As schools around the world closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, education technology went from being a tool for the lucky few to an absolute necessity for many. Teachers and parents have quickly pivoted to online learning, but that means access to education now depends on technology and connectivity at home. For many communities, those resources are still out of reach.
In Brazil, one-third of students’ households have no internet connection; in rural areas, that number climbs to 51%. Even in connected households, half have no computer and must rely on mobile phones with low-bandwidth connections. These inequities in access are magnified by the COVID-19 crisis keeping learners at home.
To help communities in Brazil through this challenging time, Imaginable Futures has teamed up with the Lemann Foundation to establish an emergency relief fund. Each organization has committed up to USD $500,000 to support learners’ access to high-quality curriculum, along with infrastructure development, like technology platforms and applications, that will have a lasting and long-term impact on learners and their school communities.
The relief fund is a natural fit for Imaginable Futures and Lemann Foundation together. Our collective mission for this project is to focus on the whole learner, their family and community as well as the educational policies that support the schools they will return to. All of these areas have been fundamentally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. To hold ourselves accountable to our mission — placing learners and educators at the center of our decision-making — we created an advisory board of 20 public school teachers and leaders from across Brazil. The board meets virtually to offer valuable perspectives on the solutions we are developing and funding together.
This relief program funds planning and production of quality online content, activities and study plans for learners directly from teachers and experts. Nova Escola, for example, has prioritized a selection of core competencies from the national learning standards; this analysis has served as a backbone for other emerging solutions and is already supporting learners in both public and private schools across Brazil. The fund has also financed development of AprendiZAP, a free, WhatsApp-based learning platform for students grades 6 through 9. More than 30,000 students accessed it in the first week of its release. And the nearly two million students of Minas Gerais will benefit from a digital app called Conexão Escola that hosts remote classes statewide.
The fund also supports new infrastructure, which clears logjams in digital access as we continue to advocate for telecommunication networks to provide free mobile data for students and parents. These improvements will support more equitable access to education far beyond the urgent current need.
In Brazil and around the world, this time of crisis has shined a spotlight on edtech’s capabilities and possibilities, but these tools are only as valuable as they are accessible, affordable, relevant, and supportive to the learners who need them most.
Because we know the importance of supporting the teachers and leaders implementing these solutions, we're also offering strategic, operational and educational support to ten public school districts across the country, helping administrators to develop remote learning plans for their students. All of the content, knowledge and resources produced in this program will be published in real-time and can be used by any other school district in the country.
This is not the first time that Imaginable Futures (formerly Omidyar Network’s Education initiative) and Lemann Foundation have joined forces in service of Brazil’s learners. Since 2017, Lemann Foundation and Imaginable Futures have united to invest in human capital, innovative technologies, and public-private partnerships that have paved the way for the edtech solutions schools need to meet Brazil’s new National Learning Standards. Lemann Foundation’s local footprint and diverse network of change-makers have made them a powerful partner. In the face of new challenges from COVID-19, their experience in these areas will help us deploy this emergency funding efficiently and with the greatest impact. And because more allies are always welcome in a moment like this, we invite other investors, grantmakers, and collaborators to join us in this formidable challenge.
In Brazil and around the world, this time of crisis has shined a spotlight on edtech’s capabilities and possibilities, but these tools are only as valuable as they are accessible, affordable, relevant, and supportive to the learners who need them most. When we bring high-quality education in an environment of support within reach for everyone, we level the playing field for an opportunity-filled future.