Recently, I’ve been hearing about Rumie.org from mentors and students, and decided to learn more! Rumie is a Toronto-based non-profit tech startup founded by Tariq Fancy, leveraging a crowdsourcing model to provide free e-learning on small tablets for underserved communities. .
Although “ed tech” has been gaining momentum in recent years, the use of tech for educational access isn’t actually so novel. Models such as One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud (which I’ve posted about here and here), were inspired by a similar vision ahead of the ed tech craze. However, OLPC for one, had high costs of hardware (closer to $200 per tablet) and implementation, and little by way of tangible results.
But as Founder Tariq Fancy points out in this post, with technology (as with anything!), timing is everything:
OLPC was a noble effort, but it was an idea before its time. In technology, timing is everything...
In addressing the challenge of sourcing relevant content, Rumie's LearnCloud platform is available for educators worldwide to contribute open access K-12 resources across subject areas.
I participated in a #LearnSyria webinar with Rumie a few weeks ago, which introduced the platform for us to play around in, as well as a current campaign to support learning in Syrian refugee camps through Rumie tablets.
Just as dispersed volunteers online created Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia... the LearnCloud’s fast-growing volunteer community of teachers, subject area experts, and skilled practitioners is building the world’s largest repository of free learning content online. - Tariq Fancy
At a time when we face crises of displacement and resettlement, and with continued issues of educational access, the Rumie model does feel promising to address part of the opportunity gap.
In my next post, I look forward to sharing a Q&A with Deanna Del Vecchio, Head of Partnerships at Rumie.
Follow Rumie on Twitter: @RumieInitiative
Check out their website: rumie.org
From the beautiful Green School in Bali, to the inspiring Dharavi Art Room in Bombay, another recurring point of learning for me was around access. Educational access isn't a new concern in education, yet I haven't found it to be a priority in the design of many innovative and progressive models.
(Dharavi Art Room and the School in the Cloud/SOLE Colombia are great examples of programs designed to increase access, as is the sliding scale for tuition that some independent alternatives are implementing.)
Here is the "lesson" shared at AERO 2016 on this issue. Look forward to sharing the final two parts to this talk next week!
As I continue my project of interviewing inspiring educators across several contexts and countries, my most recent adventure was in New York, where I visited programs ranging from a publicly funded school for girls in Washington Heights, to a sweet little independent alternative in East Harlem.
As I traveled from the southern end of Manhattan in "Fi Di" (the financial district), through midtown, uptown to Harlem, then to Washington Heights, I was struck by the contrasts I experienced: skyscrapers in Fi Di versus tiny delis in Washington Heights ("Sigue mami!! Coffee?"); sleek high end shops vs piles of garbage on street corners; men in suits blankly staring past homeless people on subways; and my range of friends from freelance artists to those working at the UN.
All of these contrasts helped to frame the context of each of the schools I visited, to better understand how schools served their communities.
The primary goal of the all-girls leadership school I visited was to help every single student get into college. Many in the alternative space would scoff at that, explaining how grades are outdated and how college shouldn't be the end goal of high school education. (I know this, because I argue against grades all the time!)
But after seeing these confident girls in action, giving us a tour, presenting at the school "STEM" fair, mentoring younger students, you realize the danger in confusing the means with the ends.
Getting into college is a ticket to opportunity for these girls, to jobs and experiences that they or their families would not access otherwise. When you pay attention to the inequalities inherent in our economic and social systems, you understand why navigating these systems still matters for the vast majority of people. Why context matters.
On the other end of the spectrum, the small independent alternative focused on a democratic approach, where students are actively involved in deciding what they will learn. They participate in two outdoor days every week (I was there on a day in Central Park with a naturalist). This model felt like a breath of fresh air. Here too, though, context matters. Parents who send their kids to this alternative actively sought an option that didn't involve grades, prioritize the child's freedom in learning, and who may have considered homeschooling otherwise. I also couldn't ignore the reality that most parents choosing this model come from a higher income bracket.
It is still challenging to compare models, but I am learning to acknowledge the priorities of each one.
I had a fantastic time exploring New York's schools. I look forward to sharing spotlight videos from my time there in the coming weeks!
TVO (TVOntario) is currently running a doc series called "Why Poverty?", asking why a billion people around the world still live in poverty, and what can be done about it.
Last night's film, "Solar Mamas", shows us how women from income-poor communities all over the world are selected and trained to become solar engineers in a six month residential program at Barefoot College in India. They return after six months, bringing solar-powered electricity and income earning potential to their remote villages.
Educational access and opportunity are themes that have been gnawing at me since watching India's Daughter on Netflix (profiling the infuriating rape case of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012). So when I watched Solar Mamas, I was drawn into the story of this woman from Jordan, who faces strong resistance from her husband in pursuing the course. Seeing how the women connect and collaborate and really want to learn new skills, was inspiring.
The film also opens with a provoking question: "Are women better at getting out of poverty than men?"
Development experts such as Amartya Sen (my favourite Development Economist!) have long-touted the importance of education for girls in raising standards of living, decreasing infant mortality, increasing levels of health, and in increasing education levels for the next generation. Grameen Bank founder Mohammed Yusuf has also explained how women tend to invest money into their children's health and education at higher rates than men:
When women start making money, the first beneficiary of her income is her children.. but it doesn't happen so quickly when the father is the income earner. There are a lot of very positive things when you address the problem of poverty through women.
As you'll see in the film, challenges with changing mindsets remain. Still, programs such as this one at Barefoot College are bringing power to communities and helping to awaken power within these women!
For more on Barefoot College visit their site, or check out Founder Bunker Roy's TED Talk here.
Watch the TVO doc "Solar Mamas" here (or on their website):
Meet Felipe Spath, co-founder of SOLE Colombia (Self Organized Learning Environments), the next in this Spotlight Series!
I met Felipe early one morning for a tinto (black coffee) in the Candelaria neighbourhood, the heart of downtown Bogota. Within minutes, he had connected me with other people doing great work in Colombia, and humbly shared his insights on rural education, technology, and innovation. We were able to film outside the coffee shop before campus became too noisy (with a few early skateboarders around!).
In this video, Felipe talks about the importance of technology and tradition coming together, collaboration rather than competition in learning, and his hopes for more community-based, and tribe-based learning in the future:
Along with being a Co-Founder of SOLE (affiliated with Sugata Mitra's School in the Cloud initiative), Felipe is also a TEDx organizer in Colombia, a University educator and an "Associate Thinker" at th1nk.co. He lives in a rural area outside of Bogota, and has been engaged with rural development and sustainability issues for many years.
I really enjoyed hearing Felipe's unique perspective, and had a wonderful time in his undergrad class on Designing Purposeful Experiences at the Universidad del Rosario later that morning. Being part of a workshopping exercise with students (similar to a design thinking session) reminded me of how much I love the energy and ideas in post-secondary spaces!
For more on Felipe's work, visit: http://www.th1nk.co/#.
If children have interest, then education happens.
At a recent conference in New York, I spent a week exploring alternative education from an American perspective (a lot of talk about homeschooling, unschooling, “deschooling”, which I will come back to in a later post). A refreshing departure was a keynote speech by Sugata Mitra; he was the first at the conference to focus on ACCESS for students who don’t have the choice of any school at all!
Mitra is the man behind the “hole in the wall” experiments, and has gained popularity through TED Talks (such as this one, and this one). Essentially, Mitra placed a computer in the wall of a slum in New Delhi in 1999, where kids had never used a computer before. With an internet connection, Mitra left the computer for kids to play with. What he found was that groups of kids, within days, were able to learn impressive things on their own - from browsing to recording music, to googling their homework!
On a recent visit to the reputed Rishi Valley school in rural Andhra Pradesh, India (past posts on the philosophy of Rishi Valley here, and here) two friends and I had the chance to visit a rural school operated by Rishi Valley, under the banner “RIVER” (Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources).
This one room schoolhouse typically housed kids aged 4 to 10, one main teacher, and one assistant. Students sat on the floor, with large square work tables a foot or so off the ground.
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!