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Can Startups Transform Education In Developing And Emerging Markets?

Why is this important?

Let’s agree, the education industry is unfortunately not the most rapidly developing one. Often the learning process looks the same as it was 100 years ago. The developing and emerging countries face many obstacles when it comes to improving learning conditions and providing equitable access to quality education.

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In 2000, at the World Education Forum in Dakar, the international community initiated the Education for All global (EFA) action plan. 2015 was set as the target date for achieving these goals. Despite the substantial progress made in some countries, the overall result was poor.

According to the 2017 Global Education Monitoring Report, 61 million children of primary school age do not have the chance to go to school. More than 32 million of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, and almost eleven million in South Asia. According to UNESCO estimates, more than 50 percent of primary school pupils worldwide and more than 60 percent of young people in lower secondary schools are not even able to read at a basic level.

None of the EFA targets was achieved by 2015. Even the fundamental target of ensuring that all children worldwide attend and complete primary school was missed.

Can startups make a real impact?

The answer is YES, BUT. Even though impact investing is a “new hot topic” now, it takes much more than funding to be able to scale in emerging and developing markets. Your team must be strong, your network should be wide-spread and your product/service has to solve relevant problems while being user-centered.

Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education has published a report on the conditions and practices that support positive outcomes of technology use and digital learning experiences for underserved and under-resourced students. Not only does this study provide a number of factors necessary for effective learning but also it shows that no single element can ensure the desired outcome on its own. All those factors within the ecosystem are mutually interdependent. This is crucial to understand both for the entrepreneurs that want to enter new markets and for the policy-makers willing to improve the education system.

To succeed in the new markets one needs to find the right customer segment, says Riku Alkio, founder of SeppoOur experiences from the emerging markets are mainly from Brazil and Colombia. We have also had some gamification workshops in India with very positive results. We have designed Seppo so that it can be easily localized for different cultures, languages, and curricula. I think that it’s a really important feature if you want to succeed. One should also have enough local content to help new customers to get started.

Design your product or service so that it can be easily localized for different cultures, languages, and curricula.

Another technology education startup Mehackit was one of the organizations behind the Codebus Africa project. They visited 10 African countries in 100 days and organized 45 creative technology youth workshops. The aim was to inspire youth to discover and make use of technology in their lives, and empower especially girls to explore technology’s possibilities for their future.

It was great to see our creative approach and workshop content used in a new environment and further applied to local needs by the enthusiastic and creative instructors. Some of the participating teens hadn’t even touched a computer before and in a couple of hours, they had learned the basics of programming! I’d call it a giant leap!” says Heini Karppinen, CEO of Mehackit.

Here, at Code Bus workshop, both language and computer literacy barriers are being broken, as 40 girls in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania learn to navigate a computer keyboard with the help of song and dance. © Roope Kiviranta

New opportunities for EdTech startups in emerging and developing countries

UN Technology Innovation Labs and xEdu Accelerator have partnered up to create a new acceleration program that will help education-focused startups that are developing and providing learning solutions for the needs of the developing and emerging economies.

Under the initiative, titled UNTIL-XEDU Learning Accelerator, the selected startups are able to join the xEdu acceleration program of Fall ’18. The program will include additional tailormade modules focusing on the specific issues of the developing countries and will continue with chosen UNTIL country pilot deployments in the Spring of 2019.

“During the last two years xEdu has been focusing on helping startups to scale-up their education and learning innovations in a sustainable way. This would not have been possible without the help of the Finnish education system, cities of Helsinki and Espoo, nor our main business partners Samsung and Telia. We believe that the collaboration with UNTIL is a great way to empower the startups, and to speed up the global deployment of the best learning innovations. This can create sustainable impact in education,” noted Antti Korhonen, CEO of xEdu.

The application period for the UNTIL-XEDU Learning Accelerator will be open until the 22nd of August 2018, and the program starts already in mid-September after the selection process is over. Concrete results of the first joint acceleration program will be featured in Helsinki at XcitED, the official Slush side-event in December 2018.

Startups can apply here.

About the author

Oles Datsko is Marketing & Communications manager at xEdu, a Helsinki-based business accelerator for edtech startups. Learn more about xEdu by visiting their website and follow them on Twitter

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