My name is Christopher Nutman, I am a Design Engineering Graduate. Whilst conducting research for my final year project, it was both refreshing and motivating to find out how many people are trying to make a positive change in the world through design and innovation. It is something I find great purpose in.
To start, I will give you a bit of background on how I chose my research area. At university, we were introduced to the concept ‘Appropriate Technology’, which was about using our skills as Design Engineers, to provide an ‘appropriate’ technological solution for the developing world. There were many areas we could have designed for including, healthcare, sanitation, cooking, water, education etc. I opted for education. I chose this area, namely because I believe that education can provide the essential and primary foundations for people in marginalised communities, increasing their chances of being able to break from the poverty-cycle. I also believe that education has many applications and doesn’t always have to exist within a classroom.
It became evident through the exploration of the problems identified in my research report, that educational systems in some less economically developed countries fall short of satisfactory. In fact, numerous barriers prevent the population from becoming educated; this holds a positive correlation with the unfortunate social circumstances that materialise in the developing world. On the ground, the lack of education prevents an individual from leading a prosperous life, regardless of the wider effect, leaving them to coincide with the viscous cycle of poverty. Meaning, at least, the reduction of an educational barrier can rebuild the lives of many. Yet, the combination of individual turmoil forms broader, national issues, in the way of poor economic and political standpoints. Thus theoretically, by empowering people through education, not only will the lives of the individuals become enhanced but also the condition of the wider nation as a whole.
“I believe that education can provide the essential and primary foundations for people in marginalised communities, increasing their chances of being able to break from the poverty-cycle.”
Importantly, evidence was found suggesting children in the developing world do have the pre-existing desire and capacity to learn, publicised in the ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment conducted by Sugata Mitra. Education is key to allowing people to fulfil their potential, both personally and as a society. This is confirmed in Prasad’s Indian Independence study, where the increase in educational institutes was a major factor to their development as a country. It is also noted, in order to truly advance their schooling systems, the developing world must embrace the introduction of technology. This initially seemed like a simple enough model. To challenge that, the proposal of technology may incur negative social implications i.e. the technology may not be appropriate for the user, as suggested in an interview with the founder of ‘CloudHead Art’, “this is why many projects fail.”. Leading to the critical thought process that proved it was not so simple to generalise the situation but more appropriate to source the most important barrier and the most appropriate solution, with deeper and more specific consideration.
The key problem areas (known as barriers to education) surfaced somewhat immediately through background reading, though, the issue was ranking these barriers, in order to know which needed to be tackled first or more urgently. A logical solution to this was, through questionnaires and interviews, directly ask experts in the field of education in the developing world, what is the most fundamental barrier preventing these individuals from receiving a quality education?
The cornerstone of the situation is the poverty cycle; 66.7% of educational specialists said that it is the most prominent consequence of an inadequate education and without the opportunity to break from it, the cycle will continue to be “reinforced by lack of education, low income and poor social conditions.”. This was the expected result. Through further research it was understood that almost all of the barriers to education were in some way related to the poverty cycle. For example, ‘education fees’ act as a barrier and are unaffordable due to ‘low income’ families.
Learning that education does not always take place in a structured classroom environment broadened the possibilities for a solution. For example, inventions as simple as a sustainable light source, providing someone with the ability to read after dark, bettered their chances of becoming educated. Therefore, the project became more about improving aspects of an educational barrier, which would in turn alleviate the poverty cycles impact. In my primary research, the majority of participants in the field of education said ‘lack of resources’ was the most substantial barrier, meaning that there simply isn’t enough equipment or material for students to effectively utilise their time spent at school. For example, in Cameroon, one textbook is shared between twelve children.
Consequently, using the principles of evidence based design, I have designed both a system and a product that would enable learning resources to be more accessible. This includes a physical product and a digital platform, considering all aspects from design, manufacture, cost, and the social/cultural/environmental impact. The concept is a resource sharing, charitable, cloud storage system that utilises the wealth of electronic educational resources already available on the planet (such as Word/PowerPoint documents that often sit dormant on school hard drives). These documents will be uploaded by donators and contributors, which would then be stored, filed and verified in the cloud and displayed through a low budget and durable classroom projector. Giving those in need, direct visual access to the bank of donated digital educational material. It will incorporate robust and sustainable materials whilst being powered by solar energy and kinetic means. The name of the concept is: ‘mycloudcoach’.
The developing world is already heading in the direction of distance learning and educational technology but no concepts involve the sustainable method donating digital learning resources in a charitable and ethical manner. It seems obvious to derive this method from the now common-tongue methods of donate, such as money, clothing and food that we incorporate into our societies. Hence, taking the key functional principles from these notions with the intention of delivering a comparable impact.
“the project became more about improving aspects of an educational barrier. This would in turn alleviate the poverty cycles impact.”
In 2018, online giving grew 10.8%. It became clear that there was no longer a need to keep replacing textbooks or aiming to deliver ‘One Laptop Per Child’. Regular paper resources become worn and the students rarely, if ever, get one text to themselves. This could be due to the lack of government funding or the high pupil/teacher ratio present in classrooms in developing nations, for instance in 2012, sub-Saharan Africa had an average of 42 pupils per teacher, suggesting resources cannot accommodate for such large class sizes. Unesco concludes that there needs to be a more logical solution to the purchase and distribution of these resources.
With this in mind, the rich source of information that is readily available, digitally, can now be contributed to our online resource bank, connecting the developed world with less developed nations through an educational and charitable, cloud storage system. This could see development at a more comparable pace to more economically developed countries and ease the pressure on these countries to invest more money into education.
For this to be effective, it is vital that the information donated is filtered before it is publicised, ensuring its appropriateness for the end user, the alteration of language and curriculum appropriateness being primary concerns. Not only could this system support videos, documents and presentations, it could also provide a link between schools from different locations where learning techniques and cultures could merge. However, at first, the project would most likely need to adopt a narrower application and scale up, allowing the concept to grow organically on a route that is guided by the users. A further issue would be that the internet connection must firstly be present and secondly, sustain the file transfer, this could be overcome by sourcing methods of signal boosting such as the BRCK WiFI Hotspot, which has cost implications. In the classroom, the educational material will be displayed through our ‘appropriate’ classroom projector that the whole room can view or interact with, creating an engaging, collaborative learning environment.
It is acknowledged that the aspects of ‘resource sharing’ could have a negative impact on the existing methods of resource production and distribution, this has to be measured. It is the intention that whatever distribution scheme is adopted, the local economy is considered, avoiding any negative disruption to the current climate. To combat this, it is possible that the resources currently used in developing world schools could also be contributed to the cloud system and made available in electronic form, whilst providing a benefit to these publishing companies, without tainting their heritage or business. This alludes to potential partnerships and collaborative schemes where companies could add their documents to the system.
Thank you for taking the time to read the background behind mycloudcoach! What I would really like to get across is my passion for this subject; I truly believe education is the difference. I chose to study education in the developing world because many of the other struggling areas like sanitation, health and cooking can actually rely heavily on educational principles. Ultimately it is all learning…people need to be taught how to do things safely and correctly. Finally, I wanted to do something in my life that shows I care about people, the world and want to make a positive change.