Educating India’s Children
Wednesday, 2nd November 2016 at 11:48 am
An Australian startup is using technology to educate children in remote areas of India, including villages not yet reached by internet, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
The 40K Foundation, part of the 40K Group, runs an after-school education program for children in rural India using electronic tablets and gamified learning.
The initiative seeks to transform the education system in India, afflicted by high student dropout rates and high teacher absenteeism in government schools.
Founder and CEO OAM first spoke to Pro Bono Australia News more than two years, when the project was in its early stages.
He says there’s been significant developments since then, including developing a system to educate children who don’t have internet access.
“We’ve now delivered a working version one of a technology solution that allows us to deliver quality educational content into a village environment where there’s no internet,” Castrission said.
“We’ve built a three-part technology system that’s invented a way to move large pieces of information between online and offline environments.
“So that’s now working and it’s been rolled out to 600 children in 15 villages around Bangalore.”
“And what that’s led to has been an accelerated and demonstrated learning impact on those children, because we can now track how every single child progresses because it can sync data, and that’s been incredibly exciting for us because we always knew that technology had a significant role to play, but now we’ve been able to harness existing technologies to create a very low-cost solution.”
The foundation has also started to measure its social impact, recording improved education outcomes for children engaged with the program.
“We baseline the children once a year, all children enrolled in our program against a control group of 150 students from government schools in the local areas who don’t go to our program,” Castrission said.
“And we’ve been able to demonstrate a child is accelerated by two-and-a-half years to the typical year of progression that a child in a government school gets in literacy.”
Two years ago, he said the ability to scale was a key criteria of success for a social enterprise.
“If you can’t build a program for tens of thousands of kids, you’re wasting your time,” he said at the time.
Now, he says the project is set to expand rapidly in the next 12 months, in part thanks to a recent $250,000 grant from Atlassian.
“Now that [the system] is working we can look from going from 600 kids where it is now to, in the next year, there will be 3,500 children using the platform,” he said.
“So it can start to really accelerate now that we’ve a) got the technology working and b) been able to prove it accelerates learning outcomes.
“We’re now expanding into Cambodia next year.”
Castrission says the key to scaling is good distribution channels and strong partnerships.
“When we were really in start-up mode… we had to do everything, so it was very slow,” he said.
“But in Cambodia we’re now partnering with the government as well as an international NGO called Room to Read who have already got the schools and established relationships.
“So we can come in as the technology provider, so straight away it will go into 10 schools and over 1,000 children.”
He says technology, when used in the right way, has the power to create equality in the education system and improve outcomes for disadvantaged students.
“We believe that these environments that the children are in are quite restrictive in some ways, they’ve got fluctuating electricity, you’ve got sometimes little to no internet penetration and it’s very difficult to mobilise teachers into these areas,” he said.
“So if technology is used in the right way, not exclusively, and the right technology is used, then you can actually use tablets to almost act as a window into the world of amazing content that children in more developed areas can access.
“So by leveraging existing technologies, we’ve just created a product that can link these students through tablets into the world of this quality content.
“What we’ve built is a learning app that sits on the front end that allows these children to progress at their own pace through a unified pathway, even though it’s aggregating content from all over the place.”
The 40K business model requires people in villages in India to pay up to $4 a month for the education service.
Castrission says this approach is more than breaking even, it’s key to 40K’s scalability.
He also says if people are willing to pay a small cost for a service demonstrates that the service is worthwhile and keeps it running.
At the 40K Foundation they’ve altered the maxim of give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
“What social enterprise is doing is extending that question and asking what happens if you sell the man a fishing rod, is that ultimately empowering him more and is it giving you a model that can scale to lots of men to catch lots of fish,” Castrission said.
“Once a pod is set up in the villages that we work in, they can run perpetually as long as the children continue to pay the fee, and they’ll continue to pay the fee if the service is quality.
“What we find with that is too many programs are great programs, but you’ll always hear that the funding runs out so the ultimate loser is the child on the receiving end.
“So I think if people in villages in India are happy to pay up to $4 a month for an education service, it just asks the question of other not for profits, is your beneficiary willing to pay for the service, and if not is it actually a service that they want or need?
“Now it’s not a blanket rule in any regard, but I just think it asks the question of not for profits to think about trying to do it at very, very low cost, and to innovate deeply to be able to do that at quality level. And that then shifts the role of philanthropy to be able to cover those delivery costs, to rather building capacity and building scale.”
He says that the foundation is “still very much a work in progress”. Beyond the expansion into Cambodia he wants to adapt the platform for different uses in different countries.
“Ultimately at its core it just allows you to move information two ways in an offline environment so we’ve has enquiries from an organisation that has considered use as a school improvement system that allows them to push training content into villages and pull data back,” he said.
“And so where we see we’re really going is that we’ve got this platform that can be highly customised for the uses of different organisations.
“Were very excited about forming partnerships with organisations doing good work in the future to see this platform assist them in challenges that they might have in that offline environment.”