Over the last century, the world has made great strides in improving access to education for children. The most signiﬁcant challenges today include improving the quality of the education that currently exists, reaching the last groups of children who are still not in school, and ensuring that adults can continue harnessing new skills for our rapidly changing world.
Education quality varies widely around the world. Challenges include poorly trained teachers and administrators; under- resourced infrastructure; outdated, rote-based curricula that do not teach skills relevant to today’s needs; and socio-economic problems that interfere with learning, including malnourishment, illness, poverty, school shootings, and mental health problems.
According to the United Nations SDGs, more than 91 percent of the world’s children now attend primary school, leaving 57 million children out of school. Most of the children who don’t attend school live in Sub-Saharan Africa, conﬂict or war zones, or rural areas lacking transportation, or they face additional challenges such as disabilities. Girls in particular locations are kept out of school due to personal safety issues, hygiene and health challenges, and cultural challenges.
Increasingly, the world demands lifelong learning from adults, well after one’s formal education has ended. In a world of dramatic technological and economic change, all of us may face a future of rapidly changing jobs.
Innovators have been looking to use exponential technologies to solve our learning challenges for several decades. With the arrival of the household computer and mainstreaming of the internet, universities like MIT and Stanford led the way by simply recording their classes and allowing anyone to view them online. As it became easier and cheaper to build interactive websites, we saw the arrival in the mid-2000s of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs ) in which content became interactive and sophisticated, demonstrating that education could reach millions of people via the internet. Organizations like One Laptop per Child, ﬁrst formed in 2005, saw the potential for providing an affordable education to everyone and tried to solve the problem by distributing laptops and internet access to poor populations. While its initial efforts were challenging, historically it was one of the ﬁrst steps in digitizing education for the world’s poor and set the foundation for more sophisticated solutions.
Two key breakthroughs came with the arrival of cheap tablets and smartphones and the ability for anyone to create content. This unleashed the creation of many new edtech startups and, eventually, the mainstreaming of digitized curriculum. Today, we live in a world of personalized learning—some of it is even driven by artiﬁcial intelligence—the gamiﬁcation of learning; learning through augmented and virtual reality; and advanced technology systems to manage grades, the operations of schools, and communications with parents and other stakeholders.
While there are tens of thousands of initiatives now in the global edtech sector, a few of our favorites hail from the SU community. For example, during our Global Solutions Program (now Global Startup Program) in 2016, three participants formed 360ed, which is now one of the most successful edtechcompanies serving children in Myanmar. Previously in Myanmar, more than 90 percent of students were learning from rote-based text books that hadn’t been updated in 30+ years. In addition, more than 70 percent of schools in the country lacked electricity. Despite these challenges, the majority of children had access to smartphones and tablets, so 360ed released a world-class, student-centered learning curriculum using augmented reality apps. Thousands of teachers, parents, and children downloaded the apps, and 360ed is now building content for more than 1.3 million children in Myanmar, expanding to other nations, and working on a global initiative to support teachers from low-income countries with cutting-edge technologies.
Lucrezia Bisignani, another SU Global Startup Program (GSP) alumna from 2014, formed the Nairobi- and London-based edtech company Kukua, an education entertainment company building a pan-African children’s franchise around Super Sema, Africa’s ﬁrst animated child heroine. Sema serves not only as a role model but provides magical learning experiences through game-based learning apps, an animated television series, and toys. Also hailing from Kenya, The Art of Unlearning, a graphic novel by GSP alumnus Chief Nyamweya, explores Nyamweya’s time at SU and his impression of how digital natives from Kenya are interfacing with the digital future.
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