Dr. Abhinav Mathur, Founder, Million Sparks Foundation (MSF) speaks about MSF’s plans to scale up operations. MSF is focusing on improving their content and the UI/UX of its mobile application which they believe are key to fulfilling their vision.
By Kavitha Srinivasa
ChalkLit, a mobile app from the Million Sparks Foundation (MSF) is being increasingly sought after for providing conceptual and pedagogical trainings, and in-class resource material for teachers of government schools. ChalkLit is already adopted by the Department of Education, Delhi and scaling fast.
Since we started working in the education space in 2012, we constantly saw the importance of teachers and the need to focus on them for lasting impact on student learning outcomes. In December 2015 we held several workshops with teachers, school leaders, parents, NGO's and jointly identified teacher capacity building as a key focus area. As per the ASER report, there is a shortage of 1.3 Million teachers in India and this is on the increase since 2012. Around 75% of all children in Class 3, over 50% in Class 5 and over 25% in Class 8 are unable to read textbooks meant for the Class 2 level.
While the need for trained teachers and their constant enhancement is of paramount importance in schools, the government faces several challenges to train teachers regularly to update their conceptual and pedagogical knowledge. Moreover, the quality of training is highly dependent on the quality of trainers. This is not consistent because the content used by trainers or their quality is not standardized or updated. Even worse, training sessions are not timed in accordance with the topic taught in the class hence without using the concepts learnt in the classroom teachers tend to forget them till the topic has to be taught.
There are other issues too. The training handouts are provided as hard copies and get lost by the time the topic is taught in class. If at all discussions and groups are formed during the training, they tend to get dismantled post the training sessions. Teachers have to skip school and travel large distances to attend these trainings.
After consultation with various experts, teachers, and institutions MSF decided to leverage technology heavily to create and curate resource material for Teacher Capacity Building. We arrived at a strategy whereby we provide resources for Teacher Capacity Building and enable teachers to connect and communicate with a virtual community on their Smartphones. The vision is to ensure that every child in the world has an access to a great teacher.
The ChalkLit application is also a means for teachers to connect and communicate with one another. It offers a very direct and impactful connect. We have positioned ourselves as a tech-enabled education platform. We have used a Java platform, like any other application this one too has MySQL. While Chalklit, our mobile app works on Android as well as iOS Smartphones, we have also included a web interface, taking into account a small percent of our customers also use browsers on their laptops or computers.
Launched in March 2016, ChalkLit uses an interactive mobile platform to provide bite-sized, curated, contextual and curriculum-linked educational resources for teachers. ChalkLit is free in intends to be free for use by teachers.
The platform is currently in use by close to 5000 teachers spread over 2000 government schools impacting close to 1 Million students across several states. ChalkLit platform was accepted by the Delhi SCERT to power its Online Capacity Building Platform and has been in use since November 2016. It has also started work with the states of Goa and Haryana too.
Designed with a user-friendly interface, ChalkLit has both curated and created content that includes lesson plans, quizzes, worksheets and supplementary content for classroom management.
Training is offered and consumed on the Smartphone at the convenience of the teachers by the state Department of Education.
ChalkLit curates content from open educational resources and has built a framework to provide a lot of convenience for teachers. This framework was built with very valuable inputs from very experienced teachers and they contribute significantly to ensuring the highest quality content and inputs are provided on ChalkLit
The ChalkLit application has three parts:
1) In-Class Resources
In-class resources are resources aimed to assist a teacher to prepare better for her next class. These are tactical inputs for the teacher and is extremely modular. The inClass resources primarily provides the following
Bite-sized, curriculum aligned posts. These posts cover - Recall - Real Life Examples - Distribution of periods - Learning Objectives - Concept - Teaching Methodology - Activities - Assignment - Quizzes - Assessment Strategies
Trainings are topic focused and are for improved Conceptual Understanding (deep concept understanding) of these topics. Trainings span across grades and provide an overview of the topic - how it progresses across classes - what are the core concepts of this topic - what is the history of the evolution of this topic - what are the common misconceptions or doubts which arise - assessment related inputs.
3) Interesting Reads
These are interesting reads which collate the latest and the greatest news, ideas, techniques, tools, around teaching pedagogy, classroom management, achievements of teachers, life skills etc. The objective is to create an engaging social community of teachers centered around providing them with a lot of information.
All of these three segments are interactive in nature and use a lot of video content and has been structured and visualized for teachers to connect better with the learning needs of the students.
We do not work with Individual Schools as of now. We have partnered with the department of education of the state and work with them as partners in their teacher capacity building initiatives. Currently, we have teachers from close to 2000 schools on the Chalklit platform. Our platform is free and open for all except that the state-sponsored trainings are available only for teachers registered for those trainings. Other than Delhi, we have made a beginning by entering into a partnership with the state governments of both Haryana and Goa and some initial trainings have been conducted.
The trainings are developed in partnership with the states. We work with experienced in-service teachers and use their inputs to ascertain the focus that our trainings and course material should have. They also help us with helping teachers undergo the training and clearing any doubts that the teachers raise while undergoing the trainings.
The training programme is already on and so far close to 1500 teachers have been trained and a total of close to 5000 teachers are using this platform. India has more than 10 million teachers. We have made a beginning with offering trainings in English and Math. Science and Social Science are also on the agenda.
The founders of Million Sparks Foundation are both PhDs from IIT Delhi and have a close link to academia and several members of their family in the teaching fraternity. This exposure has led us on and we have understood the importance and impact that teaching has on education. Sensing a gap in the way teachers are being trained, and after several discussions with close to 100 teachers and principals, we decided to create an online platform for teachers to equip them better. This work was done in partnership with Central Square Foundation (CSF), a venture philanthropy fund. Together we shared a vision of building a bank of teacher resource material and the outcome is the Million Sparks Foundation.
We have previously developed 16 textbooks working in partnership with CK12.org, a California-based non-profit organization established in 2007 by philanthropist Neeru Khosla and Murugan Pal to support K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. This was done with contributions from close to 80 teachers. This content has been made available free of cost for teachers.We have also curated content for subjects like physics, chemistry, biology, and math for CBSE students of class 9-12. This work was done from 2014 to 2016.
In September 2016, the Delhi State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) held a series of deliberations with several organizations that were shortlisted for powering the Online Capacity Building Program. After a rigorous selection process which involved several academic experts, teachers and school leaders MSF was selected by the SCERT as their online capacity building program partner.
The training programme began as a pilot project in December 2016, and from the month of August 2017 close to 1,000 teachers are being offered training on our platform on a monthly basis.
As the philanthropic arm of Google, Google.org supports nonprofit organizations that innovate to address humanitarian issues. They saw potential on our team and the mission that we had embarked upon. and that’s how we have raised a capital of $1.2 million from Google.org. We intend to use the money towards technological enhancements.
A fully automated and a more robust platform will be created using the funds. A full-fledged product development team will be set up, it will also take into account aspects related to scale, personalization, engagement, and security. Secondly, we would like to expand our footprint into other states. We are in conversations with Gujarat, Bihar, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan etc. Thirdly, we also want to improve our platform content and create a better user interface. The UI/UX (user interface, user experience) standpoint will be designed to be more impactful and the platform will be more engaging. The platform will be enhanced to support vernacular content as well.
We expect that the platform will become stable by March 2018, the UI/UX will be stable. A few employees of Google are working with us as volunteers to help improve our platform. The Learning material or content will be increased, and our aim is to reach out to 15,000-20,000 teachers by March 2018. We also plan to use artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate the process of learning and also extend the availability of resource material to students. Information can be gleaned based on the teacher-student interaction, and classroom sessions can also be incorporated. The platform in its new avatar will be marketed on social media. Our aim is to impact 1 million teachers by 2020.