Gift of Learning program – leveling education through technology

Summary: A computer lab using Raspberry Pi’s at a Children’s Home in Nepal giving access to tailored e-learning software, thousands of books, Wikipedia, maps, and programming-for-kids software Scratch.

It’s about leveling the playing field in education. Providing quality teaching, access to information, and increasing computer literacy. The digital divide is growing, and need to be addressed.

Why we do it

Ever since OrphanGift started we’ve been keen to get involved in education for orphans and other disadvantaged children, but never really seen how we can add more value than ‘just’ funding ad-hoc projects. We’ve built temporary classrooms after disasters and supported tuition for orphans, but it was not until we started researching e-learning initiatives used in parts of Africa, and the Middle East that we saw how our professional backgrounds in technology could be relevant and add additional value.

Inspired by a number of interesting charity pilots using e-learning solutions like world-leading Khan Academy and Rachel, as well as the immense possibilities of teaching the developing world how to code software we set out to design a programme for one of the children’s homes for marginalized and orphaned kids in Nepal.

If you doubt that computers’ would actually be a key tool for empowering poor and disadvantaged children – ask yourself these questions:

♦ What if you can give instant access to thousands of books to children who barely have any books at all to read?

♦ What if you can provide the most important informational resources like Wikipedia to a child who will otherwise have no independent access to information? Things you and I take for granted.

♦ What if you can teach disadvantaged children how to use computers – it will soon be as important as being literate to advance in this world – what jobs will they disqualify for if they don’t know how to use one?

♦ What if you can teach them a skill that is currently one of the highest paying jobs in the worldsoftware developing?

♦ What if you can give the exact same quality of teaching and tools to a marginalized kid in the mountains of Nepal as a kid in a wealthy part of the world? Talk about leveling the playing field… (see bottom of the page for a story that inspired us)

♦ Most importantly: What if you don’t… What if you don’t give access to the same information, resources, learning and opportunities as children from better backgrounds or children in wealthier countries? The likelihood is that gaps will increase, and the vicious circle of poverty will continue spinning.

The penultimate point was inspired by a conversation I had several months before we started this pilot in Nepal. I was hosting Erik Dyson (CEO of the amazing All Hands Volunteers) and his wife Debbi at our house in London when they were temporarily in the UK for a fundraiser.After telling them about our the Gift of Learning program and the e-learning software we were using (Khan Academy), Debbi turns to me and says:

“Wow that’s amazing.. My daughter uses Khan Academy all the time. She’s in a good school in our town in the US but she feels that she’s not stimulated enough with her Math’s studies, so she uses Khan Academy a lot on her spare time.”

To me this is incredible. You have a child in a progressive US school who chooses to actively learn math’s through the free Khan Academy, because she feels it’s better than what her school can offer. And we can offer that same e-learning program to orphans in Nepal!

 

How we did it

With the amazing help of OLE Nepal we have now set up, and initiated, a pilot to incorporate e-learning and coding into the curriculum at a boarding home for orphans and marginalized kids in Kathmandu. With no Internet access, and using the latest, most cost-effective technology, we have set up 8 computer stations with offline server access creating outstanding educational tools.

 

 

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In short, this is how we set up the computer lab. All for the total cost of £1000:

  • Eight credit-card sized computers called Raspberry Pi’s
  • All stations equipped with 15″ monitor and wifi to access the local $300 server placed in the same room (for offline access to content)
  • All Pi’s installed with Scratch – the visual programming software designed to teach kids the logic of coding whilst playing
  • The server is loaded with:
    • Nepali e-learning software e-Pustakalaya
    • Kahn Academy
    • British Council’s English learning software
    • Nepali Wikipedia
    • Open Street Maps
    • Educational agriculture and environment videos
    • 7000+ books in Nepali and English (including textbooks)

 

We’ve also teamed up with Women in STEM Nepal who are implementing the e-learning program with existing teaching, as well as launching a new course to teach the children programming.


What do we want to achieve

For us there are a few things we want to achieve with this program. It’s meant to be a pilot helping us understand what works, and what doesn’t. It’s likely to hit a bunch of bumps down the road, but these programs have huge potential if you get them right – so it’s worth a try.

The main overarching objectives are:

  • Increasing the quality of education (through top e-learning tools)
  • Providing access to information
  • Making the children computer-literate
  • Introducing the children to programming

 

People have big dreams all around the world.

Education can unlock that potential.

Technology can facilitate.

We can help.

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