Crises trigger devastation. They can also drive collaboration and innovation. Many examples exist – including famous stories of American GI’s repairing military trucks with spare parts made of garage scratches during World War II, 3D printing used to make PPE equipment in Italy during the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, or coalitions, such as Black Lives Matter, driving widespread racial justice protests and commitments for change.
The health pandemic has disrupted schooling and education for teachers, learners and families across the globe and exacerbated learning inequities, while the racism pandemic is putting a spotlight on racial injustice. Almost overnight, schools were forced to transition to online learning with varying levels of preparedness to make the transition, shifting much of the education onto parents and caregivers. And it’s not just those families in traditional schools— families with those littlest learners, birth through age five, have also experienced massive interruptions. According to a survey conducted by EdTrust in California, most parents with young children (74%) report significant disruption in their home and family, and many worry about their own and their family’s mental health (73%) and their child’s social, emotional and cognitive development (74%) as a result of the coronavirus crisis. On the back of those challenges, we are seeing countless examples of ingenuity by teachers, educators, parents and children all over the world. One of those examples of inclusive collaboration and innovation is Wide Open School.
Imaginable Futures is proud to be an anchor funder of Wide Open School, and specifically support its early childhood effort. Wide Open School, led by Common Sense Media, a trusted source for distinguishing quality education media for more than 15 years, is acting as the content curator for the platform. Common Sense Media has also been a longstanding investee of ours under Omidyar Network, before Imaginable Futures became an independent entity in January 2020.
We are inspired by how Wide Open School quickly came together in the spirit of collaboration, innovation and inclusion.
It was heartening to witness the more than 25 education giants and partners uniting in this collaborative effort. For example, content providers, who generally operate in a friendly competition, all contributed their high-quality content for free. These partners include Khan Academy/Khan Academy Kids, Ubongo Kids, Tinkergarten (all three from our portfolio), National Geographic, Sesame Workshop, Scholastic and many more. Additionally, tech organizations contributed capabilities and resources. For example, Google contributes free advertising and YouTube content, and Comcast is supporting families with connectivity. Finally, organizations representing educators such as Head Start, Boys & Girls Club, and the American Federation of Teachers support the platform with resources and channels to enhance the quality and reach to most underserved children and communities
Through this collaboration, less than three weeks after the initial shelter-in-place policies in the US, the first version of Wide Open School was launched (on March 30)—an extraordinary execution in extraordinary times to support educators, families and children in our nation. As of mid-May 2020, the platform has already reached more than 1 million children and families.
There’s so much here, but it’s organized so thoughtfully and designed in a way that it’s easy to see it all, but not overwhelming.
Wide Open School is re-imagining the learning experience for our littlest learners, their families and educators in multiple ways and in the process addressing the needs of both the whole child and the whole family.
Wide Open School has created daily schedules organized by grade band with access to curated content and activities to help structure kids’ daily routines, including access to both online and offline content and activities, with a whole child focus that fosters early learning skills, self regulation, socio-emotional learning and physical health. For example, a preschooler is encouraged to start his or her day with a “human race car”, then to listen to an author reading a book enhanced with a video featuring live animals, dance along with “pinkfong” in the morning, line up numbers using post-its, create a paintbrush collecting natural materials in the afternoon, and then go on a “bear hunt” inside the home, play a marble mixer and read a bedtime story in the evening.
In addition to a whole child approach, Wide Open School is also thoughtfully addressing broader family needs, by providing access to trusted resources and providers to a variety of services, such as free lunch, diapers, childcare or/and mental well-being.
Feedback on the platform has been very positive, as exemplified by this quote from a parent of a pre-K child: "There’s so much here, but it’s organized so thoughtfully and designed in a way that it’s easy to see it all, but not overwhelming."
Wide Open School was built as a free resource—an essential prong of equity and accessibility. It also has a full offering for children with special needs, English-language learners and bilingual learners. Common Sense Media has had a deep commitment to the Latinx community for many years through Common Sense Latino; and we are excited that Wide Open School is now available in Spanish. Common Sense Media and Wide Open School also feature free resources for parents and educators to teach kids about social justice and racial equity. Wide Open School features culturally-relevant content across subjects for children and families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
For digital access and connectivity, the platform features free resources available to families for access to devices and broadband. Many resources on the platform can be completed offline and on smartphones. Common Sense Media is also accelerating its advocacy work for connectivity for all, and distribution of free devices.
Wide Open School’s initial platform was built in a record time and will keep improving over time. It is an example of how COVID-19 has fostered inclusive collaboration for the greater good.
We spun-off from Omidyar Network and launched our new education philanthropic investment firm, Imaginable Futures in January 2020, to build a world where every individual has the opportunity and support to build a brighter future for themselves, and for all of us. While COVID-19 and recent tragic events are challenging this vision, what if the current crises serve as a catalyst to help increase entrepreneurial collaboration in service of impact and re-center our focus on the joy of learning from the start of life to drive a better future for all?