Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Each initiative is an experiment in the use of challenges to focus innovation on making an impact. Individual challenges address some of the same problems, but from differing perspectives.
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Saurabh Agarwal of Deeper Learning Innovations Private Limited in India will build an interactive, digital teaching platform using advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence algorithms to enable teachers across the globe to more effectively teach life skills to every child. Teaching standards in developing countries suffer from limited access to quality content, restricted teaching methods for teachers, and a lack of ways to transfer knowledge and skills to other teachers and parents. Life skills such as problem solving and communication that are needed to address 21st century challenges such as health, wellness, and gender equality are far better learned by experience and reflection, rather than reading and lectures. They will build the platform and incorporate life skills modules designed by learning experts and teachers containing multi-lingual and contextualized content for global access, a teacher's discussion forum, and a module designed by teachers to help parents support their child's education. The goal is to make the platform freely available and accessible to all teachers across the globe.
Hans Brunner of Value Spring Technology, Inc. in the U.S. will build and test an artificial intelligence (AI) tutor to teach the scientific method and critical thinking skills to individual students at their pace and level. All children learn differently but one-on-one lessons are often prohibitively expensive or unavailable. To address this, in collaboration with two non-profit teaching institutions, they will adapt their AI software for education, and build and train an AI tutor, Ali. Ali will be designed to produce natural sounding language to engage students in conversation involving open-ended questions and answers that stimulate critical thinking, which is based on the Socratic method. Students will be taught at their own pace and level of understanding, and Ali will be built to ensure each topic is fully understood before starting the next. They will engage teachers to test and critique their AI tutor approach and to evaluate its teaching performance.
Yen Verhoeven of the Paragon Learning Research Group in the U.S. will create a digital platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs) and a supportive online community of professionals for kindergarten to sixth grade teachers to transform their teaching practices and bring STEM and 21st century skills to their schools. MOOCs were developed as a means to provide free education to everyone. However, their content is typically restricted to videos and reading with little interactive learning, which is inadequate for teaching life skills such as critical thinking and creativity. And encouraging teachers to adopt new teaching practices requires additional professional support from peers and mentors. To address these issues, they will work with teachers and teaching experts to formulate a new MOOC design containing a variety of instructional resources and free professional development classes and develop a beta version of the online community platform. They will evaluate the course by teaching it to local K-6 teachers and gathering feedback to refine the content.
Henry May of Coschool in Colombia will develop an integrated teaching course including in-person boot camps, mobile learning, and online communities, to equip teachers with advanced skills and tools to promote the wellbeing of themselves and their schools and communities. Teaching 21st century skills can help bridge the wide achievement gap between urban and rural communities in Colombia, and also help peace building in post-conflict territory. Their method focuses on five skills: growth mindset, self-awareness, empathy, critical thinking, and grit. To promote teaching of these skills, they have designed an integrated course that involves a six-hour boot camp for effective face-to-face teaching of large numbers of teachers; a twenty-hour course on a mobile, gamified platform; and monthly webinars for small groups with workshops and interactive learning. They will create the new course content and evaluate it by running the program over nine months with 1,000 teachers in five regions in Colombia.
Sara-Christine Dallain of iACT in the U.S. will train refugee men and women to become skilled and empowered teachers who deliver early childhood care and education to support the social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children in refugee camps. Over 11 million children have been forced to flee their homes, challenging their ability to reach their full potential. Many lack the tools needed to adapt to the uncertainty of their present and future. Their program, Little Ripples, is a refugee-led, culturally-inspired, and cost-effective early childhood education program. It provides training for teachers to incorporate skills of empathy, leadership, teamwork, and creative problem-solving when teaching pupils to create an environment that fosters peace, imagination, and connection-to-culture for refugee children. The curriculum has been developed by experts and is adaptable to different contexts, and the program can be led and expanded to other regions by the teachers themselves. They will implement and test their program in refugee communities in eastern Chad, Cameroon, and Greece to evaluate the impact on refugee children.
Romeo Rodriguez of World Possible in the U.S. will use their massive open online courses (MOOC) to provide teachers with advanced practical skills and tools such as inquiry, teamwork, and self-directed learning, to transform teaching and improve student performance in developing countries. The online course also works offline using their low-cost community hotspot. They will implement the courses over twelve months across 15 offline public middle schools in Guatemala and evaluate its impact on teaching methods and whether this can be enhanced by offering additional three-day in-person training. They will also partner with the Ministry of Education and a respected local university to create a digital certification to further motivate teachers to take the course.
Malcolm Mooi of the Dr CL Smith Foundation in South Africa will further develop their common online platform for teachers, which provides training, materials, and support to improve the quality of teaching in South Africa. Teachers are the number one drivers of learning in schools, but there is a lack of curriculum and holistic support for teachers in many countries, which has a direct, negative impact on student performance. They will use a variety of mathematical and technological approaches to refine their preliminary platform by adding new features to improve user experience and work to grow an online community of educators and organizers to attract more users. The performance of the platform will be measured by analyzing growth and user engagement. By exploring opportunities to connect the platform and associated data with education councils and corporations and unlock added value for teachers such as rewards and discounts, they aim to elevate the status of teachers in society and further improve teaching quality.
Anthony Kolozetti of My School ROCKS in Canada will develop an educational music application for schools that combines collaborative technology with the universal medium of music to help young people succeed academically and acquire 21st century skills such as mindfulness, stress management, resilience and empathy. Growing numbers of students are suffering from unhappiness at school, experiencing daily anxiety and stress. To address this, they will exploit the synergy between music, education, and mental wellness by creating a platform where students can easily write, record, mix, and share curriculum-based music projects. They will consult with professionals working on neuroplasticity to identify lesson types that have optimal effects on the brain. They will then bring together artists, mental health professionals, technology experts, students, parents, and educators to identify goals and use them to create lesson plans and resources for social emotional learning, song-writing and artistic performance, that can be digitalized in an application. They will also integrate modules that enable students to create their own music-based projects, which can become school-wide performances, without the need for trained music teachers, to showcase songwriting, musicianship, and collaboration. They will pilot test the project over five months in diverse school communities and measure its academic and social impact using surveys and interviews.
Hira Zainab of Knowledge Platform Limited in Pakistan will develop a 'Birds and Bees' program to enable teachers and students from underprivileged schools in Islamabad, Pakistan to design and build bird feeders and bee colonies in order to nurture birds and bees and to market honey. Pakistan is home to over 700 species of birds and fauna that can support substantially increased national honey production. They will recruit pilot schools and work together with the teachers and students to research the local bird species in order to design effective bird feeders. They will also design online and printed material that teaches students about nature and science and how to nurture and attract birds and bees and extract and market honey under a social enterprise brand. They will also produce videos to build a community of nature lovers and problem solvers to help teach others about the program.