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.
Thank you OpenIDEO team and experts for your invaluable feedback. I will attempt now to respond to the shared feedbacks and the questions asked.
- Core competencies Firstly, we are very glad that the experts appreciate the democratic nature of our solution. The need for a democratic setup is essential to enable learners to have an education that they need, not one that a system wants to dictate. And this has been the challenge to mainstream education formats/curricula, since they can only offer limited choice. The very definition of core competencies varies based on the context one lives in. For example, the core competencies for a child born in an Indian fishing community may include expertise in fishing, swimming, marketting, selling and calculations. A formally set curriculum such as the Indian mainstream fails to imbibe these core competencies since the learner has no choice in the selection of subjects. An argument can be made that a learner must be presented with multiple subjects as options that may fulfil need in the future - such as science, art, history, etc. However, then these are not core, and can be created in various ways.
A Nook is combining together needs and interests. Needs are what determine core competencies one may require to survive and thrive, whereas Interests are what bring that extra that may not seem important at the moment, but may end up defining one's personality or profession. These may not be mutually exclusive either. And since the combination of Needs and Interests of each learner will fairly unique in a given learning group, a standardised curriculum such as in mainstream education do not seem to cause impact, especially in "Non-Mainstream Contexts". We feel that Emergencies fall clearly within a Non-Mainstream Context, where the learners must be able to develop skills that will help them survive and thrive in relatively short time.
Yes a Nook is a wonderful community centre, but our experience with users, many who have not been to formal schools, shows us that it enables creation of survival and a thriving life.
We have had learners at Nooks both in the Uganda refugee settlement and in Indian rural contexts, who have been and not been through formal schooling. Both of such groups were able to develop English skills in relatively short period of time, Mathematical and logical skills. The difference is that they do it on need/want basis and not by default, and hence have varying degrees and subdomains in these areas.
Sustainability - Like most schools and learning establishments, Nooks have operation expenses. However, this is as low as $500 per month in total for 50-80 persons. In comparison, this is equivalent to an junior Govt. school teacher's monthly salary in India. This makes it a cheap alternative to mainstream establishments, while providing a learning system where the learner can choose what, when and how to learn from wonderful educational resources. The way DEFY tries to go about this is by distributing the fundraising effort, and letting local organisations who want to build a Nook in their community raise funds themselves (with our help). The Nook is then credited to the said organisation. While first year expenses are comparatively high (about 12-15k USD), the following years the expense goes down to about 6k USD. We ask the inviting organisation to raise enough for year 1, and then commit for the next 2 years until the Nook is able to generate its own funds through developing local business and entrepreneurship, or though developing itself independently as a non-profit with a donor base. The DEFY team is there to help in this regard. Since the Nook must recover about $500 to be able to run itself, it is not impossible to create self-sustainability. Hence, ideally a Nook will need only three years of funding (a total of about 25k USD) and then be able to finance itself, through various means that come out of the comunity's own need to survive. The Nook developed in Uganda is now a registered organisation, and has its own donor base, while also being able to sell art, shoes and mannequins.