Education + Technology = Equality: An Innovative Learning Platform Aims to Go International
All children deserve an equal education. We may all agree to this notion, but the facts tell a different story. Globally, 59 million primary school-age children – one in 10 girls and one in 12 boys – were not in school in 2013. Out-of-school rates are higher in rural areas, and children from the poorest 20 percent of households are nearly 4 times more likely to be out of school.
Moreover, societies all around the world face the constant challenge of retaining qualified teachers, especially in rural and peripheral areas. In one-third of the countries for which there is data, less than 80 percent of primary school teachers are trained up to national standards. This greatly affects the performance of students, and undermines equal learning opportunities.
A Local Solution in K12 Education
Armenia, as a developing country, is no exception: The dropout rate for students from poor families is about 35 percent in Armenia, while public spending on education is one of the lowest in the EU and among OECD countries. So there has always been a natural urge among Armenian social entrepreneurs to change the situation for the better. I returned to the country after completing my postgraduate studies in the U.S., determined to create a social business solution that would address the issue. I launched the Dasaran platform in 2009, hoping to eliminate unequal learning opportunities and decrease regional disparities in education. Based on global best practices, Dasaran aimed to disrupt the public education ecosystem by helping meet educational-technological development goals, advancing evidence-based educational decision-making, improving student performance and augmenting teacher capacity.
In pursuing this goal, Dasaran, which means “classroom” in Armenian, has developed an electronic network of distribution channels that allow quality education to reach the most remote locations within and outside of the country. These virtual channels connect to every household in Armenia where there is a school-aged child, offering them a simple-to-use cloud-based learning management system. Armenia has more than 95 percent mobile coverage, and the beneficiaries access the platform on their computers or mobile devices, so it is fully accessible throughout the country.
This system enables Dasaran to provide interactive learning content and communication channels to schools, parents and students, and offers tools to analyze students’ performance. Dasaran is the environment for this content, not the creator of it. We partner with specialists, academies, international organizations and teachers themselves for content creation, which is later gamified and simplified by the Dasaran team.
Within Armenia, the platform is totally free for its beneficiaries (public school students, parents and teachers), and the maintenance costs are subsidized by the government. Our other major revenue streams are project-based funding by international organizations, and subscriptions paid by private schools, where the platform services are offered in exchange for monthly fees based on the number of users. Having access to these tools and content will equip children with essential skills and knowledge that can help them to lead more successful personal and professional lives, as well as to be engaged citizens of democratic societies.
An Innovative Platform
Dasaran has proven its concept in Armenia and achieved 100 percent penetration into the education system, connecting all public schools in the country to a unified platform. The Dasaran platform is currently used by one third of the entire population in Armenia – over 1 million people, including K12 students, parents, teachers, principals and policy-makers – making Dasaran an inseparable part of their school lives and the national education system in general.
The network has leveraged this connectivity to achieve some major outcomes: It has improved student grades by 39.6 percent, decreased absences by 83.78 percent, and increased the computer literacy level among teachers from 5 percent to 81 percent. In the process, and thanks to its broad user base, Dasaran has become a kind of virtual hub for the local and international institutions and organizations (such as the World Bank, UNICEF, the European Union, the U.S. Embassy and others) targeting school students and related beneficiaries, making it easier for them to deliver their respective educational and development content, and thus creating an equally-accessible education environment.
The platform achieves this impact through its major components:
- A learning management system that combines classroom management, journals to help track assignments and homework, student performance statistics, etc., provides insights to all education stakeholders and promotes transparency in public schools. The system helps schools set standards and establish routines (such as annual reports, yearly school report cards, etc.) that can further build their capacity, and that will sustain through time and withstand changes in school administration and political priorities.
- A data analytics tool for educational policy-making, which allows for effective monitoring of schools and more accurate measurement of education indicators across the country. The tool provides real-time statistical data and comparative analysis on school management efficiency, school enrollment, and student performance using various indicators. It helps policymakers to analyze educational conditions, and to assess the different diagnostic information so that they can bring quality education to every child. Dasaran also offers coaching to teachers and administrators, aimed at building a culture focused on making informed, data-based decisions.
- A customized e-learning and gamified education approach, encompassing a wide knowledge base, and covering such topics as disaster risk reduction, environmental protection, energy conservation, human rights, constitutional rights, intercultural learning, social inclusion, tolerance and more․ Through this approach, Dasaran attempts not just to teach kids a set of knowledge and information, but to shape their behavioral patterns as citizens.
In implementing these approaches, Dasaran has shifted the behavioral patterns that affect how kids learn, how teachers interact with students, and how parents learn about their kids. The platform helps to raise parents’ and guardians’ participation and active engagement in their children’s school lives. It lets them access children’s performance statistics to ensure they’re on the right track, set goals with them, and foster the achievement of these goals. It also helps them advocate for improvements in school policies and keep schools accountable based on statistical data, aiming to ensure their children are provided high-quality education.
The platform has also significantly increased teachers’ ability to predict and develop individual student learning plans based on data, and it has reduced the time required for state-level data collection and processing to just seconds. In the process, it has reduced corruption risks in the education system through increased transparency for stakeholders, promoting equal educational resources and opportunities for all.
Taking our Mission to the Next Level
The impact that Dasaran wants to achieve involves several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 4 (Quality Education), 9 (Technology, Innovation and Infrastructure) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities). We were proud to be selected by the UNDP and Impact Hub as one of five international finalists in their joint Accelerate2030 initiative, which supports impact-driven ventures that contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs.
Now that the platform is fully built up in Armenia, we’re looking to realize its full potential through an international scale-up. Our long-term strategy includes substantial cross-border development, through the implementation of Dasaran in multiple developing countries. In the process, we hope to boost these countries’ sustainable development, primarily in the education sphere.
Through putting this idea into motion and seeing the change it makes, the team behind Dasaran has come to deeply believe in the power of technology-enhanced education. It’s a promising tool for empowering the youth to reach their fullest potential and become successful and responsible citizens, transforming both their lives and their communities.
Image provided by author.