Zaya Learning Labs: Putting ICTs in the Classroom

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Neil D’Souza is an Indian engineer and a dreamer. His dream is to help the underprivileged children to receive a quality education.

A Life Commitment to Education

D’Souza’s passion to help the disadvantaged started during his time at Cisco. For four years, he worked there, mostly on mobile Internet and video technologies. During his free time, he would do some volunteering in San Jose, California.

In 2011, he took the leap. He moved to Mongolia and spent a year teaching in rural orphanages. This is where he discovered the learning deficiency that affects most developing countries. His pupils were far below their grade level, lacking basic literary and numerical skills.

D’Souza was aware of the ongoing online education revolution. He knew this could help his students to catch up. But without Internet, they had no chance to ever access the educational resources online. The more time he spent in Mongolia, the more determined he became to tackle this issue.

He was even starting to develop his own solution when he met Soma Vajpayee. Vajpayee was the perfect partner for his project. She had been a Training Manager at Citibank for ten years and, just like D’Souza, she was passionate about using ICTs in the classroom. In 2012, they started Zaya Learning Labs. Their goal was to bring quality education to the bottom of the pyramid, starting in India.

The Indian Crisis Education

For years, India has been confronting an acute learning crisis. Although 96 percent of the children go to school, many do not reach basic literacy by 10. In fact, 60 percent cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

One of the main reasons for the crisis is the lack of trained and motivated teachers. There is an estimated shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters throughout India. Those who actually teach often lack both expertise and pedagogical ability. Since many in low-income private schools get only $100 a month, they also have no motivation. A majority of teachers even skip school at least once a week.

All this adds to the curriculum’s low standards and large classroom sizes. So it is no surprising that the learning outcomes are so poor.

Mixing education and technology

To tackle this issue, D’Souza and Vajpayee created an innovative solution mixing education and a ClassCloud technology.

On the education side, they developed a blended learning model in order to create a student-driven learning environment. The goal is that pupils stop staring out the window and instead engage with the teacher. This is why they divide the students into several groups based on their level. During the day, each group goes through three different learning times. While the schoolmaster teaches the first group, the second one reads or does homework.

Meanwhile, the last group reviews their lessons using a computer or a tablet. It allows them to connect to the ClassCloud. This portable WiFi device contains all the resources for the class. There are lessons, but also instructional videos, educational games, and quizzes.

To truly engage the students, Zaya developed a fun and friendly learning environment. The ClassCloud is also adaptive, so the pupils can learn at their own level and pace. Lessons and assessments are based on each student’s interests and needs, while also taking into account their progress. When they are consistent in finding the right answers, they can move to the next level. But if they aren’t, they spend more time on the topic. The overall goal is to guide them step by step towards their actual grade level.

Once the students complete their assignments, the system generates a personalized analytics report. It is then sent to the teachers as well as the Zaya educational team. It helps them make the right interventions. For instance, it is easier to identify the students who lag behind and have the teachers focus on them.

An Innovative Solution That Makes Students Happy to Study

Zaya’s ClassCloud is a great Edtech solution, as it is particularly adapted to the constraints of developing countries.

  • It is easy to use, even by teachers who have no IT skills
  • It is battery-powered and can run for ten hours without electricity. This is particularly useful in India, where power shortages are frequent.
  • Finally, it works both online and offline. This is another necessary feature in India, as Internet penetration is around 12 percent. While offline, the ClassCloud stores all the data. It syncs it back to the cloud whenever it has connectivity.

No wonder Zaya has become so popular among low-income schools throughout India. Over 100 schools have adopted it, and 30,000 pupils use it on a daily basis. For them, it has changed everything. They are now engaged in their learning and excited to go to class. More importantly, their learning outcomes increase.

ISIF Asia Award Winners for 2015 announced and Community Choice Award open

The Awards recognize initiatives from organizations that have already been implemented, or are in the final stages of implementation, and have been successful in addressing their communities’ needs.

During the 2015 call for nominations, four award winners were selected out of the 78 nominations received across four categories, covering 12 economies in the Asia Pacific. Proposals from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand were assessed by the Selection Committee.

The commitment and continuous support from the Selection Committee to choose the best projects is key to provide legitimacy to this award. We thank Phet Sayo (IDRC), Gaurab Raj Upadhaya (APNIC EC), Rajnesh Singh (Internet Society), Edmon Chung (Dot Asia Organization), George Michaelson (APNIC staff), and David Rowe (ROWETEL, former ISIF Asia grant recipient) for their time, their comments and their eye for detail.

Each winner has received a cash prize of AUD 3,000 to support their work and a travel grant for a project representative to participate at the 10th Internet Governance Forum (Joao Pessoa, Brazil – November 2015) to participate at the awards ceremony, showcase their project, make new professional contacts, and participate in discussions about the future of the Internet.

This year was particularly interesting to receive an application from China, for the very first time since the inception of the ISIF Asia program.

31 applications were accepted for the selection process and are publicly available for anyone interested to learn more about the ingenuity and practical approaches that originate from our region. 16 applications were selected as finalists.

53% for nominations came from private sector and social enterprises, 24% from non-profits, 13% from the academic sector and 10% from government agencies.

The category that received more applications was Innovation on learning and localization with 38%, followed by Code for the common good with 28%, Rights 24% and Innovation on access provision 9%.

86% of the nominated projects are lead by men, only 14% lead by women.

One winner was awarded for each category, three from non-profits and one from private sector and three projects will be represented by women at the Awards Ceremony.

One of the four award winners will receive the Community Choice Award, an additional AUD 1000 for the project with more online votes from the community. The online vote opened on 9 September until 9 November. The winner of the Community Choice Award will be announced at the Awards ceremony. Cast your vote and support the winners!

DocHers  Batik Fractal  Jaroka  I change my city

Awards winners were selected in four categories, as follows:

  • Innovation on access provision: doctHERs – Pakistan, NAYA JEEVAN. doctHERs is a novel healthcare marketplace that connects home-restricted female doctors to millions of underserved patients in real-time while leveraging technology. doctHERs circumvents socio-cultural barriers that restrict women to their homes, while correcting two market failures: access to quality healthcare and women’s inclusion in the workforce. doctHERs leapfrogs traditional market approaches to healthcare delivery and drives innovative, sytems change.
  • Code for the common good: Batik Fractal – Indonesia, Piksel Indonesia Company. Piksel Indonesia is creative social enterprise founded in 2007 and registered as legal entity in 2009. Piksel Indonesia is the creator of Batik Fractal and jBatik Software. Through a yearlong research about batik and science, we then developed a modeling software application to create batik design generatively and presented the innovation in 10th Generative Art International Conference in Milan Italy. In 2008, this innovation funded by Business Innovation Fund SENADA USAID and created jBatik v.1 and focus to empower batik artisans in Bandung. Since that time, Piksel Indonesia is working to empower batik and craft artisans in all Indonesia especially in Java and Bali. Currently, we have trained around 1400 artisans to use jBatik software. The training was firstly organized by the local government in each rural area and villages where batik artisans usually live. As an innovation, the use of the software into traditional art needs intensive training and continued the effort. Through several training levels in mastering the use of jBatik software, the artisans can incorporate technology to develop their traditional craft work. The artisans are not only now have access to affordable technology and use the technology to develop their batik, but also have been proven to contribute to increase productivity, bring more sales and increase their profit which lead to improved income.
  • Innovation on learning and localization: Jaroka Mobile Based Tele-Healthcare – Pakistan, UM Healthcare Trust. We aim to devise newer and effective ways for bringing a rapid change in healthcare domain for rural communities. We have launched Jaroka to lower the cost of delivering care dramatically by leveraging ICT to deliver the scarcest resource, medical expertise, remotely. Jaroka Tele-Healthcare model utilizes internet and mobile platform to extend tele-healthcare services in rural Pakistan. This includes voice, Short Text Messaging (SMS),Multimedia Messaging (MMS),GPRS/Edge and VSAT to quickly and efficiently extend medical advice to Rural Health Workers (RHWs) in the field by connecting them to our network of specialists in cities and abroad. This model also includes Pakistan’s First Health Map through which the latest and live healthcare information is shared with relevant stakeholder across Pakistan to improve the healthcare in Pakistan.Through this project over 130,000 has been provided treated at hospitals and in fields.
  • Rights: I Change My City – India, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy. Ichangemycity.com is a hyper-local social change network that has created communities of citizens in Bengaluru, keen on solving city centric problems and has resolved around 10,000 complaints by connecting them to various government agencies. The site has tried to help solve issues ranging from garbage collection, poor street lighting, potholes and security related issue in the suburbs. It has also provided citizens with useful information on how much funds have been allocated to wards and constituencies and how the same has been uitilised. The unique power of ichangemycity.com is that it networks people locally to address issues of common concerns. It connects people on-line to bring them together off-line for civic engagement on the ground. The multiplicity of various government departments and the paperwork involved acts as a deterrent for many individuals to connect with civic agencies. Ichangemycity.com tries to address this problem by being a seamless bridge between government and citizens. Ichangemycity.com works on the 4C mantra- Complaint, Community, Connect, and Content.

Event Participation: APrIGF 2015

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The Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) 2015 was held from 30 June to 3 July at Macau University of Science & Technology, Macao, hosted by HNET.Asia and Macau High Technology Industry Chamber. Gathering 150 regional delegates including 30 youth participants, the APrIGF 2015 continued the objective of advancing Internet governance development and engaging the next generation of Internet leaders, see http://2015.rigf.asia/. The recordings of each session are available to be downloaded at http://2015.rigf.asia/archives/. One aspect to highlight about the overall program was that there were more workshops that discussed Human Rights and Gender compared to last year.

Four ISIF Asia funding recipients participated at the conference thanks to the support from partners and sponsors. Bishakha Datta from Point of View (India), Nica Dumlao from Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines), Jonathan Brewer from Telco2/Network Startup Resource Center (New Zealand), and Ulrich Speidel from University of Auckland (New Zealand) shared their views and experiences as part of the program of the event.

Bishakha Datta (Point of View, India) represented the Civil Society groups at the Opening Plenary. PoV contributes to amplify the voices of women and remove barriers to free speech and expression.

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Nica and her colleagues from the Filipinas delegation actively involved in IG discussions

Nica Dumlao (Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines) is FMA’s Internet Rights Coordinator, working on the intersection of technology and human rights in the Philippines. Nica has been very active on Internet Governance both globally and regionally, contributing her experience at two global IGFs and two APrIGFs. FMA organized two sessions: 1) “Gender and Internet Exchange (gigX)” a gender pre-event workshop in collaboration with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), and 2) “Human Rights & Governance in ASEAN Cyberspace”. She was also part of the panelists of three sessions of the main program: “Threats in Expression in Asia”, “Bridging Gender Digital Divide”, and “Localizing Internet Governance”. In these sessions, they shared the experience in working on issues around digital rights, privacy, and women’s rights in the Philippines. In addition, they realized how the other panelists and participants look at issues of Internet rights and governance in the region. “The APrIGF provided a space for us Filipinos to have meaningful exchange with other stakeholders in the region and to plan for further collaboration”, Nica reported.

Jonathan Brewer (Telco2/NSRC, New Zealand) attended several sessions and also had a presentation in the session entitled “Broadband Infrastructure and Services for the Next Billion Users”. In his words, Jon left the sessions “enriched with new information, viewpoints, and concerns”. Some of the highlights for the sessions he attended were as follows:

  • In the session “Universal Acceptance: Been there, done that”, discussing Internationalized Domain Names, it was highlighted that one of the main challenges for developing applications is the support for multiple languages.”
  • “Net Neutrality in the Asia-Pacific” discussed a range of separate but inter-related topics including Network Neutrality, Peering, Sending Party Pays, and Zero Rating.
  • “Smart Cities in Asia and the Deployment of Big Data: Privacy and Security Challenges” provided an overview of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and how their increased use in cities could have significant impacts on privacy and security for residents of these cities.
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Prof. Ang Peng Hwa from NTU in Singapore, presenting during one of the APrIGF sessions in Macau

Ulrich Speidel (University of Auckland, New Zealand) shared about his experiences during the implementation improve Internet user experience in Pacific Island countries with network coded TCP. Ulrich is a firm believer that network coding may help improved goodput in places where TCP faces difficulties coping with high latencies across bottlenecks in the presence of a large number of TCP senders and the APrIGF was a great place to share about this exciting developments, funded by ISIF Asia, along with other partners. He was also one of the speakers of “Broadband Infrastructure and Services for the Next Billion Users”. He attended several sessions and highlighted the following: “Broadband and Infrastructure Services for the Next Billion Users”, “Information Security and Privacy in the IoT Era”, and “Smart Cities in Asia and Development of Big Data”.

Surprisingly, although both are based in New Zealand and both work on Internet infrastructure issues, Jon and Ulrich did not have collaborated in the past, and thanks to the opportunity to attend the APrIGF 2015, they visited Auckland together and commissioned a new RIPE Atlas probe as part of deployment of network coding equipment on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

The APrIGF has taken the challenge to produce for the first time an “Outcomes Document”, which aims to identify the key issues and priorities within the Asia Pacific region that were discussed at the conference. The final document will serve as an input to feed into the wider global IGF discussions and also other relevant forums on Internet governance discussions. The document was open for comments at http://comment.rigf.asia to reflect the community views and encourage participation and engagement in Internet Governance issues. The Finalized Outcomes Document is expected to be further developed and finalized by August 14, 2015.

ISIF Asia and the business of scale: 60 teams on JFDI.Asia pre-accelerator course!

“Talent is universal, opportunity is not” said Megan Smith, US Chief Technology Officer and former Google.org vice-president. ISIF Asia is about giving opportunities to those that have the talent, the ideas and the strength to make them happen. But as the path for each one of the ISIF supported projects is different, as their context and the challenges they faced, the opportunities we seek to provide are thought to open new ones, to get out of the comfort zone and try something different, to see if “that” is what it takes for a great idea, to be a reality, that is shared and valued by communities around the Asia Pacific. Is not all about the market, or about been the “next big thing” on the Internet, is about making sure that ideas supported have a better chance to have a positive impact in the real world. It can be a more progressive policy move, an Internet-powered social movement, content or services that fill in a gap, a need. And we want to be there to help them to “get there”!

ISIF Asia former and current funding recipients have fascinating stories to tell about what they have done and what they dream to do, like the ones below:

  • Amakomaya is an Android application developed for rural pregnant women of Nepal. The application provides localized information relating to the prenatal, natal and postnatal periods of pregnancy.
  • Cook Islands Maori Database is an online resource for Maori Words, their English translations with example usage in a sentence in both English and Maori, that offers a platform on which other applications can be built to preserve the language and promote its use. The team developed an android and IOS application, as well as teaching and learning resources for both teachers and student to facilitate integration of the tools into Maori lessons.
  • Sinar’s main objective is to improve governance and encourage greater citizen involvement in the public affairs of the nation by making the Malaysian Government more open, transparent and accountable. They have developed a suite of applications for citizens to get involved.
  • BAPSI has developed solutions to help deaf-blind people access mobile phones as the solutions available for the blind (voice recognition), are of no use for the deaf and vice versa (voice to text conversions).

So, we are very excited to share the good news that thanks to the support from our donors, IDRC and Sida, and in collaboration with JFDI.Asia, it was announced that 60 ISIF Asia supported teams will join the JFDI Discover pre-accelerator program where they will learn to apply the powerful startup tools and techniques taught through the 21-day JFDI Discover pre-accelerator program. The aim is to give them confidence and evidence to answer the key questions that angel investors, accelerators, and government agencies are certain to ask them, such as: “Who is your customer?”, “What problem are you solving for them?” and “Has this team got what it takes to succeed?”. JFDI CEO Hugh Mason said, “Achieving positive impact with a startup is not easy in many parts of Asia. Alongside the impact, we want to help these teams to think about how they can become commercially sustainable to ensure that their good work continues long into the future. There is a lot to learn and share and we have every confidence that long-term collaborations and friendships will grow from this program, creating wealth for the 56 Asia-Pacific economies ISIF Asia covers and beyond.”

We had the opportunity to visit JFDI.Asia a few months ago, as ISIF Asia participated at the ICTD conference. We were invited to attend their Open House and we saw how this is really a “community of people who practice, finance and teach innovation” as they described them selves. We are very happy to have found a partner that believes that “innovation need not be a mystery and entrepreneurship should not be painful or lonely. Both can be learned, working with peers and guided by mentors”. We hope this is the first step to a closer collaboration in the future. As not all ISIF supported projects are start-ups, this course will be offered as a first step to find out if the path of entrepreneurship is one that suits them. More information about the platform is here http://www.jfdi.asia/discover.Once they have completed the pre-accelerator course, they can consider to enroll in the accelerator boot camp http://www.jfdi.asia/accelerate, which is a 100 days commitment. Check the video below for an introduction!

 

Apply Now: 2015 ISIF Asia Awards

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The ISIF Asia Awards seek to acknowledge the important contributions ICT innovators have made with creative solutions to the social and economic development of the Asia Pacific region. The ISIF Asia Awards are granted to initiatives on the last stages of implementation or that have finalized activities already that are aligned with the funding categories and eligibility criteria.

Financial support for up to AUD 3,000 is allocated via a competitive process, plus a travel grant to attend the awards ceremony at a regional or global event chosen by the ISIF Asia secretariat. Innovation and a development focus should be an integral part of all award nominations.

Nominations for the 2015 ISIF Asia awards close 30 June 2015
Nominate your project now!
The funding categories are:

  • Innovation on access provision: Access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) is a prevalent issue in the Asia Pacific region, especially for services that require broadband connectivity. Innovative solutions offering low cost deployment, low power consumption and low maintenance that expanded fixed and mobile access to the internet through new forms of technical and organizational arrangements as well as improved the quality of access based on issues of accessibility, disability and linguistic diversity.
  • Innovation on learning and localization: Capacity building and localization efforts have been key to develop the skills needed to design, maintain, and manage ICT infrastructure and services in local languages, supporting local talent and creating job opportunities in rural or urban marginalized areas. Innovative, open, inclusive and sustainable approaches to learning and localization are key elements to guarantee the quality of access to knowledge needed to offer reliable services and applications.
  • Code for the common good: High mobile penetration in the AP region has been a catalyst in the development of mobile-based services, applications and software solutions. These solutions have been used to support timely and relevant information dissemination on a large scale using a range of network infrastructures through a variety of devices, even where literacy rates are lower. Mobile technologies have enabled communities to increase participation in political processes, coordinate efforts during emergency situations, receive extreme weather alerts, communicate with remote health services, and receive specialized patient referrals, among many other applications.
  • Rights: Strategic use of Internet tools and services to promote freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, security, consumers’ rights, gender equality, new forms of intellectual property in the digital environment, and a wider range of issues related to the Internet and human rights.

In addition to selecting a winner per category, a Community Choice Award will be granted to the best social media campaign (the project with the highest number of votes from the community).

What are you waiting for? Apply today!

Can MOOCs Improve India’s Higher Education?

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Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) exploded in popularity in 2013. With the ease of enrollment (I myself have registered for one) and low costs, some MOOCs have drawn more than 160,000 participants from around the world. For countries with mushrooming populations like India, MOOCs offer much promise. India has a gross university enrollment rate (GER) of only 18% and a youth population of 234 million. Tasked with increasing enrollment rates to 30% by 2020, MOOCs can provide the seats that India needs. But as with any new technology, the government and universities are exploring how to best implement and blend MOOCs with existing models.

What are India’s main HigherEd challenges?

The Indian government is focusing on expansion, equity and excellence in higher education for the next few years. India will need 14 million seats in 5 years to meet its GER goals. Considering this, one can easily decide that brick and mortar schools will not be the primary solution. Quality of education has slipped severely over time due to lack of regulation and scarcity of instructors. Although private universities have helped increase seats, some institutions have only focused on graduating the most students possible.

So what’s the deal with MOOCs?

MOOCs typically have one instructor who teaches thousands of students across the world. While enrollment rates are high, the same can’t be said of completion rates, which are typically less than 10%. The main difficulty with MOOCs is providing certificates after completion. Completion rates lie at about 26% for classes that have some type of certification, showing that certificates do motivate student to pass and complete courses.

Research has shown that students who do complete the courses are generally not motivated by affordability. Also, most MOOC participants already have a bachelors or masters degree. This cannot be easily explained but it does show that those who cannot afford higher education do not have access to MOOCs or are uninterested.

How are MOOCs currently being used in India?

India has the second highest user population, at around 12%. A number of Indian universities have launched their own MOOCs, often in collaboration with American universities. The government announced its own platform called Swayam. Using the openEdx platform, students can take the courses for free and only pay for the certificate of completion. Another interesting initiative is Skill Up India. The platform features classes ranging from emergency first response to entrepreneurial skills. As the name denotes, the mission is to improve the employability and entrepreneurial abilities of Indian youth.

Can MOOCs Improve India’s Higher Education?

Universities have struggled to balance the relationship between quality and quantity. MOOCs can provide a transparent and measurable quality at large scale. A comparative study at MIT showed that MOOC students learned a tad bit more than traditional student. Blended instruction was the most beneficial to students. Certain science classes have incorporated labs and this can be utilized in all fields. MOOCs, similar to Skill Up India, might be promising to post graduates who would like to improve their employability or entrepreneurial toolkit.

Equity is an important piece with Indian higher education goals. MOOCs have the promise of providing education to those outside the brick and mortar; however, they currently aren’t reaching that demographic. With Internet access at around 20%, increasing Internet access will increase the availability of MOOCs to the wider population.

Angelina Nonye-John is a researcher and writer with Mansa Colabs