Dev4X and the Moonshot Education Project
Dev4X is working on an audacious open project developing a learning platform for the most underserved children. We simply cannot solve this challenge using current approaches, building enough schools and training enough teachers has too high marginal costs associated and so we need to think radically different. This initiative is called the Moonshot Education Project.
How and When it got started
The project got started in late 2013 as a side project, through a roughly thrown together blog post calling on people to comment and join. It slowly grew from there. In October 2014 we got our second full-time volunteer onboard who is now a Co-Founder. Today we have a core team of 5 with 150 volunteers and we are continually growing. The company was incorporated in January of 2015.
Where we are now
- We have completed Phase one of the project which was to research and develop prototype features to test out in the field. These were then tested in East Africa with children who have no access to schools or trained teachers.
- We have recruited a core team and more than 150 volunteers (and growing)
- We raised initial seed funds from personal contributions, donations and from foundations like the Shuttleworth Foundation.
To do, 3 to 6 months
- Develop phase 2 version and continue field testing. Currently working to field test in Tanzania, Liberia and in gender-stratified societies where girls don't have the opportunity to learn in formal schools.
- Hire additional engineers and other roles to support phase two
- Raise additional funds for continued development and testing
Our passion for working on such daring projects like this one is in no small part due to the inspirational work that the XPRIZE foundation has done over the years. We are delighted to find out that they are announcing an education-related XPRIZE. Read press release here.
Information on our website
- The Challenge and our approach to solving it: http://www.dev4x.com/
- About Us: http://www.dev4x.com/aboutus/
- Our Approach: http://www.dev4x.com/ourapproach/
- The prototype: http://www.dev4x.com/ourapproach/#prototype
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Who is this platform intended for?
A: This platform is primarily intended for the most underserved children. This includes children (typically girls) who have to help their families during the day instead of going to school. It also includes children in conflict zones and refugee camps, those who cannot afford school, and those who live too far from the nearest school.
However, we are building this platform to provide a personalized education for all children. As we build it, we think about our own kids.
Q: How are you delivering the lessons - do these kids have the internet?
A: The children do not have access to the internet, nor can we rely on them having any teachers or even facilitators or parents that would be able to help them. We are designing this to work in the most challenging of conditions, that more than 50 million children live in. Think of Rural villages, refugee camps or in gender stratified societies where girls cannot go to school and rarely leave their home. In these conditions the children do not have access to school, the internet or effective educational resources. This is where we are bridging the gap and thinking radically different. Instead of trying to solve the challenge using traditional approaches like building more schools or training more teachers —which we know will take to long and cost too much— we are rethinking the challenge. How can we empower these children and their communities to take their learning into their own hands?. How can we ensure that the solution is highly scalable and can work in their challenging environments? Because if it can work there it can work anywhere.
We are delivering the lessons through a mobile based library of curated apps and content, designed to produce a particular outcome (Initially this outcome is early literacy and numeracy). A key part of the technology is the highly adaptable recommendation engine that provides a personalized learning journey to each child through these resources, even in an offline informal learning environment. Built on an open learning map being pioneered through crowdsourcing the expertise of pedagogy specialists, the platform presents the best learning approach and content to each child based on what it knows about the child and the context they live in. This approach will allow each child to receive guidance and instructions from high quality educators through software that is able to operate in the most challenging environments.
Q: Who are the teachers?
We know that 50 million children do not have access to schools and teachers, and that 650 million children, who may have access, do not have the opportunity to learn from quality teachers as many are poorly trained and continually absent for much of the time. However from research and experiments conducted we know that children can and do teach themselves and their friends, in fact this is commonly used as one of the best mechanism within formal learning to teach. Our approach is to focus on that, and flip the traditional —hard to scale— method on its head. In our approach the main teaching mechanism is child self directed learning, peer-to-peer learning , mentorship learning and collaborative learning. However, the individual resources and activities can be used in Instructor based learning if a trained teacher is available. We are designing our platform to work in both informal and formal schooling environments. It can be used as either a supplemental educational tool or a primary tool when children do not have access to teachers, or the child requires additional help.
Q: How are you different to other initiatives?
Some of the key innovations that are setting us apart are:
- Our radically open approach. Developing an open platform with a sustainable long term strategy in place allows us to both rapidly engage the world's expertise but also sustain it with a self-funding business model.
- We are building our platform to work both online and offline. We do not assume that the learner has Internet access, high bandwidth. Therefore, participation in online collaboration would be offered in both synchronous and asynchronous modes.
- Our underlying foundation is built on highly scalable architecture and utilizes a dynamic open learning map that allows it to be rapidly extended to any curriculum, language or outcome, and adapted to each child. While there are a few such learning maps, most are based on closed-ended, siloed business models that do not allow them to be interoperable or are focused on specific domains. We are creating an open version that many can contribute to and anyone can use. It will provide unmatched opportunity to derive meaningful metrics on each step of the children's learning experience across multiple curriculums and learning paths to find what works best for each individual child. Over time, we see it as the goto curriculum resource for any educator to validate what works. This would be the first time such a powerful resource would be available openly.
- Dev4x innovations include mesh networking, offline mobile AI and Machine learning, Offline mobile learning management and a data structure that is focused on privacy.
Q: how will you keep children engaged?
A: The Dev4x open learning map underlies a quest based learning journey that is designed to keep children engaged, and motivated through gamification. Through the use of mesh networking technology, the platform utilizes social tools to facilitate collaborative learning opportunities even in disconnected communities, encouraging the children to teach each other.(You can read more about that on our technology page: under mentorship and social learning)
Q: Why do you not first develop something for the developed world and then use that to fund deployments into the developing world?
A: Most education technology companies are doing that. They build something for the developed world and then try to adapt it to work in more challenging environments. We haven’t seen this approach work, because too many assumptions about the easier developed-world problem are built into the software.
We are doing it in the other direction. By building something for the most challenging of scenarios, not only do we affect the lives of those that need it most, but we also build something suitable for children who live in less challenging environments. We want to build an education platform that truly anyone can use, and for free!
Q: WHY ARE YOU FOCUSING ON SUCH A YOUNG DEMOGRAPHIC -5 TO 11 YEAR OLDS? WILL THIS WORK FOR OLDER CHILDREN OR EVEN ADULTS?
A: Our long-term mission is to provide education of any type to any age group. We will begin with this young cohort and gradually grow with them, reaching all ages over time.
Starting with younger children makes our task easier in some ways. When children are younger, their demands on the platform — such as the AI, voice technologies, and content— are less complex and therefore more suited to the level of computational power we will have in the devices we are deploying. We expect that as this initial cohort grows up and requires more complex interactions, our technology and computational power will advance along with them.
Q: How was Dev4X started and what type of company is it?
A: We incorporated in 2015 as a non-profit. We are considering setting up a B Corp with a impact charter to compliment the efforts.
Q: What makes this effort sustainable, How will you make money?
Over the next 18 to 24 months we will be further validating that our approach works in some of the most challenging of environments, during this stage we will be leveraging mostly individual donations, grants and crowdfunding. We will also be leveraging the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE competition to provide additional validation and exposure as it is perfectly aligned with our short term roadmap. With this validation multiple opportunities open up:
- Our platform could be used within the developing world where 50 million children don't have access to school, or where 650 million children are not getting a quality primary education. In that market $1.9 trillion is lost each year to untapped potential and related humanitarian initiatives (UNESCO).
- It could also be used within the Self-Paced e-Learning market which is growing by 7.6% annually and is currently spending $51.5 billion.
- It could be used within the homeschooling market, where in the US alone $2.5 billion will be spent on resources by parents in 2018.
- It could be used in the supplemental Education market where parents purchase apps for their children. Here $2.3 billion will be spent by parents in 2017.
- It could be used in the $2.55 billion corporate training market dominated by outdated tools.
There are already tablets on the market for as low as $40 each. Based on the continual decrease in their cost and increase in their capability we expect tablets that are able to operate our software to be as low at $10 in the next few years. Assuming a tablet’s lifespan of three years, the cost per child per year could be as low as a few dollars. Currently, even the most impoverished countries are spending close to $100 per child per year to try and reach these populations with some sort of educational experience. As we move into later phases of our project and the deployment number rises to 10s of millions (then to 100s of millions) of users, the cost of maintaining and supporting the core platform (open learning map, analysis, server backends, ingestion of new content, community sites, …) is amortized across a large population. Even with an annual operating budget of $10-20 million / year, the cost per child would be pennies. (Note that Wikipedia has a $20 million /year budget.)
At the bottom of this post is a great infographic illustrating our scale and sustainability strategy
Q: How is Dev4X currently funded?
A: Our Core team and the over 200 volunteers are currently all non renumerated. We are currently self-financed and funded to a small degree through individual donations and some grants from foundations like the Shuttleworth Foundation. We are actively raising capital from foundations, high net worth philanthropists, and individuals. If we go the B Corp direction, we will also seek capital from venture capital funds that have a social impact charter. We are actively raising capital from foundations, high net worth philanthropists, and individuals with the intention to secure funds for the core team and our efforts.
These images, including our Logo, can also be downloaded from this Google Drive folder.
The Dream and Reality
"In 3 years, a platform that is capable of achieving our mission will be available. In 10 years, there is no doubt in my mind that the mission will have been fulfilled, either by Dev4X or others. When that happens, we will have changed the lives of a billion of the most impoverished and vulnerable children" - Bodo Hoenen - Founder, Dev4X
This is Not About competition
“XPRIZE Foundation has inspired people to overcome some of the most daunting challenges,” Hoenen said. “It does not matter who wins the competition – what matters is our children’s future. That is the real prize!” - Bodo Hoenen - Founder, Dev4X
Early Glimpses of the Power of Global Collaboration
“We are just starting to get the first glimpses of what global collaboration can accomplish,” Thompson said. “We face huge problems as a species, but in environments like Kickstarter and open-source software projects, we are starting to see that we can accomplish amazing things when we work together. The XPRIZEs ask us to turn this power toward changing the world.” – Dean Thompson – Advisor, Dev4X