The education gap between developed and under-developed areas in the region is staggering with millions of children lacking access to quality education. This has a knock-on effect to reduce their employability and creates a vicious cycle in the region.

This is where technology and innovation can be a solution. Take non-profit edtech organization Solve Education! that recently announced that it has marked a milestone of impacting 1,000 beneficiaries across Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand through educational programmes. Supported by the Lenovo Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Lenovo, they run education programmes to teach requisite elementary skillsets such as English language, Numeracy, and essential life skill lessons.

This is conducted through their proprietary city-building game, Dawn of Civilization, which includes a series of tasks participants must complete within each chapter to earn reward points.

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To find out more, we speak to Pratima Harite, Head of Philanthropy, Lenovo Asia Pacific and Janine Teo, CEO and co-founder of Solve Education, about the situation in the region and how they plan to scale up their solution.

To date, over 20,000 students have benefited from the programme in India and in 2021, the programme was extended to six other markets – India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, and is slated to benefit more than 4,000 youth in the coming months. 

Could you explain how this partnership between Solve Education! & Lenovo Foundation works?

Pratima Harite (PH): Lenovo Foundation, the philanthropy and charity arm of Lenovo, aims to empower under-represented populations with access to technology and STEM education with a goal to impact 15 million people and transform the lives of 1 million by 2025. We work with mission-aligned partners on strategic giving, providing volunteerism opportunities for our employees and responding to natural disasters around the world. As a non-profit organization committed to providing everyone with access to quality and effective education, Solve Education! is a perfect partner for us to advance STEM education for underprivileged youths and students. 

Solve Education! runs STEM classes powered by applications that it develops, combining curriculum with gameplay. These game-based learning platforms deliver English, numeracy, and life skills courses, catered toward preparing students for the workforce of the future. 

Lenovo provided funding of US$50,000 to run these lessons via seven local community-based partners including schools and non-governmental organizations across seven markets in the region – India, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. This includes the technical upgrades and digitization of content. 

The goals were to have beneficiaries complete 100 mini-lessons within a month, for subjects ranging from English, Mathematics to employability skills, and in the long-term, to improve youth employment rates. Since 2020, over 20,000 students in the Asia Pacific have benefited from the programme. 

Could you give some insight into how game-based learning helps with engagement and thus retention of knowledge or information?

Janine Teo (JT): Game-based learning is where certain gaming principles and characteristics are embedded within the learning activities to achieve the intended learning outcomes. Through gamification, we can provide more fun and interactive learning experiences to the youths and by keeping them engaged, they will be more likely to retain the information that they learn from these activities. 

There are various gaming elements that one can use to boost users’ engagement and retention of knowledge. In our context of digital game-based learning, we combine typical gaming elements such as levels, scorecards, leaderboards, XP, challenges, and more, with real-life incentives. The incentives motivate users to dedicate more effort to learning better and will in turn fulfil the learning objectives. 

How do you distribute the hardware and implement the programmes across the region?

JT: As a non-profit technology organization, our primary focus is to develop digital game-based learning solutions for children and youth regardless of their socio-economic background. The necessary hardware needed to facilitate the programme is distributed by local organizations or communities that work closely with our target beneficiaries in the different markets.

There are three things we consider before implementing our learning programmes across the region. First, identify the areas within the programme that would require funding from our donors. Second, we need to shortlist programme implementation partners on the ground so that they are able to work directly with our target beneficiaries. Third, ensure the devices needed for the programme are available. Donors such as Lenovo Foundation often go the extra mile to cater to the beneficiaries’ needs so as to ensure that their learning journey is sustainable and enriching.

What are some of the challenges you foresee in expanding this programme?

JT: We have been frequently gathering feedback from our beneficiaries and programme implementation partners on the ground to ensure that we’re constantly exploring ways to improve the initiative. 

Currently, we are faced with two main challenges. First, we need to address the language barrier amongst our beneficiaries. Second, based on the employment demand in the market, we need to provide our beneficiaries with more Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning modules within our digital game-based learning platforms.

To address the issue of language barrier, we are looking at localizing our digital game-based learning platforms to cater to different locations across the Asia Pacific region. 

Furthermore, we are planning to develop more STEM learning modules on our game platforms to complement our basic Math modules. The demand for STEM learning modules has been increasing, and we know that equipping children and youth with STEM skills can enable them to unlock more career opportunities. We hope that by gamifying STEM learning modules, we can make more children and youth enjoy learning.

What’s next for the partnership?

PH: Last year, we expanded the program to Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, and in the year ahead we plan to extend the program to Hong Kong and Singapore reaching out to students from minority groups. We hope to be able to expand to many more markets and widen access to education, digital inclusion and upskilling to the most vulnerable communities, and break down barriers to opportunity.