10 startup initiatives that are rethinking global education

By Devex Editor 20 April 2017

Few sectors will be as important as education in shaping the future over the coming decades.  Across the globe today, tens of millions of children are out of class, amid insecurity and civil conflict. Many more won’t finish secondary school, let alone the technical and university educations that are increasingly vital in the tech economy. By the turn of the 22nd century, more than half the world’s children will also be in Africa, a region with persistent challenges in access and quality of education.

In other words, we’ll need the best of human ingenuity to figure out how to educate the next generation. And the good news is, there is plenty of fresh innovation already underway. In mid-March, Devex hosted ten startup organizations and initiatives at the annual Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. Each was invited to make a pitch to a group of experts about why their idea is vital, urgent and worth the funds it would need to get off the ground.

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Our conversations in the “Devex Den” spanned from leadership development, technological tools, to child empowerment. Below are the 10 organizations we had a chance to hear from — and we’re sure you’ll be hearing more about in the years ahead.

Teach for Ghana and Teach for Uganda

Imagine if Africa’s best and brightest new graduates did something that is a rarity today: They became teachers. Like the Teach for America program on which they were modeled, Teach for Uganda and Teach for Ghana are aiming to encourage top talent to pour their skills and energy into impoverished community schools. In doing so, the programs hope to reduce teacher absenteeism and student dropout rates, bring excellence to underprivileged classrooms and build a new skills base across the education system.

TFG, the older of the two programs, now offers two-year fellowships to teachers. The program hopes that at least some of its alumni will stay in the education system, both as instructors and administrators or ministry officials, helping to set an ambitious tone for policy.

Jusoor

Syrian refugee children have often been out of school for some time when they reach Lebanon, and hope to enroll in the government system. Many need to catch up for months or years missed, to improve their language skills and readjust to a classroom after suffering through conflict. Enter Jusoor, an NGO offering just such a bridge program to 1,300 pupils in three schools in Lebanon.

Jusoor isn’t only for young children. The organization works with secondary-school refugee students to apply for and obtain the opportunity to study overseas, holds CV and other professional development skills classes, and aims to be a platform for broader community development. Most staff and teachers also draw from the Syrian refugee community.

Global School Leaders

After working on a study that found school leadership to be a major driver of student success, Sameer Sampat was inspired to co-found Global School Leaders, an organization aimed at improving management in India’s neediest schools. The organization hosts a leadership institute to boost skills and offer a toolkit of strategies to help principals improve their schools. GSL hopes to build a network of alumni who can continue to advise and learn from one another.

Agha Khan Foundation

With programs reaching 2 million students a year, the Agha Khan Foundation had a large amount of school data at its disposal. Analyzing it, however, was another matter. Often disjointed, in different formats, or not digitized, the organization was struggling to understand its impact — and the challenges that were holding back student progress.

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AKF is now turning to Salesforce to build a platform known as PROMISE3, the Program Management Information System for Education by Everyone, Everywhere. The data system aims to collate and streamline existing data streams in a way that both administrators at the foundation as well as individual teachers and school leaders can access and use to understand why certain students succeed and where others struggle.

Invincible Me

Education professionals and policymakers often underestimate the extent of mental health challenges among children in the classroom. Invincible Me, a London-based charity, aims to provide teachers and administrators with a new level of awareness, as well as a toolkit of strategies to manage concerns and spot signs of abuse, neglect or criminal activity. A pilot program is aiming to launch in 20 schools, with more planned depending on the results of initial study.

Zivica

Three decades after the fall of Communism in Slovakia, the country’s educational system has scarcely evolved, particularly in mentality. Founders of Zivica hope to transform the classroom dynamic, from one in which critical questions are discouraged to a place of “pedagogical dissonance,” where innovation can thrive. To do so, the organization is offering 20 leading teachers the chance to develop their ideas for change, through leadership training and a network of progressive peers.

Bridging Education and Mobility

Technology offers a new way to help primary school English teachers in rural China enrich their curriculum. BEAM provides a platform of tailored phonics and picture book materials, which weave into the national curriculum, to improve teaching. The organization is testing distribution through the popular WeChat platform. BEAM has signed its first government education bureau contracts to deliver services to counties in Gansu province.

United Civil Society Organisations for National Development

Changing the way teachers teach — that is the goal behind a program pairing the UCSOND with Radio Ahanta in Ghana. Through a series of training and capacity building programs for teachers, as well as radio broadcasts calling out excellent and hard-working instructors, organizers aim to drive up literacy and comprehension rates. According to a 2013 early grade government reading assessment report, only 2 percent of primary school pupils were able to read with fluency and comprehension. Project coordinators say their approach is working, moving comprehension rates up to 87 percent in beneficiary schools.

Ubongo

Ubongo has what it calls the largest classroom in East Africa: 5 million families tuning into its educational entertainment programs each week. Ubongo creates multi-platform and multi-lingual content that is both instructional and fun to watch. Leveraging increased mobile access and rising rates of IT literacy, the organization aims to make learning an exercise in having fun. The organization’s ambitions are as great as the number of young viewers on the continent: Some 440 million children.

Editor’s Note: The Devex Den day-long session was produced by Global Skills and Education Forum, who chose these 10 organizations to make their pitches to a panel of experts about why their big idea matters.

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