Growing up in South Asia, rising fourth-year students Prakash Paudel, Saksham Khosla, and Venkata Shiva Mandala witnessed the conditions that often lead to the inability of fifth-graders in rural India to read or do basic math. “My [classmates] and I have seen firsthand the plethora of issues plaguing education in the region,” said Paudel, a native of Pokhara, Nepal. Khosla and Mandala both grew up in New Delhi, India. Limited access to highly trained teachers, electricity, and the Internet has perpetuated the issue, despite many organizations’ best efforts. This summer, Paudel, Khosla, and Mandala, along with partners rising fourth-year Henry Harboe, and rising third-year Thomas Kreek, decided to take matters into their own hands through their organization LumenEd.
The idea for LumenEd was conceived in spring 2013, when the founders first discussed the possibility of boosting education efforts in developing countries using technology. They wanted to prove that technology-based learning tools could provide children in rural or underdeveloped areas with a quality education and empower the educators in those regions to enhance their teaching abilities. This year, the group received major funding for their initiative from Davis Projects for Peace. The philanthropic organization awarded LumenEd a $10,000 grant for its efforts to spread peace and empower the next generation with education. Additionally, they received $1,500 when they took first place in the IdeaLab portion of the LaunchU Pitch Competition in February, and additional support from the Bonner Center for Service and Learning.
Once they decided on a direction, they wasted little time shaping their idea into what would become LumenEd. They began designing a device with speakers and a projector that could display audiovisual educational content to an entire classroom. With a $600 Creativity and Leadership grant from Oberlin College, LumenEd first tested a prototype last summer in an after-school program for underprivileged children at the Sanskriti School, New Delhi. The trial run went well. The partners discovered that their prototype’s display abilities and educational content effectively engaged the classroom, proving its value as a learning tool. Riding on the success of their summer pilot, the founders were joined by Kreek and Harboe.
LumenEd is currently bringing a newly designed device, dubbed the bright orange box, to nine schools across New Delhi and the surrounding regions. Unlike education programs that rely on expensive classroom materials and highly trained teachers, or initiatives that provide equipment that does not work in underdeveloped areas without electricity or network infrastructure, LumenEd circumvents the challenges posed by entering rural or remote areas with technology-based education programs.
The bright orange box is portable and small, but it packs a punch, supporting a range of uses. It consists of a personal computer the size of a credit card, a projector, and speakers for displaying audiovisual content to an entire classroom. A built-in camera and microphone will allow the class to record videos to send to pen pal classrooms across the world. The device comes with a solar battery kit, which eliminates the need for electricity. It runs software that is intuitive to use and comes with open-source educational content on a flash drive that can be traded by mail for different curriculums, ending the need for updates via the internet.
LumenEd has partnered with Teach for India and Asha for Education, two leading education NGOs in the region. The organizations have connected LumenEd with their network, teachers, and schools, and LumenEd brings its equipment and materials. “The organizations have been very cooperative, helping us out a lot, and the teachers are very friendly and willing to help our project. It’s been a great experience so far, and we've learned a lot,” Mandala said.
Not only does this partnership bring customized educational content to students in rural schools, it provides support and resources to teachers, opening a line of communication between educators around the world. LumenEd’s founders won’t just address the problems of children in nine schools; they aim to improve India’s education system as a whole.
LumenEd recognizes that substandard primary education isn’t limited to India, and it doesn’t plan to stop there. “The number of children lacking access to quality education worldwide is rather stunning, and in a world increasingly driven by knowledge, nationwide education is an important step forward for many countries,” Mandala said. Based on the feedback it receives, the organization wants to grow as much as possible, planning to place bright orange boxes in Ghanaian schools by January 2015, expand to South American schools next summer, and link these schools with pen pals in the United States.