Team Penrose – Creating a literate world

How might we significantly reduce child and youth illiteracy at scale in developing countries, with the use of technology?

Through our research and interviews, we discovered several aspects of both education/learning and the various contextual influences surrounding students themselves, specifically in Ghana. From this research we decided to reframe our challenge: how do we create an enriching learning experience? By designing our solution from this perspective, we hoped to create a service environment that would leverage several opportunities for integration into our target users’ lives.

In terms of an educational service, we provide tools for learning in the form of (1) learning games, (2) challenge based learning projects, and (3) access to Wikipedia. Learning games would teach rudimentary math and literacy skills in engaging/ gamified ways. For example, our prototype included a game where users learn how to write letters by tracing letters on a screen with their hands. A camera follows the motion of their movements and determines how close their tracing is to the true letter, thus assessing their competency. Challenge based learning projects would teach higher-level skills, as well as rudimentary literacy skills. Higher-level skills would include, but not be limited to, team building & teamwork, leadership, and analytical & problem solving skills. In addition to literacy, these higher-level skills would help users be even more suited for success (and more able to deal with difficulties) in future educational and professional endeavors. Content generation of games and projects would be an internal process, adding to our service’s competitive advantage. Lastly, Wikipedia would give users access to information should they seek out information in addition to what is provided through the games and challenges.

The community experience of our solution was also highly important to us in design of both the service and the physical form of the solution itself. Great care was taken in using aesthetics that would integrate into communities well, and therefore increase acceptance. However, just as critical if not more so, is our service design, which takes into account the busy lives of children in these Ghanaian communities. Analysis of our users’ daily journeys shows that great time and importance is given to duties such as fetching water, farming, working at the market, and other responsibilities that are usually critical to family survival. Users may also spend a great deal of time walking from location to location, so it was essential to make use of the sparse, yet valuable, free time that may be available to them. Through our contacts, we found that this free time was available generally in afternoons when children would access community playgrounds. Through this insight, we decided to place our knowledge kiosk, as well as design educational services, with this free time in mind.

Our service solution is therefore a piece of technology that integrates into student lives in addition to the education they receive in more traditional forms (i.e. school) without taking away from the necessities of day-to-day life. Our challenge based learning projects, additionally, have been designed from the perspective of engagement not only from the student standpoint, but also from the community standpoint. Through interviews we learned that older children/siblings have a highly influential role in the lives of younger children/siblings. This influence applies heavily to education, where older individuals motivate and/or take on teaching roles themselves. We leveraged this insight by designing group projects that would solve community issues as well as educate users. This would engage the community and older individuals to work with younger students to create, for example, a water filter. In addition, an “enabler” would be a part of the service to help guide, steer, and assess students during the process. The enabler is an employee of the service and would be sourced from the local community.

It is this combination of both non-traditional learning methodologies (gamification and challenge based learning) along with projects that leverage community relationships (community engagement and hierarchal teaching/motivation) that is the core of the Bamboo service. Furthermore, we sent sample portions of our curriculum to our contacts in Ghana for validation and testing. From their positive feedback, we saw not only the community engagement and acceptance that we hoped for, but also the availability and high interest of children to take part in our challenge based learning projects with the guidance of an enabler. We also sent a summary of our project to individuals in the Ghana Complementary Basic Education program, and they were very enthusiastic about our solution and how our curriculum could add much greater value than the current offering.

Download the project documentation