Neil D’Souza is an Indian engineer and a dreamer. His dream is to help the underprivileged children to receive a quality education.
A Life Commitment to Education
D’Souza’s passion to help the disadvantaged started during his time at Cisco. For four years, he worked there, mostly on mobile Internet and video technologies. During his free time, he would do some volunteering in San Jose, California.
In 2011, he took the leap. He moved to Mongolia and spent a year teaching in rural orphanages. This is where he discovered the learning deficiency that affects most developing countries. His pupils were far below their grade level, lacking basic literary and numerical skills.
D’Souza was aware of the ongoing online education revolution. He knew this could help his students to catch up. But without Internet, they had no chance to ever access the educational resources online. The more time he spent in Mongolia, the more determined he became to tackle this issue.
He was even starting to develop his own solution when he met Soma Vajpayee. Vajpayee was the perfect partner for his project. She had been a Training Manager at Citibank for ten years and, just like D’Souza, she was passionate about using ICTs in the classroom. In 2012, they started Zaya Learning Labs. Their goal was to bring quality education to the bottom of the pyramid, starting in India.
The Indian Crisis Education
For years, India has been confronting an acute learning crisis. Although 96 percent of the children go to school, many do not reach basic literacy by 10. In fact, 60 percent cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.
One of the main reasons for the crisis is the lack of trained and motivated teachers. There is an estimated shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters throughout India. Those who actually teach often lack both expertise and pedagogical ability. Since many in low-income private schools get only $100 a month, they also have no motivation. A majority of teachers even skip school at least once a week.
All this adds to the curriculum’s low standards and large classroom sizes. So it is no surprising that the learning outcomes are so poor.
Mixing education and technology
To tackle this issue, D’Souza and Vajpayee created an innovative solution mixing education and a ClassCloud technology.
On the education side, they developed a blended learning model in order to create a student-driven learning environment. The goal is that pupils stop staring out the window and instead engage with the teacher. This is why they divide the students into several groups based on their level. During the day, each group goes through three different learning times. While the schoolmaster teaches the first group, the second one reads or does homework.
Meanwhile, the last group reviews their lessons using a computer or a tablet. It allows them to connect to the ClassCloud. This portable WiFi device contains all the resources for the class. There are lessons, but also instructional videos, educational games, and quizzes.
To truly engage the students, Zaya developed a fun and friendly learning environment. The ClassCloud is also adaptive, so the pupils can learn at their own level and pace. Lessons and assessments are based on each student’s interests and needs, while also taking into account their progress. When they are consistent in finding the right answers, they can move to the next level. But if they aren’t, they spend more time on the topic. The overall goal is to guide them step by step towards their actual grade level.
Once the students complete their assignments, the system generates a personalized analytics report. It is then sent to the teachers as well as the Zaya educational team. It helps them make the right interventions. For instance, it is easier to identify the students who lag behind and have the teachers focus on them.
An Innovative Solution That Makes Students Happy to Study
Zaya’s ClassCloud is a great Edtech solution, as it is particularly adapted to the constraints of developing countries.
- It is easy to use, even by teachers who have no IT skills
- It is battery-powered and can run for ten hours without electricity. This is particularly useful in India, where power shortages are frequent.
- Finally, it works both online and offline. This is another necessary feature in India, as Internet penetration is around 12 percent. While offline, the ClassCloud stores all the data. It syncs it back to the cloud whenever it has connectivity.
No wonder Zaya has become so popular among low-income schools throughout India. Over 100 schools have adopted it, and 30,000 pupils use it on a daily basis. For them, it has changed everything. They are now engaged in their learning and excited to go to class. More importantly, their learning outcomes increase.