I first met Neil D’Souza in the fall of 2011 after hearing him speak at the Global Education Conference which just wrapped up this year’s sessions last week. As he shared his story of leaving his comfortable job at Cisco to travel to Mongolia and Indonesia to prototype ideas around improving educational opportunities for low-income kids, I was compelled to learn more about his approach. Even with the explosion of free online/OER content Neil was struck by all the hardware (remember OPLCs?) that sat around, under-utilized. One of the main reasons for that being lack of connectivity.
In just two years what began as D’Souza’s early experiments as Teach-A-Class in orphanages in Mongolia has evolved into Zaya.org, reaching 1200 students through 5 schools in 4 countries. EdSurge recently profiled Zaya’s progress in Mumbai, contrasting their slow approach with the tumultuous journey of the now infamous Indian edtech startup Educomp.
Zaya’s long and patient approach represents their deep focus on improving learning outcomes for low income students in a sustainable manner. To help support work in this sector the Zaya team has recently published a whitepaper (pdf), Overcoming Challenges to Bringing Blended Learning to the Base of the Pyramid, which explores some of the pain points they are tackling in implementing blended learning at affordable private schools in Mumbai, India. Some of these issues include “unreliable electricity, limited or no access to the internet, and a lack of funds to maintain technology.” Beyond the resource limitations and logistical issues, the report cites the main issues are knowledge gaps where “many school leaders and teachers do not understand how to use the technology, much less how to implement it.” Sound familiar?
The report goes on to outline a case study of overcoming some of these resource and connectivity issues by implementing the Zaya Lab Kit at an affordable private school (APS) in Mumbai. However, as with many edtech endeavors, the key challenge lies in overcoming the knowledge gaps by providing educators and school leaders with the training and on-going support they need to integrate the online content in a meaningful way. One of the co-founders, Soma Vajpayee is solely focused on the Professional Development (PD) piece; recruiting and preparing a team of educators to build the first set of Learning Labs. Zaya’s partnership with Teach For India (TFI) helps attract bright and energetic educators looking to experiment with blended learning practices in their classrooms, but training them to successfully run Learning Labs is a crucial and often over-looked step in the process.
In an effort to bring best practices around blended learning instruction to India, Vajpayee recently made her first trip to the US to meet with practitioners and observe schools experimenting with blended models. In the next two of this 3-part series I’ll cover Vajpayee’s tour of key blended learning schools in the Bay Area, including visits to Alpha Schools and the newly opened KIPP high school in San Francisco. I’ll share her insights and global perspective on blended learning, including what translates between learning environments in India and California and what is needed to prepare teachers for this “new” style of teaching.