Solution Overview

Solution name:

Akunq

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One-line solution summary:

AKUNQ enables student learning and builds resilient home environments by nurturing caregiver capacity through a blended and gamified innovation. 

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Which Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Scalable Innovations for Blended Learning: How can evidence-based blended learning solutions be scaled in low-resource contexts?
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Pitch your solution.

Armenia is known for its scenic landscapes, rich culture, and warm hospitality. But a myriad of challenges face Armenians --- poverty, COVID-19, and the recent war that has terrorized citizens, displaced families, and jeopardized their livelihood. Youth in the region grapple with uncertainty, and lack support systems to learn and heal from trauma. 

AKUNQ, a joint initiative between Kizazi and Teach For Armenia, will enable student learning and build resilient home environments by nurturing caregiver capacity through a blended and gamified innovation. 

A combination of in-person learning workshops and an easy-to-use mobile application will cater to the learning needs of families. 

The digital component will include:

  • Periodic bite-sized activities to nurture relationships

  • Gamified content and experience to motivate learning

  • Data analytics to unpack strengths and areas of growth

The in-person spaces led by trained facilitators will nurture peer relationships and build nuanced skills. 

Through state and philanthropic support, we will bridge the resource gap to ensure all families have access to technology. We hope to scale online content by leveraging internal capacity and crowdsourcing it from the market. 

We believe AKUNQ will prove to be relevant and enduring even in a post-COVID world, to empower youth and their families.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Tavush, Armenia
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Our solution's stage of development:

Concept
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Is this a new solution, an existing solution, or an adaptation of an existing solution?

New solution
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How does your solution incorporate research?

Our solution is based on the vast scientific research and evidence that we have also been using to develop the Seroond School Model (Seroond is a joint initiative launched in 2020 by Teach For Armenia and Kizazi to transform government schools and develop scalable solutions for the state). Some key research elements that we have used to ideate and would continue to use to build and pilot the design are:

1. Role of parents in child’s life outcomes: Our solution is grounded in Attachment Theory research, which argues that a strong emotional and physical bond to one primary caregiver in our first years of life is critical to human development.

2. Adversity and trauma informed pedagogy: In the Science of Learning and Development Trilogy by Pamela Cantor, a convergence of core scientific principles drives learning design for children impacted adversity.

3. Deep learning: “New Pedagogies for Deep Learning” aims to engage students in a deeper level of learning. It instills skills for lifelong learning and makes students creative and collaborative problem solvers who can engage with and innovate for our increasingly interconnected world.

4. Effective and engaging use of technology: Our thinking on the use of technology has been informed by “Rapid Evidence Review of Messaging Apps, SMS, and Social Media,” “On the effectiveness of game-like and social approaches in learning: Comparing educational gaming, gamification & social networking,” and the TUMO Center of Creative Technologies, an after school program in Armenia, that engages thousands of students on topics of technology and design through their unique, gamified learning software. 

As we implement our solution, we will continuously use research, learning loops, and evidence based iterative design processes to improve. We will also collect data both from the mobile app and directly from beneficiaries to track efficacy.

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Katrina Shakarian

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More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Currently, in Armenia there are no applications that support the learning and wellbeing of caregivers and their children at home. Even in other parts of the developing world, most existing solutions are limited to engaging parents in academic activities without targeting the health of the fundamental parent-child relationship. The inbuilt drivers of engagement (gamification, celebration, cues, and curiosity), ease of use (simple interface, offline functionality), and developing and crowdsourcing content in Armenian are also innovative and pioneering features in education technology. Currently, a digital pipeline of contemporary educational content in the Armenian language does not exist.

We believe such an approach could be catalytic based on the science and research on “Attachment Theory” and “Adverse Childhood Experiences and Developmental Trauma Disorder.” Supporting the parent-child relationship can significantly improve the psychological health of children to learn at school or remotely during the pandemic. 

Apart from improving the lives of our direct beneficiaries, we also expect this program to cause a broader shift in local and global education towards emphasizing the role of parents in children’s learning. Using evidence from our work, we will advocate for the Armenian government and other stakeholders to adopt and scale the program. Through Kizazi and GSF’s global network of partners, we would also support other organizations in adopting our solution for their local context. We will make the product open source/ licensed under creative commons for anyone to use and benefit from.

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What is your theory of change?

Children who have secure attachments with a primary caregiver are said to have greater trust, can connect to others and as a result are more successful in life (Ainsworth, 1973; Bowlby, 1969). Children who grow up in poverty and experience adversity are more likely to develop insecure attachments. Insecurely attached people tend to mistrust others, lack social skills, and have problems forming relationships. 

The attachment theory, trauma-informed pedagogy, and practices from organizations like Turnaround For Children, reinforce the importance of the role that caregivers play in a child's development and learning. 

The data from our Seroond Schools pilot in rural Armenia in 2020 indicate:

  • 86.7% of caregivers did not know about socio-emotional learning until they participated in capacity-building workshops at Seroond Schools. 

  • 57.8% of caregivers indicated that understanding socio-emotional learning has helped them identify new potential in their children

Hence, our solution is being guided by our theory of change:

  1. The  blended learning program, AKUNQ,  builds caregiver capacity and encourages positive behaviours by:
    1. Sharing bite-sized and engaging content with caregivers over low-tech mobile platforms for them to communicate, engage, and participate in learning
    2. Facilitating in-person learning spaces to build their capacity to support social-emotional learning for children.
  2. As a result, caregivers engage in activities with their children that enhance cognitive competence (regulation, resilience, attention, memory, life skills), and produce better academic outcomes.
  3. Pilot version is implemented in a set of schools to test, evaluate, improve, codify, and deliver learning outcomes. 
  4. We eventually work in partnership with the government to build the system’s capacity, adopt the proven innovation, and implement it at scale to impact more children and parents. 
  5. In order to continuously improve, we share insights with members of the education community worldwide and invite their perspectives.
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Rural
  • Low-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
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In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Armenia
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In which countries do you plan to be operating within the next year?

  • Armenia
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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

We are targeting five key impact goals:

  1. Improved foundational learning outcomes for children

    1. Year 1: Set targets and measure growth in literacy and numeracy outcomes of children in grades 2-4 based on internal growth and state mastery assessments. 

    2. Year 2-5: Continue to collect and track this data for all the Seroond Schools. Collect the data based on random sampling for other government schools that adopt our solution. 

  2. Improved life outcomes for children: Set targets to measure the improvement in life skills demonstrated by children, collected through TFA’s Student Agency Tool.

  3. Improved parent-child relationships and home environment: Track usage outputs of the tech platform and activity implementation. Measure the improvement in parent behaviours and the parent-child relationship through an evidence based qualitative tool on parameters such as listening, physical interaction, and quality of conversation.

  4. Number of children directly impacted

    1. Year 1: Target ~200 students for impact through our directly supported Seroond Schools.

    2. Year 2-5: Target ~1500 students for impact through the expansion of Seroond Schools, and 8,000 more students through the government adoption of our program.

  5. Number of parents being directly impacted: In 2021, we aim to support ~400 parents/caregivers at Seroond Schools by closing the technology gap with philanthropic support. 

Additionally, for Funding the program: 

  1. Continue to leverage philanthropic support for  Seroond schools

  2. Advocate with the government (local and central), multilateral institutions (ADB, World Bank), and Corporates (Telecom operators) to support the program at greater scale.

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What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

We anticipate the following challenges as we deploy our solution:

1. Parent Capacity: A major barrier we foresee is parent capacity supporting a child’s academic and socio-emotional learning. For parents who themselves have likely not experienced holistic learning or home environments it could be harder to create such experiences themselves. Another challenge will be their capacity to use mobile apps on a smartphone and to drive initial adoption and usage.

2. Resource Gap:  Smartphone and internet data penetration is currently limited in Armenia, and more so in the rural regions. While in pilot Seroond Schools, we would be able to bridge this gap through philanthropic support, This would be a challenge as we scale to more schools over the next five years.

3. Content Development: As we scale, sourcing content in Armenian for multiple age groups, and ensuring high quality could prove to be resource intensive and unsustainable.

4. Sustaining User Engagement:  Sustaining user engagement for any product can be hard and with the context of adversity our parents come from, it would even prove to be harder and hence ensuring parents continue to use and engage the mobile app over long periods of time would be a key challenge to solve for.   

5. Attributable impact on student learning outcomes: While sufficient research proves the correlation between student learning outcomes and home environment, proving attributable impact on learning by improving the parent capacity would be challenging given the limited nature of state assessments.

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How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

1. Parent Capacity:

  • Scaffold the rigour, frequency, and scope of the activities parents conduct with their children. Start small with bite-sized tasks and eventually introduce tasks to build academic and socio-emotional learning. 

  • Ensure the mobile app is intuitive (simple user interface with audio/ visual cues) and can function in an offline mode to reduce data demand. Leverage students and familiar platforms (e.g., WhatsApp) to drive adoption.

2. Resource Gap:  Work with governments and large institutional funders to make the case to deploy funds to bridge the technology gap. Build features for the app to act as an information channel for the government to communicate with the citizens hence allowing us to make a stronger case. Target telecommunication operators to fund the program.

3. Content development:  Crowdsource content and partner with other organizations to create a digital library of resources to complement our in-house content as we scale.

4. Sustaining the engagement – 

  • Build online and offline mechanisms of celebrating success (e.g., clap on activity completion). 

  • Developing features for parents to interact with peers to share questions/successes

  • Gamifying the activities to create a healthy environment of achievement (e.g., streaks of activity completion).

5. Attributable impact:  Leverage qualitative tools such as parent and student survey to measure improvement in home environment and impact on learning. If resources allow, commission a third party evaluation to establish evidence.

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Solution Team

 
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