One-line solution summary:
Increasing equitable access to remote, offline, interactive STEM learning experiences that help children solve community-specific problems and build resilience.
Which Challenge does your solution most closely address?Equitable Classrooms: How can all young learners have access to quality, safe, and equitable learning environments?
Pitch your solution.
Online courses have made high quality education available to anyone with a smart device and an internet connection. But many Ugandan children have limited access to both of these, and limited access to school. According to 2016 World Bank data, only 35% of enrolled Ugandan children persist to the last grade of primary. In poor families, school fees often push children out of school. Additionally, domestic work frequently keeps children, especially girls, from attending school consistently.
Yiya AirScience delivers high quality, interactive STEM lessons to Ugandan children through technologies that the majority have at home: radios and keypad phones. We send content via robocalls and sms prior to live lessons on radio. During lessons, the teacher asks questions and assigns at-home experiments that use resources readily available. USSD allows learners to interact with the content. All responses feed into an online database, which tracks participation and sends feedback to users via SMS. The combination of audio and text is inclusive for low-literacy learners. Participation is also asynchronous: children and their parents use keypad phones to access lesson recordings and respond to lesson prompts at any time. This solution presents an unprecedented opportunity to impact the entire educational landscape in Uganda.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Lira, Northern Region, Uganda
Our solution's stage of development:Pilot
Is this a new solution, an existing solution, or an adaptation of an existing solution?Adaptation of an existing solution
How does your solution incorporate research?
Yiya AirScience has 3 components: experiential STEM curriculum, flipped classroom mode of instruction, and accessible remote content delivery (via radio, robocalls, SMS, USSD, and IVR). Each component was designed based on research.
Our curriculum is anchored in experiential learning theory (David Kolb), which states that true learning is created through the transformation of experiences. Research shows that experiential learning helps students engage more meaningfully with content and retain information better, increases motivation, and promotes critical reflection. Findings are especially robust in STEM subjects with underserved students. We use the engineering design process to show young people how to apply science and math concepts to design technologies that solve local community problems. Research shows that the younger a child is when exposed to STEM projects, the more likely they are to pursue a STEM career later in life. We increase learner competencies, appetite for STEM, and scientific curiosity through hands-on projects where students make technologies such as solar food dryers and hand sanitizers!
In a flipped classroom, students engage with content individually before class; then instructional time is spent applying the content. Research shows flipped learning increases student attendance and engagement. We send robocalls and SMS previewing lesson content before each radio lesson, then during the lesson students and parents apply the content together in hands-on activities and games.
According to the BBC, 87% of Ugandan households own radios and 74% have keypad phones. These are the only tools children need to access our program. Our target was 10,000 users in our 3-month pilot. Instead, we had 20,000+! Over 7,000 children respond to lesson questions via USSD during our radio lessons. In our pilot, 75% of users answered 70% of lesson questions correctly. We continue to collect data to evolve our model to be responsive to user needs.
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Samson Wambuzi, Yiya cofounder: physics teacher, creative designer & passionate teacher trainer!
What makes your solution innovative?
Our solution is innovative because it provides remote education in low-resource contexts that allows for bilateral interactions between teachers and students, and offers maximum flexibility to learn on their own schedule. The USSD is accessible any time. Radio lessons are repeated several times and available via recordings stored in IVR, providing crucial flexibility for children who often help with farming and household chores. USSD turns a passive listening activity into active learning! USSD also allows us to monitor user engagement. We use platform data submitted via USSD to create data-driven instruction, which makes our platform agile and responsive to student needs. When few students respond correctly to a USSD question, we re-teach that content. When students give feedback via USSD that they can’t find materials for a certain activity, we re-design that activity.
Not only are we the first to provide truly offline remote interactive STEM learning experiences, we also empower children to become the innovators and problem-solvers their communities need. Our lessons instill personal agency in children at an early age and foster lifelong interest in STEM. Yiya’s students have made technologies such as hand sanitizers, gravity-powered reading lights, bicycle-powered phone chargers, and solar food dryers!
Because we are building the backend design of this platform, we can license it to distribute educational content from other providers, eventually assembling a well-rounded offering that extends beyond STEM. Our model is unique in its affordability: $1 per child per week! Licensing our platform will generate revenue to further decrease costs.
What is your theory of change?
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries do you plan to be operating within the next year?
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?
In the next year we will develop partnerships to reduce program costs, finalize a platform that can be licensed in the near-term to offset program costs, and further develop our backend technology. This will make us an attractive remote education solution for partners so we can scale the program across Uganda. We will also leverage findings from our pilot that parents are engaging in AirScience lessons with their children, to more intentionally develop content that supports parents to work with their younger children to learn and encourage STEM as a family.
In 5 years, we will leverage our scale to build a partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Education, in order to distribute the national curriculum to all out-of-school Ugandan children. Through that partnership we aim to have an impact on changing the national curriculum and making it more interactive and learner centered. We also hope to further enable localized solutions in communities through applied STEM education and empowering the next generation.
We expect that as Yiya expands, it will transform what it means to attend school and be “in a classroom,” which will lead to a massive reduction in numbers of out-of-school children. Families will see the value of education and children have foundational skills to begin overcoming financial barriers.
A long-term goal for our platform is to create a national educational database in which children and their families can access an educational account that records classes they’ve taken and skills they’ve learned, a remote offline digital academic portfolio!
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Financial: Funding required to meet the massive need that is already expressed via our 26,000+ registrations! Additionally, the funding to scale to all 20 million Ugandan children under 14.
Technical: SMS and USSD have tight character limits that push us to be creative (and succinct!) in our content development. USSD is text-only so we can’t send/receive pictures to further support students. USSD is structured to be one account per user/sim card. In our pilot, we discovered that many phones are shared between multiple children. We have faced challenges in disaggregating the responses of multiple users when they are responding via the same phone/sim card. Data analytics tools best suited for Yiya AirScience are not tailored to nonprofits e.g Mixpanel.
Cultural: We have struggled to enroll an equal number of girls as we have boys. We have designed so many parts of our program to be especially appealing/convenient for girls (accessing lesson material at any time, featuring recordings of local female students during lessons, having lessons facilitated and recorded by female teachers), but the demonstrated interest of girls in our STEM program is still not equal to boys’, although it is higher than national averages for female students’ interest in STEM.
Market: Our brand in the educational ecosystem in East Africa is not well-established, even though our solution is groundbreaking! This has been a challenge in building partnerships with development partners who could fund us and with corporates like telecoms who could provide discounted services that would drastically decrease our costs.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
Financial: First, we will license our platform to generate revenue to cover program costs so we can continue to scale. Once we have 100,000+ users, we will build a telecom partnership that allows us to receive discounted services in exchange for providing deeper market access (and creating brand loyalty of future customers!). Once we reach 1 million users, we will partner with the UG Ministry of Education to distribute the national curriculum to out-of-school children, the government will then pay for our program.
Technical: We are developing the ability to have multiple accounts under 1 sim card, so a parent can register multiple children in a single “family classroom.” Each child will have their own ID number through which they access the system. Then we will be able to track family classrooms of users as well as the progress of the individual children in those classrooms.
Cultural: We are building mentorship partnerships with Dubai Cares and the Forum for African Women Educators (FAWE) to develop a better strategy for outreach to girls. We are also engaging local head teachers of all-girls schools and their teachers to help us in this strategy. We are building a partnership with the Ugandan Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation in order to create a nationwide virtual STEM competition which will increase legitimacy for girls’ parents.
Market: We are working hard to build more partnerships in the sector and get to conferences (and competitions like this one!) where we can share our model.