Education Soul: Our project

Publicado en: Dic 8 de 2020

Por: Juan Manuel Pico

Education Soul is a Colombian company founded by two local entrepreneurs with a significant history in education projects. In 2016, Martha Gómez and Juan Manuel Pico decided to move forward in their lives and created a private organization focused on making a social impact, leveraged by the use of technology. Latin America has traditionally been a region where public school education level is way behind the private school one. In addition, the digital gap has widened this situation, especially in the last ten years. Education Soul has been committed to close this gap in low-income public-school areas. At the beginning, the challenge for the company was to get visible in the market and establish a long-term relationship with local organizations who were looking for solutions in the digital space. The founders spent almost six months travelling internationally to nurture and curate different EdTech solutions to implement back in Colombia, under one main condition: state-of-the-art platforms that could be used easily in both urban and rural areas with low Wi-Fi signal, with a strong data analytics engine to provide instant feedback to local governments in the country and promote public policy.

The team decided to use two EdTech platforms, one for reading comprehension and digital skills, and another one for closing the gap in math fundamentals. In addition, they decided to incorporate a Finnish methodology to encourage children to programming with open source code through the use of music, arts and robotics. The duo’s story has been successful, thanks to a strategic ally who has understood the relevance of the quality of education through the use of EdTech, to get a better performance in the lives of their children. This ally is Fé y Alegría (Faith and Joy), a non-government organization that
provides formal and no-formal education at different levels in more than 15 countries, mainly in Latin America, and also in Europe and Africa.

Fé y Alegría started in 1955 as a project of the Jesuit Chilean Father José María Vélaz to educate 100 poor children in a room in the house of a construction worker in Caracas (Venezuela). Today, it has expanded to an international organization reaching almost one million students in 1,000 centers. Fé y Alegría´s prime mission is to provide quality education to the poor with the potential to inspire others, as expressed in their motto “Where the asphalt road ends, where there is no water, electricity or services, there begins Fé y Alegría”. It also expresses the philosophy of educating in places that government provision does not reach. Most of its work is in the formal education system, where their basic operation principle is to create partnerships between the organization, the State and the local community to provide quality education to poor children. Fé y Alegría trains and supervises the teachers (in some cases it also selects them), manages the school and co-ordinates activities so that the school operates as a center for community development. It defines itself as a movement of integral popular education. Their primary objective is to provide education for life that provides socially disadvantaged children with opportunities to increase the quality of their life.

The national chapters of Fé y Alegría are legally registered as private non-profit organizations. It is an institution of the Catholic Church sponsored by the Society of Jesus. The national chapters have agreements with the Ministry of Education. They are also part of a federation – Fé y Alegría Internacional – that is recognized as a consultative member of UNESCO and UNICEF. At a national level, Fé y Alegría has a tight budget and its own organizational structure, that is very small and efficient, responsible for implementing the different components of the innovation.

The importance of a sense of mission, which Education Soul has aligned with

As stated before, Fé y Alegría has a very clear sense of mission. It could be called the “spirit” of the innovation, which glues the different components of the innovation together, including the technologies and the people involved (teachers, trainers,
administrators, students and parents). This vision articulates why innovation makes sense. It reflects an understanding of the main problems of education and how the proposed set of activities will address the problem. The spirit of the innovations is often captured and transmitted in symbols. For instance, Fé y Alegría has a logo that is widely recognized in the region: a heart with the silhouettes of three children. The organization has a desire to focus on socially disadvantaged students and to provide them with skills and attitudes that will increase their sense of control of their environment, a necessary condition
for democracy.  Public schools ran by Fé y Alegría have a better mastery of basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics. In addition, students come to schools  Saturdays and Sundays to play in the sport yards, where the school is making a fit with their social needs. In most of the schools, there are youth groups which work on special projects such as Christmas
activities, field trips, sports, and cultural events.

The case of Fé y Alegría demonstrates that NGOs can promote the participation of civil society and complement state efforts and that they can also play a helpful role in demonstrating how to deliver quality education. Fé y Alegría has demonstrated that it is indeed possible to provide quality education to the poorest children of  Latin America and that it is a helpful reminder to ministries of education, which sometimes suffer from system fatigue, that poor children can learn and that it is possible to teach them well. Education Soul has been a private partner of Fé y Alegría during the last four years. The team considers it as a privilege and an inspiration to witness, at first hand, that their mission is in fact a living proof on how an NGO provides quality education to the more underserved communities. In the case of Education Soul, the team has reached almost 18,000 students in 12 cities in Colombia, through the use of an EdTech platform that helps children to improve both their reading comprehension skills and their digital skills, key elements to prepare them for the future of work in a fourth industrial revolution society.

One of the organization’s major takeaways, thanks to Fé y Alegría, has been the importance of data analytics. An EdTech platform has the magic to promote adaptive learning to every student, so the team has had the tremendous opportunity to track every single child performance and produce analysis with clear paths of what is missing in terms of academic and digital skills and, on the other hand, what have been the trends of what has worked well, in order to fill the gaps. As previously mentioned, teaching training is also a key factor at Fé yAlegría. During the coronavirus period this year, Education Soul started a pilot program focused on teacher’s digital skills improvement, a major challenge especially due to this new virtual experience that has been in place since March. There is in fact a major concern from Fé y Alegría to quickly overcome a digital gap in terms of better skills to create more attractive virtual classrooms, using digital tools and apps to improve the student experience through Teams and Zoom classes. In brief, Fé y Alegría has been for us a vivid example of what education is all about. Bringing quality to the poorest has also been Education Soul’s mission since day one. In Education Soul’s case, the use of EdTech has been paramount to promote a “massive personalization” and build a profitable business case out of it. Besides the team’s experience with Fé y Alegría, they have been developing programs to foster the entrepreneurship spirit for vulnerable communities of women who sell beauty products through catalogs.

Education Soul has had the privilege to bring fresh ideas about entrepreneurship to more than 4,000 women in 10 cities in Colombia in four years. In the same direction, the duo have opened new service lines in education to foster digital skills during these coronavirus times: smartphone filmmaking that is addressed to vulnerable young communities to spread the skills of making state-of-the-art videos using smartphones, with a team of moviemakers who have worked in New York with the Oscar-winning Director Spike Lee. And as a natural step of working with EdTech platforms, the organization is currently creating its own, focused on children and teachers to close the gap in Computational Thinking and Digital Literacy, leveraged by Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, addressing especially low-income public schools in Latin America.

Education Soul has been on a journey to make social impact while building a sustainable business. EdTech along with entrepreneurship have been the pillars to develop educational projects, where their allies have been crucial to create a sounded development. Moving forward, Education Soul hopes to transfer thousands of hours dedicated to educational projects, to bring solutions in other countries in Latin America and also in other international markets.