Digital Superheroes Academy
Teaching critical thinking, life skills, and soft skills to children as “superpowers,” through an open-source application with an engaging superhero theme. This app will be used by vulnerable children (stateless, migrants, economically disadvantaged) throughout Southeast Asia, with all content available in their own languages.
Our solution to this challenge is an innovative app that will teach essential critical thinking, life skills, and soft skills to marginalized populations of children in Southeast Asia, while also teaching them skillful and responsible use of technology. This app will be developed from our existing “Superheroes Academy” program, where a curriculum of 15 life skills are taught to children in 25 urban slums in Chiang Mai, Thailand. These life skills are taught as superpowers – once kids successfully pass each life skill, they graduate as superheroes!
By transforming these life skills into an e-curriculum and developing critical thinking and soft skills through this platform, we will reach many more disadvantaged children with life-saving information for their childhood development and access to essential health, education and safety services, including out-of-school children, migrants, and other vulnerable children. Smartphone ownership is relatively high among low-income communities in Southeast Asia, so this platform will leverage existing technology to reach marginalized children with knowledge and skills that will greatly improve their quality of life and future opportunities.
This app will provide disadvantaged children with the opportunity to learn these life skills in support of their access to health, education and safety (prevention of mosquito-borne diseases, child protection), as well as soft skills that will strengthen their ability to learn and grow (value of learning, diversity over discrimination). By analyzing children’s use of the app through embedded monitoring, we will measure learning achievement outcomes and even determine possible needs for e-learning extensions such as literacy and numeracy.
This scalable project could reach very large populations of children with essential knowledge and positive values that will greatly expand their opportunities to thrive socially, professionally, and economically in the future. It will be possible to replicate and tailor for many different populations of marginalized children throughout the world.
Many disadvantaged children in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia lack access to basic health, education and safety services, and they are not exposed to sufficient opportunities for critical thinking and positive social development.
Marginalized children and youth, including out-of-school children, migrants, and other disadvantaged children, face many barriers for their development and future opportunities, ranging from financial obstacles to lack of knowledge in accessing services. Today, these barriers are well-defined and well-documented, and now tools must be created in order to reach more children with life-saving knowledge and skills.
Why our solution will solve the problem:
This digital platform will overcome the lack of access to basic services, limited social development, and tech literacy gap for some of the most marginalized children in Southeast Asia, as demonstrated by:
- Baan Dek Foundation's on-the-ground years of experience in teaching life skills to 1,000+ marginalized children
- Childhood development studies (UNICEF 2014, https://www.unicef.org/thailan...)
- Studies on life skill education, minimizing risk factors and maximizing protective factors (UNICEF 2003, https://www.unicef.org/lifeski...)
Our target outcomes:
The app will monitor the children's usage and progress through performance and knowledge assessments, which will be used to determine the most effective uses of its content. Project staff will conduct follow-up assessments to determine its impact on the children's essential knowledge and soft skills.
The Digital Superheroes Academy will be brought to scale in order to reach as many populations of marginalized children as possible. It will be implemented by Baan Dek Foundation's Social Workers and Teachers, and also by other partner NGOs elsewhere in Thailand and throughout Southeast Asia, beginning with a focus on migrant children in Thailand.
How we will measure our progress:
The populations we will benefit initially:
The technologies we employ:
Why our solution is unique:
The Digital Superheroes Academy is an app developed from Baan Dek Foundation's traditional in-person life skills program, the Superheroes Academy. The digitized version is an innovative approach because the open-source app will make it possible to reach remote communities with life-saving knowledge and skills via modern information technology for the first time. Moreover, no other e-life skills curriculums currently exist with such regionally adapted content, nor a digital platform for these life skills, soft skills, and other e-learning modules (e.g. literacy and numeracy).
Why our solution is human-centered:
Baan Dek Foundation is strongly committed to providing needs-based support to marginalized communities, as opposed to a top-down approach to support. The content of the Digital Superheroes Academy is therefore based on the needs that our Social Advisors identify through direct support to over 1,000 children every year.
Child Participation is also incorporated into the development of the app's architecture and content. Newly developed teaching materials are shared in the communities and adapted according to children and parents' feedback. This methodology ensures that the material is appropriate and effective in providing essential knowledge to the children and communities.
How people will access our solution:
The solution will be accessed online through our digital application. The solution will be a downloadable and open-source.
Most low-income communities in Thailand do have access to a smartphone, so children and their parents would just need an appropriate introduction to the app in order to access and use it on their own. A small-scale survey conducted by Baan Dek Foundation in 2015 showed that about 87% of participants had access to at least one smartphone in their household.
Partner NGOs that do not have access to tablets / smartphones will be provided with a small number of borrowed devices provided by Baan Dek Foundation or additional partners.
Technology-Readiness Level:4-5 (Prototyping)
How we will sustain our team financially:
Baan Dek Foundation has a broad funding base that includes:
- Institutional donors such as UNICEF, the IMF, and Kindernothilfe
- CSR partners such as Amadeus IT Group and FIFA
- A large base of individual donors who contribute a considerable amount to our annual budget.
Furthermore, Baan Dek Foundation is currently developing a social enterprise which will both 1) provide income to Baan Dek Foundation's beneficiaries in special need of employment and 2) provide self-sustaining funding for the Foundation's activities.
The factors limiting our success:
1. Potential application problems, in terms of IT problems and troubleshooting or in its development stages.
This limitation will be mitigated by hiring well-trained staff, capable of addressing and solving IT issues.
2. Access to a computer, smartphone or tablet.
Baan Dek Foundation will have a small stock of tablets that can be lent to its partners whose beneficiaries do not have access to these tech devices.
How long we have been working on our solution:1 year
How long it will take to develop a pilot:18+ months
How long it will take to scale beyond our pilot:12-18 months
Our expected annual budget:
How much of our budget we've secured to date:
Our promotional materials:
We're looking for partners in these fields:
Why we're applying to Solve:
Baan Dek Foundation is applying to MIT Solve in order to scale up our Digital Superheroes Academy Program and reach as many marginalized children as possible with extremely high-quality essential knowledge and skills. By becoming a Solver, we will leverage our tested and proven Superheroes Academy with MIT Solve's extensive expertise in information technology. We are a very collaborative organization, and this partnership in particular carves out a clear path to high-impact social change.
In a broader context, we also aim to solve the lack of counseling and psycho-social support that other NGOs are struggling to deliver throughout Southeast Asia.
Our current partners:
Baan Dek Foundation is part of the Kids Home Development Network which has 5 member organizations: Baan Dek Thailand, Kids Home America (501c3), UK, France, and Italia.
We also partner with public stakeholders (public schools, health centers) to ensure sustainable support.
Please see Business Plan section for further partners.
- Allison Sanders Research and Partnerships Coordinator, Baan Dek Foundation