When it comes to assisting with the education of children in developing countries, programs like One Laptop Per Child only go so far, says Varun Arora.
Arora is founder and executive director of OpenCurriculum, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit startup that is developing an open source platform for education designed for countries where textbooks are scarce and quality teaching curriculums are nearly nonexistent.
“You can give every child a laptop, but teachers don’t know how to teach using the laptop,” says Arora. “There is no content that is locally relevant, no access to higher quality learning materials.”
OpenCurriculum hopes to change this through its open source, searchable platform for teachers that allows them to upload lesson plans and share materials they’ve created to make a profit.
The monetized aspect of the program is a work in progress, says Arora.
The textbook industry is a tightly controlled industry in many countries, he explains. Open content is coming out of the need to democratize educational curriculums and make them available to the millions of people who have no access to this information.
OpenCurriculum got its start in 2011 with a team of six people, mostly graduates from CMU and University of Pittsburgh. Arora grew up in the Middle East and studied in CMU’s campus in Qatar before moving to Pittsburgh and receiving his master’s degree at Pitt. The team is working out of Thrill Mill in East Liberty.
The plan is to target two countries initially, South Africa and Nepal, both of which have a thriving system of affordable private schools. Building relationships with educators in these countries is key, helping them to realize the benefits of sharing and selling educational programs they’ve developed.
Obtaining and providing access to educational programs developed locally is important because of their established success. Once OpenCurriculum gains traction in a country, a satellite office will be established.
“The platform works very much like Wikipedia,” says Anup Aryal, the startup’s self-proclaimed chief evangelist. "The collaborative aspect is key. The time has come for content to be decentralized so more people can purchase and benefit from it financially and professionally.”
OpenCurriculum will offer the same opportunities to public schools in the U.S., especially school districts with limited educational resources. The startup will launch its platform on August 1, 2013 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, allowing teachers to collaboratively create and share materials with one another.
“This is the land of innovation, technology and education,” says Arora of Pittsburgh. “This has tremendous potential here. Our (greater) hope is to localize and partner with local organizations and grass roots communities.”
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Varun Arora and Anup Aryal, OpenCurriculum