A journey of Light of Hope and how it’s bringing system-level change in primary level education. The following article is written based on the speech given by Light of Hope CEO, Waliullah Bhuiyan on YGAP Vision Dinner at Melbourne, Australia on April 26, 2018.
Rahim, a 10-year old boy dropped from his primary school when he was in Class 3. Like many of his friends, he didn’t find the school interesting. When he told his parents that he didn’t want to continue in school, his parents didn’t resist much or persuade him to attend school. Like Rahim, his parents also didn’t see the value in education. So, Rahim moved to Dhaka to his uncle’s house and started working in a motor garage. After 2 months, he had a terrible accident and was in a hospital for over a month.
Like Rahim, 3 million children will drop from primary schools in Bangladesh in next few years. 3 Million; it’s equal to entire population of Finland. And it’s not because of just poverty. Primary school in Bangladesh is free. It’s because kids like Rahim don’t find school interesting and parents from lower socio-economic background don’t find the education valuable.
Those who remain till the end of primary school, don’t do good either. Children who completed primary level school in Bangladesh, 30% of them can’t read or write Bengali properly, 66% in English and 33% can’t do basic math.
To put things into perspective, it’s going to take another 100 years for our primary level children to catch up to the skill level of primary level children in Australia, if we continue to improve our education system at the current pace.
The future is not so shiny even if you complete the primary level education. A World Bank study predicts that 70% of today’s primary level children will end up in a job that doesn’t exist today. Now that’s a huge concern for children from everywhere – Bangladesh or Australia alike.
So there are 3 types of challenges – kids dropping out from schools, those who remains can’t achieve desired literacy and numeracy skills and things that we are teaching in schools will not matter much in future.
What we realized that we need to bring system level change to make learning interesting, engaging and fun for children and we need to provide some future skills that’ll be relevant in the future. The top 3 future skills that children will need are creativity & problem solving, emotional intelligence and moral values.
In Light of Hope, we work to bring system level change in schools and overall primary level education system to unleash the creative potential of children and also make their learning interesting, engaging and fun in schools.
Early Days of Light of Hope
When we started our journey back in 2015, we asked ourselves – ‘how we can help kids’? There are thousands of ways to do that. But which are the ways that are most important and will have bigger impact? Both in making their learning engaging and unleashing their creativity.
We decided not to start or open new schools as we have already about 100,000 primary level schools in Bangladesh. Rather we focus on how to improve the quality of existing schools. So, we started our School Development Program. What do we do in the program?
$100 School Library
We usually start working with a school by setting up a library. We developed a process that it became super convenient and cost effective for us to set up a school library with age-appropriate books. We collect used story books and have partnership with publishers. Setting up a library can cost as low as $100 only. And in the process, we are currently running the largest private-run school library program in Bangladesh where more than 50% libraries were supported by individuals.
Science Lab in a Box
If the library works well in the school, we set up a Science Lab. It has 20-30 educational tools and toys that we purchase or make ourselves that can cover all the science experiments in primary level curriculum. It helps children to learn about the magic of science with first-hand experience. Our science labs are the first and only science labs in primary schools in Bangladesh.
Solar-run multimedia classroom
Surprisingly, there are 30,000 primary schools in Bangladesh that doesn’t have electricity. We developed world’s lowest energy consuming solar-run multimedia classroom solution for these schools. Equipped with laptop, projector, sound box and a whole range of learning contents developed by us – the solar-run multimedia classrooms in off-grid schools can provide engaging, interesting and fun learning experience for children in the classroom.
In every stage of these resource intervention, there is a development component with the teachers where we sit with the teachers and discuss about the expectation. When necessary, we provide them with necessary tools and capacity development opportunity so that teachers can take care of these resources and utilize them at their best capacity to make learning fun, interesting and engaging for their students.
Two years ago, we were working with couple of schools impacting about 500 students. As of April 2018, we are working with 130 schools all over Bangladesh and impacting more than 50,000 children with our libraries, science lab and solar-run multimedia classroom. We’ve seen children are attending more class, learning outcome improved and most importantly children are learning in a fun, interesting and engaging way in the schools.
It turned out if we invest smartly in schools to provide necessary resources, we can make a huge change with minimum cost. Teachers play the most vital role in utilizing these resources in schools. Instead of telling them what to do, you have to give them necessary tools and let them do their job. Our role as organization is to find out that one teacher who are self-motivated and willing to bring the change in her/his school. Change doesn’t happen from outside. We saw a ridiculous amount of money is being spent on monitoring and micro-managing the school development operations run by various NGOs (both National and International). And most of the times, schools and teachers don’t own that intervention and thus end up being unsustainable the moment the NGO pulled off from that school (after the project period is over).
With our school development program, we’re able to develop a model for primary level schools in Bangladesh that’s low-cost, scalable and sustainable. We’re able to tackle our first two challenges: reducing drop-out rate by making learning more fun and improving the learning outcomes of schools. We’ve opened up our model to any interested organizations in Bangladesh and around the world so that it can be replicated and more children get can benefit.
Watch the 2-min video on the School Development Program.
Improving Future Skills for our Children
While we were working on perfecting our School Development Program, we knew this was just a catching up game. Our schools are almost 100 years behind compared to some western countries. In next 20 years, with the revolution in technology, things around us will change dramatically. That includes the type of work human will do. When we were kids, none of our parents imagined that their children can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on an app called ‘youtube’ by making silly videos. Well, that’s a bad example. But that’s the point. As parents, we are never going to know what kind of job our children will end up with. Yet we need to prepare them for it. That’s why it’s smart as parents and as a nation to prepare kids the future skills that might need.
Top 3 skills that we identified that our children will need to thrive and be relevant into the future that we can’t grasp are: creativity & problem solving, emotional intelligence and moral values. This is not a new news. Almost everyone works with education knows about them, believes that it should be done. Yet hardly anything is done in our country. Educators and policy makers get things mixed up and make things so complicated that even the simplest things look highly complicated.
We believe in simplicity and believe in action. To us, education is an individual choice. As parents, if you can afford, you always try to give the best education available to your child. If not, then you think of option 2 or 3. That’s why parents are an important stakeholder in the education system. Second, teachers are the people who are going to unleash your child’s creativity in school. So, they are very important. And finally, the children themselves. After all, everything is for them.
If we need to develop future skills of our children, we need to develop contents that will help them do so. We’ve developed tons of contents (books, videos, guidebooks, tutorials etc.) on math, science, language and other subjects. We’ve not found a single website that is dedicated or working on contents to develop children’s future skills.
So we created a global online platform called Goofi. It’s a platform where any parent or teacher from anywhere in the world can get access to contents on future skills for 4-10 years old. The platform can assess the child’s skill level and suggest relevant contents to parents. And with enough data, the platform can also suggest parents or teachers in which area their children are good at. Whether he/she should be a doctor, engineer or designer or storyteller.
The courses we’ve been developing for Goofi, we wanted to try the physical version of it. That’s why we started Kids Time – an after-school program brand that offers various courses to improve creativity, problem solving, emotional intelligence etc. It became very popular among children and parents. Kids Time is first Bangladeshi after-school brand. We already have 5 centers and now expanding with franchise model in other parts of Bangladesh. But the goal of Kids Time goes beyond establishing an after-school program brand. Once we complete our 5-year curriculum on Goofi platform, we are going to use the curriculum to convert our Kids Time centers into full primary schools. These schools will not teach children all the typical standard subjects like math, science or language; rather focus on various skill sets. So classes will be divided to teach skills like critical thinking, imagination, problem solving, emotional intelligence etc.
To know more about Kids Time, visit the website: www.kidstimebd.com
As mentioned before, to bring system level change in education, two groups are very important. The parents and the teachers. The parents pay for child’s education and teachers bring out the inner creativity of a kid in school. Unless parents realize the importance of future skills for their children compared to the GPA or certificate-focused education system, nobody can bring change. It’s important that we start aware and educating the parents about that. Through Teachers Time, we aware and educate young parents about future skills and how to improve those among their children and develop professional capacities of teachers so that they can bring teacher-led innovation in schools. We’ve been running amazing workshops and training sessions with parents and teachers for last one year. Now we are bringing our courses online so that parents or teachers from anywhere can access these courses. There are over 30 million young parents and 1 million primary school teachers in Bangladesh. And these are the people who will determine what our schools should look like.
As we started to work on the challenge of making education future-proof, we are constantly learning new exciting things. We’ve started to work on a new assessment tool that will measure the improvement of future skills among children – an tool that will help us to measure how creative or how emotionally intelligent a child is, in oppose to the current assessment tool that measures how good a child is in math or language.
We are confident that we’ll be able to develop a scalable school model that will help a child to unleash her true creative potential. We’ve seen some exciting results in our School Development Program. Our main character Rahim was one particular example of that result.
After Rahim got released from hospital, he came back to village but didn’t went back to school. One day he was walking beside the school and heard that the kids are shouting and laughing. He was curious. He went inside and saw that kids are playing with a solar-car. It’s the world’s smallest solar car that we provide in our science lab to teach children how solar energy works. He got so interested that he told his parents that we wanted to come back to school. He got enrolled again and few months later he created his own solar-cap.
It’s a cap where he put a small solar panel and connected with a fan, so whenever he goes under the sun and the fan rotates and gives him air.
We now give this solar-cap to other schools where we set up science lab.
The mini solar car costs us $1. That $1 help one child to come back to school and unleash his true potential. He is now in High school and dreams of installing wind turbines in coastal areas of Bangladesh.
If we can invest smartly by giving the schools and the teachers the right resources, we can expect amazing results. The funny thing about school is – a $500,000 new school building might get lower outcome than a $100 school library for students.