» From a single slum classroom to winning the UNESCO King Hamad Prize
15.02.2017 - Education Sector

From a single slum classroom to winning the UNESCO King Hamad Prize

© Jaago Foundation

A great education idea that began with 17 slum kids in a single rented classroom has just been awarded the UNESCO King Hamad Prize for the Use of ICTs in Education.

The JAAGO Foundation which offers quality online and traditional classroom learning throughout Bangladesh was chosen by an international jury for the 2016 prize, with the other award going to the Kiron Open Higher Education based in Berlin and France which enables refugees to graduate with an accredited university degree through the use of free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

The Dhaka-based foundation, (JAAGO means ‘wake-up’ in Bangladeshi), is a movement initiated by the youth of Bangladesh to break the cycle of poverty through quality education and to reach those in the most remote locations. Bangladesh has more than 33 million people in Bangladesh living below the poverty line.

It started in 2007 when ex-student Korvi Rakshand and friends rented a single room in a slum to try and raise the quality of English language teaching.

“It really began as a hobby after university,” says founder Korvi. “We saw that there were thousands of organizations providing education but very little of it was of good quality. Also we saw that people on the margins, those who were ‘out of the circle’ and living in remote areas were missing out.”

Soon their first pupils were asking how they could continue their education and a second school was opened outside the capital.

Why can’t we connect the entire country?

“We learned that the biggest challenges were not things like the curriculum. The biggest challenge was teachers. The majority of qualified teachers graduated towards the capital to teach as opportunities were good. That meant there were very few quality teachers working in remote areas. We thought that if we can reach outside Bangladesh and contact the whole world through internet surely we could do the same inside the country.”

In 2011 they came up with an extremely simple solution that connected rural classrooms to qualified teachers in the capital through videoconferencing technology and the Internet. The project began with just 80 students but was soon backed by partner GrameenPhone Ltd and now operates 10 online schools.

“The project put televisions in remote village classrooms. We still had two teachers on the spot who could help the children directly. The system had the added advantage that, for children, people on television have the status of celebrities. To have those people talking to them personally, calling them by their names, from the capital meant we had already grabbed their attention,” said Korvi.

The next step was to refine the software so that teachers could give a richer learning experience through the use of presentation tools, imparting lessons, distributing tests and homework assignments and collecting them and evaluating progress.

The foundation also operates regular schools through which they provide free international standard education to 18,000 students in 13 schools and one orphanage. They are financed by child sponsoring.

“Winning this prize will give us financial freedom to undertake further research on how successful the methods we are using are. Not only has it given us greater confidence, it has increased our credibility in Bangladesh in general. We now feel able to approach the government to discuss how they could upscale the idea,” said Korvi.

Both prizewinners will be awarded by the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and the Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Bahrain at a special ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, on Tuesday 21 February 2016. They will both receive a diploma and USD 25,000. 

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