as we would have liked. This is when the Indonesian, English teacher, Amrida remarked, “Miss Rupaaal, Anda sombong” (Miss Rupal, you are arrogant).
You see, by her remark, Amrida meant, why were we re-inventing everything ourselves? Wouldn’t it be easier if we were to collaborate with existing stakeholders to leverage our strength & theirs and actually deliver a classroom instead of a product? Shouldn’t we build with the community as a base and not independently?
The global K-12 Ed-Tech Market currently is a highly fragmented map of stake holders – content, assessments, platforms and device providers – who work on the same plain but barely talk to each other! “Anda sombong.”? So, how do we focus on delivering a result driven classroom, which is the ultimate goal of technology?
Taking Amrida’s cue, we began a collaborative, community driven project called Zaya. We began talking. We trained teachers – not just Kinderhut teachers but also other local NGO facilitators (SOS, Small Kindness etc) – we added to their ICT skills and they added to our group of facilitators. We began conversations with a nearby school that owned a bank of existing un-used LCD desktops and we got college-going kids studying engineering to network the lab. The moment we involved the community, the ownership structure reversed – accountability increased because we were all working towards the future and we were all playing to our strengths.
This is not to say, the ride was or will be smooth. It never is. But we’ll find answers. The important learning was to figure out the problems and not ignore them (If there was a lack of content in Bahasa Indonesia, we trained teachers in dubbing and subtitles; If we couldn’t reach out to kids from a different culture/set up, we found and trained community facilitators who would, instead.).
Back in India, we have the same expertise – a technology platform and implementation skills, but the problem areas are different – erratic power supply, not at all tech savvy teachers, rote learning in classrooms and a strong inclination towards mapping progress to “marks” or “scores”. The first time we played a short video in a low income school, the kids asked whether “they should copy the subtitles”. In this scenario, one can’t expect to set up a tool and walk away…so we didn’t.
We got solar battery packs (for power outage) and SMILE for our platform (Kids create questions instead of simply answering them – this puts them on the spot to learn and not mug up).
In 2010 we started out as an ambitious project to bring a chunk of the internet’s offerings to remote Mongolia, through NomadEDU – our portable, self-contained servers that can be wirelessly accessed by laptops and computers, setting up “Education Hotspots”–that allow users to access materials hosted on the server, even in areas so remote that Internet is either outrageously expensive or non-existent. Half way into 2012, we realized, providing the platform is only one step in the impact-value chain and thus, we have decided to walk the last mile. To get everybody in the value chain talking and to focus on recycling classrooms and make them conducive to the impact of technology.
ICT for education and its potential for impact have been an on-going debate for a while now and whether it will meet its bar, only time will tell. However, in the back of a sixth grade class of a low income school on the out skirts of Delhi, sits a boy who barely listens in class. The teacher can’t give him dedicated learning hours given the sheer size of her class (>50). It is that child we aspire to impact. We hope to set up an environment of self-paced learning for him where he can learn during or post school hours. At his own pace and without hesitation or peer pressure of any kind.
Teach A Class aims to bridge the gap between education initiatives, such as Khan Academy and CK-12, and students at low-income schools in developing countries. We bring the power of online education to students who otherwise would not have access to it. Using our cloud-based, plug- n-play wireless toolkit called NomadEDU, which is pre-packaged with learning material, we can enable a classroom cloud anywhere in the world.
We simultaneously equip local teachers with quality teaching aids and provide a global distribution capability to all content creators. Additionally, we have integrated some groundbreaking, learning modules, such as the SMILE Program on NomadEDU, by which teachers and students can also develop their own questions and videos, allowing for collaborative learning.
The organization is currently piloting the product in five schools in India, three orphanages in Mongolia and two orphanages in Indonesia. Our impact goes beyond k12, as successfully demonstrated in Mongolia by health education and vocational training in partnership with Mercy Corp and World Bank respectively.
Our goal is to empower existing stakeholders like Teach For India, Pratham and other education-focused NGOs with these micro-clouds, customized to their needs, so as to enable a new holistic learning environment for children in their centres.