40K PLUS: Playing the Education Game

“If you want to get involved in international development, at this stage of your life, don’t do it from a high rise in New York or Geneva. Get over to the developing world and get your hands dirty.”

40K PLUS is a social enterprise working to deliver quality education to children living in restricted village environments in India and Cambodia through the innovative use of technology.

Clary Castrission OAM, CEO of the 40K Foundation Australia, was first spurred into action on a trip to India, where the words of his University Professor to work to make a change from the frontlines echoed in his mind.

“Our first attempt at doing something meaningful with an education intervention was to build a school for a community of quarry workers outside Bangalore,” explains Castrission, “We learnt through that 5-year experience that globally, governments have responded to the Millennium Development Goals of achieving enrolment rates. However, quality of education in restricted environments was not improving. Children were going to school, but not learning effectively.”

With the focus shifting to delivering quality, accessible education, 40K looked to technology for a solution that could reach children in villages despite the often challenging conditions of intermittent electricity, little internet and a scarcity of quality teachers.

“The 40K PLUS system leverages the positives of the villages, such as a passion for education, and designs for the restrictions. We came to technology from the village-out, because we believe when used properly it can offer amazing value to the children,” explains Castrission, “We have leveraged existing technology, such as low-cost tablets, the nifty raspberry pi (microcomputer) to repurpose them for the village. By hacking together existing technologies, we have been able to design a solution that is ultra-low cost that can meet a price point that our village-based customers can afford.”

Version 1 of the 40K PLUS system has been provided to 550 children across 14 villages in India via rented and supervised after-school ‘pods’. Recently, 40K PLUS launched in a low-cost private school in India, adding a further 125 children to the platform. Aggregated learning content is matched to the local school curriculum and customised to the local language and cultural customs. All the material is available offline through a gamified learning app provided on a tablet, with a dashboard login to monitor each child’s progress.

 “We track progression on a lessons per month basis, so that we can design interventions for children who are falling behind. Additionally, we conduct baselines twice per year for children enrolled in PLUS against children from government schools who do not go to PLUS,” says Castrission, “Our results are now showing that 1 year in PLUS is equivalent of 2.5 years of attendance in government schools in reading and writing, and an acceleration of an additional year in speaking and listening.”

Their efforts have also been recognised by technology giant Atlassian, who selected 40K for a technical partnership in 2015 and provided a further $250K accelerator grant in 2016. They have also just been announced as a finalist for DFAT’s Technology Against Poverty Prize as part of the Google Impact Challenge 2016.

In 2017, 40K PLUS will look to grow and scale their operations further into Cambodia with a ten school pilot program in partnership with the Cambodian Government and local NGO, ‘Room to Read’. Over the next three years, their goal is to deliver 40K PLUS to 8,300 children in both India and Cambodia with expansion to ten countries planned for the next ten years.

“It is so good to see the hard work that our team has put in being recognised, not only for where it is, but for the potential of what it could do.”

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