HORIZON LANKA VIRTUAL ACADEMY
By Nanda Wanninayaka, Nalaka Gunawardene and Mark Frazier
This concept paper developed by Horizon Lanka Foundation (www.horizonlanka.org) is aimed at creating a web-based repository of instructional and educational videos initially for free access to anyone, anywhere through a virtual academy. The project will also livestream both indoor and outdoor classrooms through the project’s website for anyone during its first year (2018) and for a nominal fee from 2019 for its subscribers. We propose to do this in the local languages of Sri Lanka – English, Sinhala and Tamil at the beginning and later add more languages using the 100+ foreign volunteer teachers who volunteered at Horizon Lanka Foundation since 2004.
Since Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has been trying to improve education in the country using various ways. Though education is free in terms of not levying fees, the money spent comes through the taxpayer. It has long been debated how Sri Lanka’s impressive rates of primary and secondary schooling can be matched by a corresponding increase in the quality of education.
The disparities in the public education system mean entrance to ‘popular schools’ entails much competition. Given the limited number of places, entering university is even harder. On average, only a small percentage of those who enter Grade One enters university.
Both students and parents are constantly looking for better educational facilities but the options available in Sri Lanka are limited. There is a big void in the education system.
Private tuition classes respond to this void. It is a thriving business so much so that the students and the parents pay more attention to private tuition than to regular school teaching. Students spend a significant amount of time – and their parents, money – for private tuition.
Even with the option of private tuition, there remain gaps. Students are not able to access teachers/lessons when needed at their convenience. At present there is little opportunity for this.
Web-based lessons such as Dialog’s Guru.lk, Etisalat’s Web Patashala and Education Ministry’s, e-Thaksalawa have responded to this need. The Dialog and Etisalat solutions require payment, while the Education Ministry’s solution is only text and image based is not using voice – the most important element in teacher instruction. Besides, it doesn’t give an environment to interact with the teacher.
Our vision is to create high quality educational lessons based on video and upload them as both live and recorded files to a low-cost, public access video sharing platform so they can be available for anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Our mission is to create video based educational content with the participation of talented teachers, and then promote their use as widely as possible.
THEORY OF CHANGE
Computer literacy in Sri Lanka is on the increase. Distribution of personal computers and mobile devices are also spreading throughout the country. Internet access costs are decreasing due to market competition. High speed internet, mobile broadband and 4G mobile coverage also are spreading fast. Both 3G and 4G coverages in Sri Lanka by the 5 mobile operators (Dialog, Mobitel, Etisalat, Hutch and Airtel) and the 4 fixed line broadband operators (Dialog, SLT, LankaBell and Suntel) are encouraging and there is already a pilot run successfully to test 5G coverage too.
This augurs well for disseminating web-based video lessons. Our inspiration and model is the Khan Academy www.khanacademy.org, started by Salman Khan, an entrepreneur of Bangladesh origin living and working in the United States. It was launched in 2006 as a non-profit educational website to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. (In fact, Horizon Lanka Foundation initiated creating e-lessons and disseminating it to the students in 2005/06 era with the help of Mark Frazier from the United States of America and his organization Openworld LLC, long before Sal Khan started his initiative.)
The Khan Academy website features thousands of educational resources, including a personalized learning dashboard, over 100,000 exercise problems, and over 5,000 micro lectures via video tutorials stored on YouTube. These offer lessons related to a wide range of subjects and topics such as mathematics, history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, general chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, art history, economics and computer science. All resources are available for free. Khan Academy reaches about 10,000,000 students per month and has delivered over 300,000,000 lessons according to Wikipedia.
The Horizon Lanka Foundation will start a website named www.horizonvirtualacademy.org and will live stream some of the selected classroom and outdoor lessons the 5 existing Horizon Academies in Sri Lanka do with the local teaching staff and the foreign volunteer teachers. Streaming would be done through both YouTube and Facebook and if there is any, other channels that stream free of charge. The users (students, parents, teachers) could subscribe to both YT and FB feeds of Horizon Virtual Academy and watch the lessons live.
The other method is to have a free access, web-based video lessons repository at the same website. The lessons are to be created in English, Sinhala as well as Tamil, using suitably expressive and experienced teachers.
Lessons could be created from Grade 1 to Grade 11 in the first phase and that can be expanded to high school level (Advanced Level in Sri Lanka) at a later stage.
Talented teachers would be invited and involved from both the government and private schools for creating video lessons. They should be paid a reasonable fee for their services. The videos would be filmed and edited by a professional video production team on a voluntary basis.
The lessons, most likely hosted on YouTube (which has advanced video streaming features enabling easier viewing), would be promoted by a dedicated website to be built and operated by this project (www.horizonvirtualacademy.org.) It will provide lesson menus, video synopses and other information that helps users to systematically use this free resource. Downloading videos for later, off-line viewing will also be allowed and encouraged.
Access to both live and recorded lessons would be totally free of charge for the subscribers initially but a small fee (around 150 LKR -1 USD) would be imposed for a month once the project gathers momentum and wins the confidence of the users. The subscribers would be able to pay for lessons through Dialog Axiata’s (www.dialog.lk) flagship e-money solution EasyCash.
We will give modern information using modern technology which will attract students towards studies. Our aim is to standardize the education, keeping our rates low so that a maximum number of students can take advantage.
Aims and mission of video lectures It is proven from researches that video learning methods help students to learn better than conventional teaching methods. Students entice towards video lectures and this interest leads them to apprehend the content and concepts of lectures more deeply. Video lectures aim to enhance motivation level and the learning skills of students. Hence, it helps students in getting good marks. We will be making videos which will attract students to apprehend the lectures more deeply and enhance their learning skills. Their creative skills will also make students critical thinkers.
For Sri Lankan and global organizations seeking to launch new systems that enable students to create open source eLearning resources, HVA will also offer sponsorship opportunities and chances to support pilot projects.
Early pilots may include an open source “Learning Landscape” app, now being developed by principals of Openworld (USA) and DigiPerfect (India), to create interactive 3D terrains for peer learners in any field of knowledge.
A key aim of this app is to give users the freedom to explore interactive “knowledge trees” along the pathways. Users will have freedom to create new trees – or help fill out branches of existing trees.
New trees in the landscape can be auto-created by importing structured text files produced by Mindnode and many of today’s widely-used 2D mind map programs.
Each Knowledge Tree will be based on a heart-head-hands pattern (aka emotion-cognition-action), with an early focus on preparing students and jobseekers to succeed in online markets.
HVA also will explore partnerships with Teachur (www.teachur.co), a new platform for global sharing of eLearning content with Blockchain-recorded certificates of accomplishment, and other pioneers in innovative uses of information technologies for skills development.
HVA intends to assist such partners in conducting globally visible tests of new peer learning systems, and record and share their experiences on social media. Such projects can help global innovators refine their offerings and prove their value and embark on crowdfunding campaigns that lead to further opportunities for HVA expansion.
LOCAL PARTNERSHIPS FOR SUSTAINABILITY
The Horizon Virtual Academy will also explore new ways to fund the growth of eLearning linkages with partnering communities. It will give preference in its expansion of the HVA model to communities that agree to commit sites for “Endowment Zones” to fund increased access to internet services and online learning resources.
These sites can generate revenues via startup ventures. A near term opportunity can come through helping local partners launch AirBnb ventures, in locations with appeal as short-stay housing for foreign volunteers and/or as ecotourism destinations. A portion of the rental income can be allocated to good causes such as microvouchers for eLearning and eHealthcare for families participating in the HVA initiative. This could be a way to meet the costs of internet access, to fund student-created eLearning content, and to encourage youth and others to pitch in with community cleanup/fixups, art/music festivals, and other initiatives that make the area more attractive as a place to visit as well as to live in.
Sri Lankan students will immensely benefit by such a project as they can access the lessons from anywhere when they want. This will be different from attending a regular class in the school or at a private tuition center. The students will be able to access lessons through computers, laptops, tablets or mobile phones depending on their access device. Many of today’s students already use the web for games, social networking, music, video, etc., and the presence of a virtual academy will justify their internet access expenses.