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A $500 ambulance that can connect with any boda-boda to turn it into a safe transport vehicle

A $500 ambulance that can connect with any boda-boda to turn it into a safe transport vehicle

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abhijit commented on Project DEFY (.org) - $500 Self Learning Schools

Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely right. Kids should not be condemned to learn alone in closed room with only a laptop in sight.
However, here kids learn in a physical space with other kids and adults. In fact, they collaborate instead of competing as in usual classroom. As such a far more social learning process than traditional classrooms. Very little time is spent online.
The difference is that instead of having one teacher, you have many - all the people around you who are on their own learning journeys, and those who you learn from via internet. And then you are a teacher for others as well.
Please see the video posted at the top of the write up.


abhijit commented on Project DEFY (.org) - $500 Self Learning Schools

Hello Ashley Tillman ,
and thank you for your comment.

We have done three pilots so far, and have recently started with the fourth Nook (we stopped calling them pilots now :) ). The first two Nooks/pilots were in rural Karnataka in India. The first Nook, in Banjarapalya was started in 2014 and continues to function to date, managed by the local community. Nook 2 was started in early 2016 in Mangalore also in a rural demographic, but one more dependent on farming than Banjarapalya. The third Nook was established in collaboration with Social Innovation Academy and Nakivart in Uganda, at the Nakivale refugee settlement in Oct 2016. Within the period of this challenge, we have also recently established our first urban Nook in Kochi, India.

All these Nooks cater to varying demographics - fringe city workers/labourers, farming communities, shopkeepers, small business runners/entrepreneurs, school-going children, school dropouts, home-makers/housewives, domestic workers, refugees from multiple African countries, people with physical disabilities, persons of old age, etc.

- Creating a Nook
We work with the community for about 8 months when creating a new Nook. We begin with one/two persons who are interested in creating the Nook in the community.
Month 1 is spent in community mapping and understanding the demographic of the community, doing interviews and collecting stories. This month is also used for buying tools and materials and securing the physical space, and for explaining to the people about the Nook to come.
Month 2 is when a DEFY team member visits the Nook, initiates it and runs the Induction program. This program builds a self-learning routine and also helps create processes with the community for self-governance. Many internet resources are shown and lots of projects are built by the learners choosing from these resources and some creatively imagining. By the end of this period, the learners have some idea of things they want to create or learn, and resources where they can begin. The DEFY team member returns.
Months 3-8 are spent virtually connected to the Nook, helping the community maneouver through challenges, handle conflicts and develop specific skills in book keeping and finance management. If the community so wishes, we also help them in establishing an independent organisation and help with any fundraising activities they may want to pursue.

Post this period, the interaction from our end is significantly reduced, the community is mature and able to handle the space. The DEFY team is available on call if a special need arises, but there is not so much constant communication.

- Learnings from the pilots
We have obeserved that people (children and adults) seem to be quite capable of understanding what they need to learn, what skills they should develop in order to tackle their challenges and achieve their goals. Of course this does not mean they predict their learnings for the entirety of their lives, but they do a good job for the more instantaneous requirements. Coupled with tools such as the Internet, an ex-community resource, they are able to also draw inspiration from what is not visible or noticeable within their community.

They made projects in Arts, Sciences, Music, Agriculture, Food etc. They became entrepreneurs or chose a higher education or job that "they were interested in". They never stop learning. Rather they learn how to learn, and are quickly able to build skills that they need in a particular scenario. This ability to "CHOOSE" is important so as to build, as far as possible, a life that one wants and not one that must be kept based on where one is born or how much money he/she has.

We have also seen how different these Nooks turn out to be, based on the differences between the corresponding communities. The projects they do, the outcomes they expect, even the tools they possess significantly change based on the interests of the community. For example, the Karnataka Nooks have a significant inclination towards electronics and technology, whereas in Uganda they are making art and shoes.

I think what has worked is
- creating self-learning spaces "together with" the communities, and not for them.
- enabling communities and individuals to take full control of their learning and the learning space (Nook)
- creating a safe-space for exploration and failure
- bringing communities together to learn, as opposed to isolated learning
- using technology cheaply and effectively to aid in learning and exploration
- and finally, building a low-cost sustainable model for education of quality and context.

We would move forward by helping more and more communities create their own Nooks. We have currently requests from about 25 communities in India, Ghana, Kenya and Greece, who now attempt to raise funds.

Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate Nooks on significant scale, until the concept spreads on its own without Project DEFY.


abhijit commented on Project DEFY (.org) - $500 Self Learning Schools

"This is an interesting concept to democratize learning schools. How might this Idea clearly articulate how to target young girls? Or how does this model uniquely address emergency situations?" + "How are these spaces made safe for girls?"
Thank you for this question. We are very glad that the challenge focuses on making learning safe and accessible for young girls. This has been our focus as well, and we have constantly strived to maintain a 50% non-male ratio. We feel that this is best achieved by making girls/women the leaders and pioneers of the Nook. For example, each Nook needs a Nook admin, who ensures the Nook is safe, operational and manages other details (though is not a teacher). We therefore try to have a female Nook manager right from the beginning. This encourages participation and trust from other girls and families. In fact, in situations where girls and women are pushed down in the social strata, we start with them as the first participants, and let the Nook begin initially as an all girls space, and later invite the boys in. This is a general principle when starting the Nook, to start with those most marginalised.
Another important way in which we attempt at creating a safe space for young girls and women within the design of the Nook, is to create a "community communication". It is important the girls can talk to other girls, and also boys and men, and express freely their concerns. This takes time, and we spend a considerable amount of our 8 month long incubation of the Nook on creating safe communication.
Given that one need not use the Nook alone, but can come in with a group of friends or family, all invited to learn like any other, also ensures the presence of trusted persons around girls to create a better sense of safety.

The answer to Nooks' unique fit in emergencies is part of my previous comment. In summary, it is the flexibility of Nooks to enable and encourage the learners to think about their needs and interests, and create an education path that fits the dynamic context of the emergency, that they may be able to develop skills/knowledge/ideas that help them live good lives. This is especially true for youth, who may need to work soon, even before the emergency has subsided.

"What support do the nooks offer other than Internet and links to Google or YouTube to help build skills? "
Thank you for this crucial question. Internet and resources like Google or Youtube are merely tools. They are but an easy way to access information that cannot be accessed within the physical community one is restricted. The same effect can be produced with Books and Skills sharing (or human libraries), minus the speed promised by the Internet.

The real strength of a Nook is in its ability to create a learning community of local people, with similarities and differences, to help each other create personalised learning outcomes for each individual and that for the community as a whole. This is what has been missing from MOOCs, which has led to extremely low success rates - the isolated nature of such learning. Nooks create a community that "shares its problems, attempts at solving them, provides comfort and friendship and works as a unified identity". For Internet is not a replacement for human interaction which provides for empathy and emotion, both of which are essential for developing a personality and a community.

Besides "human engagement" and "digital access", Nooks provide a "safe space to explore, create and fail". Learners are not called failures if their projects don't work, but are encouraged to try more. They may jump between domains as they like, attempt as many times a project as they like, and make things that are probably not meaningful to anybody else.
Nooks, as pointed out in expert feedback, are excellent "resource centres for sharing tools and materials", a "shared space for events and workshops" and a "hub for creative activity and professions". They can also become a useful help-centre, if need be, to provide aid to the community when challenged with an emergency.

"Is all the learning self-driven and based on information captured online?"
The learning is self driven, but not necessarily based on online information. The Internet is just one of multiple sources for information. Learning is inspired through observation, interaction and experiences. Many projects that the learners make are actually variations of someone else's project that has already been made. Many are new imaginations or inspired by a personal experience. Once a Nook matures, we see more that the learner uses the Internet not so much for inspiration but for specific information that the learner may need to complete a project.
The Internet works beautifully in bringing new ideas and skills into the community. However, once these ideas/skills are drawn in they can be learned from a person who already knows it than the Internet.