Spark Kits: offline, off-grid digital learning anywhere
One-line solution summary
Our offline, off-grid ‘classroom in a box’ makes sure all children, anywhere can learn literacy and numeracy.
Pitch your solution
Children from ethnic minorities in Vietnam are failing to reach their potential, and a lack of quality learning resources is a crucial factor. School disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic have magnified the gap in education for these children, they need a solution to make up the learning loss now -but also to mitigate the impact on learning of future shocks.
Our solution is a digital 'classroom in a box' – our Spark Kit. Our Elevate app teaches basic literacy and numeracy using gamified learning, while the Library app gives children culturally relevant books to engage them on their reading journey. This solution harnesses the power of technology to overcome barriers of infrastructure, language, and poverty and get quality learning resources into children’s hands, so they can start making up for learning loss now.
We’re creating a library of books for ethnic minority children in Vietnam, along with a Vietnamese version of Elevate, and distributing these learning resources to schools in remote communities on Spark Kits. Our target is to reach 43,000 children this year, 150,000 in three years, and 5 million in five years.
The books in our library will also be available for free on any Android device, so any child, anywhere across Vietnam can benefit – not just ethnic minority children. This will help promote a joy of reading now and equip families to continue engaging their children in learning should future shocks cause disruptions to schooling.
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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Increase equitable access to quality learning opportunities through open sourced, offline, or virtual models, especially for underserved learners in low connectivity environments
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Brisbane QLD, Australia
Is your solution working in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and/or Malaysia?
What specific problem are you solving in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and/or Malaysia?
Without access to quality learning resources, children from ethnic minorities in Vietnam are failing to reach their potential.
VULNERABLE CHILDREN ARE BEING LEFT BEHIND
While Vietnam has delivered impressive boosts to education attainment in recent decades, ethnic minority children continue to miss out. Since the COVID-19 pandemic the gap has widened even further, with 80% of ethnic minority children unable to access learning during school disruptions (via Internet, TV etc). Factors contributing to this inequitable access include poverty, poor infrastructure in remote locations, and marginalisation of ethnic groups.
RESILIENCE AGAINST FUTURE LEARNING LOSS
These factors are not unique to the global pandemic but would serve to restrict these children’s opportunity to learn in the face of many shocks like natural disasters. Addressing these barriers to deliver equitable learning to all children across Vietnam is critical now, in response to the global pandemic, but also to support students’ resilience in the face of future shocks. The challenges faced by Vietnam’s ethnic minorities are also shared by ethnic minorities in other countries in the region, making this a crucial problem to tackle to deliver equitable learning to all.
The remote regions where Vietnam’s ethnic minorities live experience a lack of reliable infrastructure for delivering consistent, quality learning. Many communities do not have a reliable electricity supply, and even more, do not have, or cannot afford reliable internet connections. Families experiencing poverty are unable to invest in the technology their children need to access digital learning, including computers, smartphones and tablets.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
FEW LEARNING RESOURCES
Many ethnic minority families are unable to invest in even the most basic learning resources such as reading books, textbooks and stationery. Few resources, remote location and the pressures of poverty can lead to children struggling to gain literacy in their own language. Most minority languages have few reading materials available, even if families could afford these.
MARGINALISATION OF ETHNIC GROUPS
Children from ethnic minorities face specific barriers to learning that keep them from achieving their potential. Most children from ethnic minorities do not learn Vietnamese at home, but this is the official language of instruction. Most teachers in Vietnam are from the major Kinh ethnic group, and research has shown that there is a common view among teachers that students from minority ethnic groups cannot learn as well as their Kinh peers (DeJaeghere et al, 2021 https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-WP_2021/061). Ethnic minority children need support, from family, teachers and through quality learning materials, to gain literacy in Vietnamese if they are to continue their education.
PARTNERING TO UNDERSTAND NEEDS
Our implementing partner, Save the Children, has been working with ethnic minority communities in Vietnam for 31 years. They work closely with each community to understand their needs and deliver interventions that respond directly to the community’s strengths and aspirations. Save the Children are now responding to these communities’ urgent requests to get their children back to learning before they fall too far behind.
How does the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge?
Vietnam’s remote ethnic minority communities face marginalization in many spheres of life. Children in these communities are underserved in education as they have a lack of learning resources they can access and understand. The factors causing this are complex – but digital delivery holds the powerful potential to overcome barriers of affordability and accessibility. Our solution is relatively low-tech and low-cost to meet the needs of these target communities, who experience higher levels of poverty and low access to digital technologies and basic infrastructure.
Gaining literacy is the foundation to all future learning, and we know that education is a child’s best opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. By focusing on basic literacy and numeracy, our solution seeks to secure a strong foundation for these learners. Our education software holds the power not just to support learners gain literacy, but right now to help them overcome the learning loss that COVID-19 school disruptions have caused – and crucially, to build resilience for these communities against learning disruptions due to future shocks. For example, flooding is a common occurrence in these communities, and in the past with no physical access to school, learning would stop until waters receded, and families recover from any damage.
This solution directly targets underserved ethnic minority communities in Vietnam, but as our solution is scalable and suitable to any context, the lessons learned can inform the future scaling of our solution and other edtech interventions.
What is your solution’s stage of development?Growth: An initiative, venture, or organization with an established product, service, or business model rolled out in one or, ideally, several contexts or communities, which is poised for further growth
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Rebecca McDonald, Founder and CEO
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new application of an existing technology
What makes your solution innovative?
We uniquely bring together a publishing house, technology experts and development practitioners to deliver interventions that disrupt traditional activities in each of these sectors. And because our team members are experts in their field, we deliver to the highest standards, at scale.
Library For All’s Spark Kit was developed following years of field testing, research and peer reviews. Spark takes multiple resources, including software, hardware, EdTech and storage - all previously only available through multiple different vendors, and bundles them into one simple portable kit ready to be deployed to children anywhere.
Each Spark Kit contains a custom-built learning environment culturally tailored and includes:
- Hardware: 40 Android tablets in rugged custom covers housed, charged and networked in one location.
- Software: our Accelerate learning platform including our Library app, Elevate and dashboards, all in an offline childsafe environment.
- Resources: we build culturally relevant and age-appropriate libraries for children – digitising existing books, and where there are gaps working with communities to create new content; available digitally on our Library app, and our gamified, independent learning app Elevate teaches children literacy and numeracy
- Storage: all housed in a rugged military-style case with custom packing foam design to withstand the elements of rugged environments
This solution brings the potential for catalytic impact through our free Library app available to anyone, anywhere with an Android device.
Further, the lessons learnt from this solution will inform more impactful education technology interventions across the region through the Save the Children network and other sector actors.
Have you tested your solution’s approach? If so, how?
After 10 years refining our solution, Library For All is now poised for growth and at scale. We have active projects in the Pacific, Southeast Asia, and Africa of various scales and complexities. To date, we've reached over 410,000 children – but with ambitions to benefit 20 million children by 2030 this is only the beginning.
We’ve tested our solution in all kinds of environments – on the backs of camels in the deserts of Ethiopia, to the jungles of Papua New Guinea and schools in all kinds of climates and remote communities in between.
By partnering with Save the Children– one of Vietnam’s leading INGOs – we gain efficiencies and reduce duplication of resources to leverage greater impact. We’ve tested and proven this model of working across the world and are confident that it is the most efficient and effective model to equip more children to learn.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
Spark Kits use readily available hardware and our customized software to uniquely meets the needs of young learners anywhere.
Spark Kits are a self-contained platform-in-a-box with all components securely locked in the rugged case, which plugs in with a single power cable.
40 x 7" tablets with rugged custom covers
4 x 10 port USB chargers and 40 charging cables
1 x GroundCloud (Embedded Router) with switch and mounted battery power supply
Rugged case with custom packing foam design to withstand the elements of rugged environments
SOLAR CHARGING KIT
2 x 250W Portable-Standing Solar Panel with 10 extensions with rugged waterproof interconnects
1 x 140Ah AGM Battery with Heat Shield
1 x Rugged Power Distribution Battery Box
1 x Waterproof case for inverter, cabling, connectors
1 x 1000W Inverter
LFA Launcher – shows only apps from an allowed list to keep children focused, and unable to access other content
LFA Library app – EPUB book reader with reading statistics logging. The Library app is customized for each country
Elevate – Gamified literacy and numeracy application, developed from Kitkit School
LFA Updater – Utility used to update software/library content on the tablets from the GroundCloud or via a SD-Card.
GroundCloud – includes software to host updates and library content as well as collect statistics for later extraction via USB drive.
Collecting data involves simply plugging in a USB drive and the GroundCloud copies the information. Similarly, a USB drive is used to update content on the GroundCloud.
What is your theory of change?
1. Digitise books and publish to the free Library For All app
2. Adapt Elevate independent learning application to ensure culturally relevant for children. Where includes recording/filming 1,000s of multimedia pieces to be in Vietnamese and culturally relevant.
3. Build and distribute Spark Kits to schools, community centers and other learning facilities
4. Train educators to confidently use digital learning tools in their lessons, including accessing dashboards to monitor student engagement and progress
5. Equip educators to harness digital tools for greater inclusion of girls and children with a disability
6. Raise community awareness of the benefit of digital tools and of education for children, especially in response to the learning loss caused by crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic
7. Raise community awareness of the free Library For All app in support of improved literacy
1. Increased learning resources in languages used by children
2. Greater community awareness of the benefits of digital learning tools especially books
3. Students have regular sessions using digital tablets
4. Teachers are confident using Spark Kits in their lessons
5. Teachers access dashboard data and apply it to improve student progress
6. Families support children attending school
7. Families support their children’s literacy development by using the free Library For All app for reading at home
- Increase literacy and numeracy levels within national context
- Increase their amount of time reading and report an increase in enjoyment
- Report aspirations to complete school
- Improved access to appropriate learning materials
- Support students to read and enjoy reading
- Report improved confidence using digital learning tools in classroom
- Report using dashboard tools to inform teaching
- Increase their amount of time reading
- Report increased enjoyment of reading
- Greater value placed on education, especially for girls and children with a disability
Which target population(s) does your solution address?
What are the key characteristics of your target population?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
Which categories best describe your main EdTech product or service?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
Library For All's impact framework seeks to foster learning environments where children can learn, do learn and enjoy learning.
Access: make digital learning resources available to 7 remote ethnic minority communities
-delivery of Spark Kits to communities
-teacher training to build capacity and confidence to use Spark Kits in classrooms
Utilization: digital learning resources are used by teachers and students in the 7 ethnic minority communities
-dashboard data confirms usage of equipment in classrooms
-app data confirms downloads by the community
Potential: teachers and children report benefits of using digital learning resources
-survey and qualitative data confirm positive impact of edtech on the classroom environment
-an aspirational goal is to promote replication of this approach to non-project schools through evidence of success
What are your impact goals for the next year, the next three years, and the next five years? How will you achieve them?
Reach 43,000 primary school students across target schools in the 7 communities.
- By delivering Spark Kits deployed with our educational software.
By 2024, reach all students in the 7 communities from target and non-target schools.
-Awareness-raising and capacity building, along with sharing lessons learned from our implementation with stakeholders in these communities.
By 2026 we hope to reach 5 million primary school students across Vietnam (60% of Vietnamese students).
-National level awareness-raising of the free Library app, available on Android devices to promote at-home use; alongside advocacy with government and education stakeholders to promote the use of these educational resources in all learning settings including public and private schools and other community centers.
GLOBALLY: EQUIP 20 MILLION CHILDREN TO LEARN BY 2030.
Our operating model is designed for scale:
-our hardware and software solutions have been refined over the past decade to be best suited to the needs of our target population, so we are not “redesigning the wheel” for each context
-rather, we have designed our solution to be suited to most contexts and to be flexible where variation is needed. We can implement using our hardware and software, or a combination of these. For example, we can implement our software on BYO devices where a school system has already invested in hardware.
Implementing in Vietnam is a crucial step up in the size of population to test and refine our model.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your impact goals?
Describe these barriers as they relate to your solution. How do you plan to overcome them?
The remote communities we’re targeting face significant barriers to accessing internet, electricity, and technology in general. This lack of access means these communities hold low digital literacy. While most children are almost eager to engage with technology, we have found low confidence from educators and parents is a major barrier to success. Our training assumes low digital literacy and specifically works to boost the confidence of educators and parents in using digital education tools.
We have designed our model to seek philanthropic support, seed funding, and institutional donor funding towards the catalytic initial investment in new culturally relevant educational resources. This requires securing this funding so that in the long-term we can deliver sustainable educational resources to schools, and free resources to homes.
Once we have localized Elevate and created a Vietnamese Library the cost to access is extremely low:
-$0 to access the Vietnamese Library through the Library For All app, for families/educational institutions with Android devices
-$7 (US) per child through our Spark Kits, based on a school size of 800 students. This is the one-off cost of purchasing our hardware, which will serve future cohorts for $0. Evaluations have shown >99% of tablets in SE Asia are in full working order after 2 years
Ethnic minority children face discrimination at school, where most teachers are from Vietnam’s major ethnic group. Improving education outcomes requires behavior change from educators, and across society at large. Further, some ethnic minorities have no written language – a major barrier to achieving literacy.
Please provide a brief history of your organization. What was the motivation behind starting your organization and/or the development of your solution?
Today based in Australia, the catalyst for Library For All was a disaster of epic proportions over 15,000 kilometers away. The year was 2010, and Haiti was hit by a destructive earthquake. Library For All Founder and CEO, Rebecca McDonald was so moved by the footage of large-scale suffering she relocated to volunteer on community projects. Rebecca saw classroom after classroom filled with hundreds of children but with no books. As a keen reader of e-books herself, the idea for an accessible, culturally relevant digital library hit her like a lightning bolt. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the past decade, we’ve learned many lessons and our products have evolved in response – for example, we now provide integrated solar charging kits for communities where electricity may be unreliable (but the sun is not!). Our team has grown to meet the demand for our proven solutions, and we are working with more and more partners eager to harness the power of technology to educate more children effectively and at scale in low-resource communities where education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty.
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
- 20 full-time
- 4 part-time
- 5 others (engaged as staff of partner organizations delivering our projects in-country)
How long have you been working on your solution?
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
We are a global team of authors, illustrators, designers, curators, developers, and entrepreneurs, with a passion for improving the lives of children through technology enabled learning tools.
Library For All Founder and CEO, Rebecca McDonald was moved by images of suffering after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, relocating to volunteer on community projects. What affected Rebecca most in Haiti was seeing classrooms with hundreds of children that had no books. As a keen reader of e-books herself, the idea for an accessible, culturally relevant digital library came to Rebecca. As a result, Library For All was founded, giving children around the world access to books and knowledge.
Rebecca is supported by a team of passionate and professional changemakers, experts across technology, publishing, program development and business development. Library for All boasts a team of in-house publishing and content experts, including a Specialist Librarian, who draw on years of experience to ensure high quality appropriate children's books. Our innovative technology is led by our CTO with over 20 years of experience in driving new technology and leads a team of specialists across app development and product management.
Whilst many of the team draw from experiences working in communities across the globe, including the Pacific, Southeast Asia and Africa, our in-country work is delivered by local program staff. This ensures our success by providing a deep cultural understanding and firsthand feedback of program implementations across the communities in which we work.
Provide an example of your Team Lead’s ability to conceptualize and implement a new idea.
We exist because of our CEO and Founder, Rebecca McDonalds’ ability to conceptualize and implement new ideas. It was Rebecca’s vision to get books in children’s hands anywhere, using the power of digital technology that led to the creation of our Spark Kits.
It has also been Rebecca’s vision to leverage our digital hardware to deliver greater impact. To this end, Rebecca has led the creation and deployment of our gamified, independent learning app, Elevate. Using her extensive industry knowledge, Rebecca saw the potential to build on the freely available Kitkit school code created by Enuma through the Global XPrize.
Elevate updates Kitkit with several features essential for classroom deployment including multi-profile capability, child-protection compliance, dashboards for all activities, and communication with our GroundCloud for data collection. Our team has re-engineered the internal app structure to reduce the application's memory footprint so it runs on low-cost devices like those in our Spark Kits.
Our goal is to deploy Elevate on Spark Kits, alongside our digital libraries, so that children can also gain basic literacy and numeracy. Rebecca’s ability to lead from conceptualization to implementation also includes securing AU$1M in philanthropic seed funding to create and pilot Elevate in the Pacific.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
In the Pacific and Southeast Asia, we work with major development NGOs who are delivering multi-million dollar education projects, most of which have significant funding from the Australian Government. These partners include ChildFund in Laos and Timor-Leste, World Vision in Papua New Guinea, and Save the Children in Vietnam, Bhutan, Myanmar, and the Solomon Islands. In Kiribati, we are a partner in the Kiribati Education Improvement Program (KEIP) administered by Tetra Tech on behalf of the Australian Government. In Bhutan, we are delivering accessible content for UNESCO.
For all projects, we engage with the relevant Government Ministries of Education in each country and seek to positively influence policy developments so that all children can have equitable access to education resources.
Partnership is at the heart of everything we do and therefore, in 2020, we partnered with Save the Children Australia as a Social Enterprise, We’ve maintained our independence but gained new opportunities to scale through the global Save the Children network, greater organizational capacity with access to Save the Children Australia’s back office functions, and expert mentorship from a global leader as we seek to scale our solution globally.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
Like many of our peers, securing the resources (funding and time) to monitor our impact and share these findings for the benefit of the wider sector is a continual challenge. With support from this challenge we hope to embed impact measurement in our projects and to share our findings widely with interested actors, to improve the delivery of digital education solutions across the region.
Our digital solution means we can gather extensive data on the usage of our education tools. As we scale, we hope to use this data to build an evidence base for our work and assess contributions towards global impact. Complexities here include integrating with national and international education standards and measurement tools.
Our two revenue streams mean we seek to leverage networks both for securing grants and seed funding, but also for sales of our edtech resources. Once our resources for Vietnam have been created we will seek to engage sales markets for these resources in Vietnam, and neighbouring countries with overlapping language demands.
Other challenges in this space have included shipping costs and delays due to the global pandemic, and in general the feasibility of delivering relatively small amounts of materials to remote locations.
Ms Sarah Gray Library For All