Taking EdTech to New Frontiers

Taking EdTech to New Frontiers

Taking EdTech to New Frontiers

Looking for the most promising EdTech Startup of 2016

For the third consecutive year MindCET is organizing the Global EdTech Startup Awards (GESA). Since its humble beginnings in 2014, GESA has grown into the largest EdTech startup competition in the world, this year accepting more than five hundred startup applications from across forty countries. More staggering than the numbers themselves, the innovation emanating from the applicants has reached a higher level each year.

As of publication, 12 global finalists have been named, who will compete for the grand prize in London on January 24th, 2016. In order to give the readers of EdTech Mindset a better appreciation for the competition, I connected with 3 of the finalists. Each of these companies is taking education, or more broadly, learning, to a new frontier.

Imprisoned, but free to learn

Education comes in many forms, and to many communities. One of this year’s finalists, Edovo, proves that everyone is entitled to enjoy innovation in education by addressing a very specific target market: the incarcerated. There are approximately 2.2 million people in the U.S. who are incarcerated. While they “pay their debt to society,” U.S. statute dictates that their stay in penetentary is intended to foster rehabilitation. In order to reform prosoners and help turn them into contributing citizens when they rejoin that society, prison systems provide access to a library and educational materials. However, most prisons  are wholly disconnected from the Internet, often leaving inmates lacking the most effective educational tools.

Enter Edovo. This Chicago based startup provides a complete solution which creates a secure environment in which the inmates can study. Ruggedized tablets, which can only connect to a local designated Wi-Fi network (without Internet access), are used by the inmates to access the learning materials stored on secure servers.

Inmates can learn basic skills such as reading, writing and math, and complete GED and college equivalency exams. As well, inmates gain valuable vocational training, as well and life skills and even religious materials, that help change the individual’s midset and take positive steps forward.

Edovo is already reporting high usage numbers within the population of a U.S. jail that started implementing its program a few months ago. According to the company, over 95% of the inmates at this jail, many of whom have never used a tablet before, took less than 2 weeks to get acquainted with their learning method and many have started using Edovo regularly.

The service is paid for by the local authorities, or by philanthropic organizations, but the inmates’ families and friends can also finance their loved ones’ study.

Taking a page from the days we used to send actual pages

Technology has enabled the learning process to shift from a specific place (school) and time (mornings, usually), to multiple asynchronous learning environments. YouTube, MOOCs, Apps – we are surrounded by content, includinh options for both consuming and creating. But in that process we seem to have lost one of the major attributes of classical learning methods, namely the social interaction.  Meet PenPal Schools, which are currently connecting over 100,000 students in 180 countries, helping them learn together.

Students and their teachers can sign up to be partnered with other classrooms from around the world, and choose from a variety of courses ranging from basic skills such as improving their reading and writing, to civil rights, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and more. The content is presented weekly via video lectures, articles and tasks. Students interact with each other through the platform. The teacher is involved as the guiding authority in the “physical” classroom, but in the “virtual” learning process the student is part of a group of 3-4 students from other remote locations. Penpal encourages them to create relationships and stay in touch even after the course is over, in true pen pal fashion.

Publishers have already flocked to the platform, among them Time for Kids, Via Africa and BYkids. In December 2016, as part of the GESA 2016 events, PenPal Schools was named the winner of the GESA 2016 “Intercultural Dialogue Track,” sponsored by the Dov Lautman Foundation, which highlights startups operating to promote dialogue, tolerance and cooperation between groups with distinct identities.

Girl Power!

Coding is one of the most important skills today’s youth should be acquiring in their formative years, not only as a means to a career in the technology sector, but also as a way of expanding their creativity and life skills. That notion has become the prevailing logic in many education systems, almost cliché. It has also became a cliché, and it is also worth mentioning, that the technology market is dominated by men, and while the issue of bringing more women into the tech cycle has manifested into various global and local programs, the numbers still show an overwhelming majority of engineering professionals are male.

That’s where South American social enterprise Laboratoria, winner of the Latin America final at GESA 2016, fills an important gap. Laboratoria not only educates women on the merits of coding, it actually tracks down these women and convinces them to join the program and learn basic software skills. While a “coding bootcamp,” in which students undergo a few months of coding education, is an option offered mainly to privileged students (i.e those with means), Laboratoria seeks women from a less advantaged economic background to join its programs.

“The adversity they have faced has made them stronger and more committed to learn in Laboratoria and enter the workforce,” claim the company’s founders. The women go through a five-month full-time program, where they learn front-end web development skills necessary for a successful career. When they graduate, Laboratoria places them in junior web developer positions in companies within Laboratoria’s vast local networks. However, even during that time, and for the next 19 months, the graduates continue to specialize in different web development areas. With operations in Peru, Mexico and Chile, Laboratoria is already servicing 400 students, and plans to reach 10,000 students by 2020.

Finalist by Country

  •  Spain – Write Reader
  • France – Marbotic France
  • U.S. – Edovo, PenPal Schools, CogniToys, Zulama, Embodied Labs, Invested
  • U.K. – Primo Toys, Oxford Learning Solutions, Quill
  • Australia – SpaceGrace
  • India – Team Simulanis
  • Israel – Sentidio
  • Mexico – Laboratoria