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The peer-to-peer, self-guided learning platform.

Dev4X is an open community project that is developing a self-schooling platform, empowering children to teach themselves and their friends.

Photo of Bodo Hoenen
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There are children that cannot go to school because they live in refugee camps, poverty or conflicts areas. There are some ways the world is trying to address this, mostly by building more schools and training more teachers, but these approaches are too slow, and we are failing these children.

Dev4X is developing an autonomous self-schooling platform that can empower these children to teach themselves and empower them to become the teachers of their peers.

A tablet based platform preloaded with 2+ years of learning, an engaging skills map to explore and social peer-to-peer learning modes to drive engagement and depth of learning. A platform able to run on low cost tablets, charged off solar power, and able to operate standalone, disconnected from the internet and traditional forms of support.

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Photo of Isiah Cristian

School teachers don't really have a PhD. "Instructor" propose they may not. At any rate, that isn't your inquiry. School teachers are significantly less intrigued by understudies who don't do their work and have substantially higher behavioral desires.

Photo of Rahul Savani

Hello Bodo,
what an awesome idea. I really like that it kind of enables students to become self sufficient and work amongst themselves. Also, I really appreciate the fact that the tablets are low powered, and solar powered. it also helps students develop the art to self study any day , any time & also any where where ever they feel comfy with just going online. keep the good work. very impressive way to keep the learning process flowing continuous with ease.

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Thank you Rahul! We have just launched a crowd campaign to raise awareness and support for our open project. Come check it out!

Photo of Rahul Savani

hello Bodo
i have gone through the link and trust me you are simply doing a fantastic work by raising fund for deserving ones.
thank you

Photo of Jarred Myers

Hey Bodo, thanks for this fascinating presentation.

We are exploring similar initiatives to be deployed within South Africa and I wanted to ask you a few questions which are relevant to our context:

1. How do you envision assessment being incorporated into the intervention? (I assume that formative assessment is taken into consideration when selecting which content to deliver based on the child's historic performance).

2. Is there an opportunity for a tool like this to be deployed at a classroom level? (This would obviously reduce the specificity of the content delivery, but within the developmental context there are usually large groups of deficit learners who would benefit from scaffolding the curriculum as a group).

3. I think that it is a bold approach which you are taking in assuming the unavailability of a teacher, however in many failed educational institutions students don't learn not because a teacher is absent but because the teacher who is present is ineffective for multiple reasons- as such I believe there is a strong use case for a teacher/facilitator role who could coordinate usage of tools such as yours and probably increase the effectiveness of the intervention- in short, have you considered integrating the tool into a teacher-less classroom with adult facilitation?

I ask these questions with an intention to deploy a suitable solution and if you or any other readers believe you could add value to above scenarios it would be great to connect and discuss the art of the possible.


Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Hello Jarred

(Answer part 1)

Apologies for a long winded answer, but to answer these questions, you will need to understand where we are coming from and some of the backstory:

South Africa is close to my heart, that is where I grew up and spent the first 18 years of my life. It's also the inspiration that started me down this road. My traditional schooling in South Africa was poor, the teachers I had were all great people but their hands were tied behind their backs in many respects due to the system they worked in. I cannot remember ever getting a one on one session with the teachers, or anything that was personalized towards my needs, interests or specifically geared towards the future world we were moving into. Even though I completed High School, you could not say that I actually attended it. In fact I only had 60 days registered attendance in my final year. Despite that I still passed through being self taught, and my story is not unique. I see many more kids these days coming out of education not having learnt much within those four walls but rather having resorted to other methods of learning to get through school.

Thinking that Education would get better, I did not give it much thought until I had my daughter 4 years ago. Now living in New York, I see the exact same issues. Crowded classrooms, impersonal instruction and curriculums designed to prepare kids for yesterdays world instead of the future we are moving into. Given my background in entrepreneurship and education technology, I started a side project about 18 months ago to design something for my own kids that I can use to provide them personalized instructions on the things that interests them, but at the same time making it relevant to the real world they will need to know about. A platform that operates as an educational guide that could work alongside whatever educational environment we end up sending them to, be it private, public, homeschooling or something else. This is when I got in touch with some smart folks working on similar projects or on technology that we could leverage in this platform. As we see it this is not a technology problem, or a content problem, it's a people and perspective problem. In fact, if we could mobilize the right resources it would be feasible to not only develop this for our own kids but as a globally scalable solution for all children. It can be used as a supplemental tool within an educational setting, Or as the primary educational tool if a child does not have access to educational support.

Realizing the massive impact this work will have, we started creating a Wikipedia type organization with a strong social impact charter and manifesto. We are developing this platform with our radically open approach, as an open source project that will be free for all to use. Our goal is to empower all those that are talented and passionate about solving this challenge to do so openly, including various for-profit companies currently developing technology and content in siloed structures. We are asking them to instead open up their work and join this effort so that all can benefit —after all we only need a small number to realize the long term benefit and join us for this to work globally.

This is why we have decided to focus on children in the most challenging of environments, instead of, like most others, working on profitable markets first and then trying to backport inadequate solutions when/if their company ever got around to doing that. With our approach, of focusing first on the most marginalized children, when we get it to work for those children, we know it will be able to work for all children, including our own.

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

(Answer part 2)

So to start answering your questions directly:

1. Assessments are a big part in what we are doing. Not only are we intending to create assessments of our own that will directly feed information into the machine learning and recommendation engines, but we will allow others to create assessment modules too that they can produce for the purposes of accreditation and other purposes.

2. Yes, it will be able to be used as a supplemental tool. But with one key concept to take into account. The platform is being designed to be content and curriculum agnostic. The child could 'subscribe' to a particular curriculum —which will then increase the weighting of those particular pieces of content in relation to others— but it will always allow the learner to explore whatever they want to learn. We want to ensure that the learning provided to these children is far more dynamic and flexible than traditional curriculums. Key to our platform is trying to figure out what works best for each individual child, and helping them reach their full potential.

3. I strongly agree with you regarding the facilitator role. This is core to what we are doing, matching those that know something to those that want to learn something. In the real world, after school, that is how we learn, our colleagues, mentors and friends teach us and that is what our platform is being designed to facilitate. In our use case most of these facilitators will be children, moving from the facilitator role to the student role multiple times a day depending on what they are working on. But the facilitator could very well be anyone, including a parent, educator or someone else. Imagining what an environment would be like that has had our platform running for a few years. Suddenly all the children that have been using our platform for a few years would be able to facilitate learning to the beginner learners. At the same time we will be teaching the children, we will be training new teachers. Teaching after all is the best way to learn.

I would really be interested in talking to you further about this. Feel free to reach out to me at bodo at dev4x dot com.

Photo of Amir H. Mazrouei

Hi Bodo,

Regarding the first part of your answer, I would suggest you to look into the ''USA National Education Technology Plan 2010'' and search for the ''Individualized, Personalized, and
Differentiated Instruction'' within the report. There are good examples for each concept for 21st Century's education system and the explanation about their necessities.
What you are doing is great and I am sure your project would have huge impact on your society.
We are based in North of Iraq and are working with the community leaders to answer the educational needs in refugees' and IDPs' communities and will follow the news about great ideas like yours for refugees here.

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Hello Hossein, thank you for the information and the message!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Thanks for sharing the Dev4x project Bodo! The idea of empowering children and communities to teach themselves is provocative. Has your team piloted this project anywhere besides Ethiopia? It'd be great to hear some stories of how communities have responded to the self-schooling platform. I also noticed in your presentation that there is a reference to the one laptop per child initiative. Would be great to know how Dev4x is building on or partnering with this model. Looking forward to hearing more!

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Thank you for the great message. The pilot in Ethiopia was done by the Global Literacy Project in collaboration with one laptop per child and not by Dev4X. We are however working with and off of their research as well as Sugata Mitra's and many others. Dev4X is a community effort started about a year ago that is working towards bringing the individual efforts of many teams together to create something far bigger than the sum of each for the specific purpose of creating an educational solution for the most marginalized. By building something for the children that are in the most challenging of circumstances, like that of refugee camps where there are no schools or the internet, we ensure that it can work anywhere. making it truly scalable, sustainable and world reaching.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Hi Bodo.
Awesome idea! Do you have any knowledge on any logistical challenges that the Global Literacy Project came across during their pilot? I wonder how it will play out in real time when tablets are supplied in a community. Did they encounter any issues around less than communal behavior between youth? What about adults in the community? Did they participate as enablers or were there any conflicts?
Are you considering ways to engage adults in this learning process using the tablets either side by side helping a child, adults being encouraged to engage alone, or child as teacher for a parent/adult? I know of an innovative school in rural Haiti where parents have been so inspired by the education of their children that they have "gone back" and finished their elementary education there. Seems that if an entire community is illiterate, as it was in the Ethiopia pilot, the tools would aid all who engage with them in some way.

A cool example of a learning experience which brings marginalized children together with adults in their environs is "The Mobile School". It is an initiative I read about during the research phase for the challenge here on Child Development. (I wondered when I read of this initiative how it might encourage peer to peer learning as well. Not sure if the planners are looking at that aspect of this project. )

Looking forward to following the development of your project!

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Hello Bettina, I really like the Mobile School project, anything that brings education to these children is a real gift and nobel cause!

However, let me answer you questions in a roundabout way by referring to that example. The trouble with that project, and most other educational solutions currently being implemented into these environments is that it is difficult to scale, and they do not address many other needs like personalization, security and gender inequality. Not only would you need physical resources you will also need trained teachers to accompany the solution.

We are taking a long term approach with the world of 2020 in mind. In five years from now the rapid expansion of mobile computing that is happening in the developing world will have brought low cost Smart devices into the hands of billions. In 2013 low cost devices were about $100, in 2014 they were $70, this year they are $50 and in a few months some $30 tablets are coming out all with significant increases in mobile computing power. We expect that in 5 years time these prices will be below $10 and in 10 years time they will be virtually $0. That is the world we are building towards and why our project is software based. The platform we are designing can be installed onto low cost devices as you would angry birds, except our 'app' does not come with adverts and is truly free. Imagine every smartphone and tablet pre-installed with an open source educational platform ready for anyone to use to learn anything they wanted.

Now to answer your questions, there are logistical challenges but nothing that has not been solved before. We are attracting some of the best minds in the world to this project and have various folks who have worked with One Laptop Per Child, UNESCO, World Bank and the UN, deploying educational solutions into some of the most challenging of environments. And even though we are only a volunteer organization we are getting a lot of great work done, part of which is addressing these logistical problems in the most appropriate way.

I really liked that you brought up the idea of adults being encouraged to contribute and to help teach. In our platform anyone (Adult or child) is encouraged to contribute. This is core to what we are doing, matching those that know something to those that want to learn something. In the real world, after school, that is how we learn, our colleagues, mentors and friends teach us and that is what our platform is being designed to facilitate from the beginning of education to the end. A truly lifelong educational platform that can work in a traditional educational setting as well as in environments where there is no educational support, like refugee camps, conflict zones or in the most isolated environments.

It turns out, quite unexpectedly, that many folks think this project is a good cause and we can no longer just operate as a volunteer project. We are now forming an organization, securing funding to support a core team and pushing this forward with increased vigor. We would love your support!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Great conversation Bettina and Bodo!

Bodo, on a side note you might be curious to check out this post on the Vodafone Instant Classrooms project:

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

The Vodafone instant classroom looks interesting thank you for the share Shane!

Photo of Maurizio Bricola

Hi Bodo nice to hear about the Dev4x great initiative! I have developed a similar solution in Malawi the main difference is that I still believe in the role of teachers especially in primary education. Of course the role will change into learning facilitators, still I feel teachers are essential for engaging children in meaningful learning.
We use a tablet for the students and one for the teachers, and we use the tablet for the teacher to help the teacher growing confidence in her digital skills, developing local relevant digital content and co-creating content in the classroom and outside the classroom with students using pictures, videos, text and drawings.
About the cost of the devices you are totally right, still in my field experience a 30 dollars 7 inches device it turned out to work about 2 hours a day (battery life) and stop functioning properly after 4 to 15 months depending on how it has been used, and the conditions in refugees camps are quite harsh. The internal memory of such cheap devices is also a challenge, normally it is about 512 MB (1GB with some 5 to 10 dollars more) and it gets full very soon preventing the device to work properly. In general tablets pcs can operate without internet, a local network can enhance the classroom interaction allowing the device to connect to each other, share a white board, files and access a educational media content server in the same network (this server could be also very low cost and low power made of a raspberry pi for example)
On the low power and solar powered we can also say that that is quite a standard feature for tablets pcs, especially low cost ones.
It is very nice to see in the last 2 years how many similar initiatives are making an effort to provide digital education to development countries, I wonder why big hardware producers / vendors are not really attacking these huge growing markets.


Photo of Karine Sarkissian

Bodo, what an awesome idea. I really like that it kind of enables students to become self sufficient and work amongst themselves. Also, I really appreciate the fact that the tablets are low powered, and solar powered. I wonder if you could suggest something similar during the idea phase that enhances this program even more. What's missing from this program?

Photo of Natalie Peel

I just made a contribution on a similar topic, but I wasn't aware of Dev4X until reading this. Kudos to you and your team!

Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi Bodo, thanks for sharing what you're working on! Exciting to see that you've already got some conversations started :) Our Ideas phase opens this Tuesday, April 21st – and we'd love for your team to contribute. Hope to see you soon!

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

ok great!

Photo of Francesco Giannoccari

Self-schooling platform sounds great. Achievable everywhere?

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

We are focused on getting it to work in the most challenging of conditions: Poverty, conflict zones, areas where open education is restricted, little to no infrastructure, no internet. If it can work there, then it can work anywhere.

Photo of Tonee Ndungu

Hey Bodo. Super intersting flow here. Seeing your presentations and it looks like we are on the same track though not the same products. Look at and tell me if anything strikes a familiar and collaborative cord :-)

Photo of Sriram Venk

Who pays for it? Or is it handed over Gratis?

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Hello Tonee, well done on your work! Kytabu is providing a great solution to a challenging problem! I'd be keen to explore collaboration in the future! I've connected by LinkedIn.

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Good question, and initially this will be mostly funded through donations, however to ensure ownership we want communities to provide some level of investment into the device, even if this is just a token payment.

Photo of Francesco Giannoccari

Great ;)

Photo of Mirette Bahgat Eskaros

Great tool. I'm actually working with Save the Children Egypt, and want to ask how can we get the chance to pilot this platform with the children we work with?

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

Hello Mirette, please email me at bodo at dev4x dot com.

Photo of Latha Poonamallee

This is brilliant. My concept suggested something similar but your platform operationalizes it very well. My twelve year old son has never been to formal school and is an auto-didact. He uses Khan Academy and Coursera extensively for contact. I would be curious to know how your platform is different. I also second the idea of intergenerational learning. One of the challenges with migration, especially refugee migration is the loss of cultural resources. I think intergenerational involvement in learning would go a long way in sharing and preservation of cultural resources within these communities.

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

I like your concept and the point you raise here and I can relate to your son, I kinda think most kids would be auto-didact if given the opportunity, after all that is how most of us learn in the real world. Thank you for the support!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Bodo Hoenen

oh wow, that is great!