Kenya has a youth unemployment problem: For every 100 students who start primary school, only 68 transition to secondary school, and just six go on to universities or technical institutions to learn the skills needed for a competitive role, according to the World Bank. To help turn the tide on that disheartening stat, nonprofit Startup Lions built a campus on the banks of Lake Turkana to offer 400 students free training in information communications and technology (ICT), as well as free networking and housing. Designed by Kéré Architecture principle Diébédo Francis Kéré—a Burkina Faso native who recently became the first African to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize—the campus is intended as a first step in a vision of spreading ICT networks in remote areas.
13th Most Influential Project of 2022
Some schools are celebrated for their architecture, others for their progressive curriculum. The New School just outside of Sundby, which opened earlier this year, was designed to do both. The goal is for the building to support the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals through its physical design and its teaching curriculum. The primary school, sponsored by the Guldborgsund Municipality and designed by architectural firm Henning Larsen, was the first in Denmark to earn the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. In addition to an array of sustainable features, the building also has an adaptable interior, meaning the space can evolve in lock step with the community’s needs.
43rd Most Influential Project of 2022
Brazilian edtech giant Gran Cursos Online aims to democratize education for all who seek a better future—and making its robust course offerings available to vision-impaired or blind learners (or folks who just prefer to learn via audio) was a clear must. But it takes 20 hours, on average, to record a 10-hour audiobook, not including editing time. With roughly 28,000 books in its catalog, the company knew a traditional approach wouldn’t cut it. So Gran Cursos Online partnered with BRLink to develop an automated system for converting all of the company’s content into audiobooks—in eight short weeks. The result is the largest collection of Portuguese language audiobooks in the world.
45th Most Influential Project of 2022
“Kids today want creative learning experiences, and they want them fast,” says Kalam Labs co-founder Ahmad Faraaz. The enormous popularity of Minecraft and Roblox has shown the world that gaming can be educational—and that the intersection of gaming and learning is rich with potential. Now Kalam Labs is taking the gamification education mash-up into the science arena. Developed by a group of college students, the streaming platform manages to be more than an e-course and more than a game—blending live sessions and interactive daily science missions with topics like black holes and dinosaurs. Released in June 2021, the project has built momentum for the Indian company to grow: With more than 300,000 kids signed up, the VC-backed startup has unveiled a product roadmap for its next initiative—building a “metaverse for science.”
From astrophysics to introversion, habit formation to reproductive justice, TED Talks have pulled in millions of rapt listeners and spawned a small portfolio of regional events, enterprise tools and public speaking trainings. But with TED Courses, unveiled in July, the global nonprofit invites people to lean forward—to go from passive listening to active learning. The four-week courses (on topics like connecting in a divided world and boosting your brain and memory) are paced so students move through the material as a social group and combine independent coursework with virtual events. Given the 3 billion-plus listens and views TED Talks have amassed, the potential reach of the company’s new offering shouldn’t be underestimated.
More than 70 percent of revenue at Pearson stems from e-book sales. Yet, until recently, the world’s leading textbook publisher had no way of catering to cash-strapped students who couldn’t afford to buy a new book upfront. In July 2021, the U.K. company unveiled Pearson+, an app that gives students digital access for a monthly fee (US$10 for one e-textbook or US$15 to access all 1,500 e-textbooks in the program). The final product is the result of several iterations made during development as the project team gleaned input from students and then turned those findings into digital features, like note taking, search tools and audio texts. The project has done more than disrupt the textbook-fee structure. It has also shifted the publisher into a direct-to-consumer sales model—one that’s sure to be followed by others.
When IBM pledged to provide tech training to 30 million people by the year 2030, the company also kicked off a flurry of new partnerships and programs. One of the standouts? The STEM for Girls program in India. Launched in May 2022 in partnership with the Government of Arunachal Pradesh Department of Education, it’s as comprehensive as it is ambitious: More than 13,500 students in grades 8 to 10 will receive digital fluency training, coding skills, and life and career skills. IBM and state leaders are creating a resource group to roll out the tech-forward model across 130 schools—setting off what could be a sea change in how the country’s young girls prepare for their futures.
Jelani Memory started his company in 2019 with a mission to help kids make sense of racism and other societal issues. In 2021, the company raised US$7 million, and following a successful foray into podcasting, the company launched the A Kids Co. learning app in November 2021. The channel delivers a MasterClass-style experience to tweens and teens—the same cohort that typically flocks to TikTok, where they might not be getting the most reliable information. Taught by preeminent experts in the field, A Kids Co. classes explore new skills, career paths and big ideas. “We believe these stories need to be told, and we don’t see a lot of other companies making empowering content for teenagers,” Memory says.
The pandemic took a devastating toll on the collective mental health of young people, exacerbating a problem that already existed. It’s estimated that 1 in 6 U.K. children between ages 6 and 16 now has a mental disorder. In the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association has declared a state of emergency over the mental health of the country’s kids. In March 2022, U.K. health startup Kooth and U.S. edtech Smart Technologies joined forces on a project to integrate mental well-being lesson plans and activities directly into Smart’s popular learning tool, Lumio. The move is already gaining momentum—and potentially sparking a trend: Competitors Xello and Intellispark joined to launch a similar project not long after.
It’s an age-old dilemma—how to tailor math instruction to individual students. For South Korea’s Woongjin ThinkBig, the solution is addition: The company folds in AI to help learners improve their math skills without unnecessarily repeating problems they can already easily solve. Released in March, the company’s Mathpid program identifies each student’s weaknesses in real time and provides optimized practice problems. The project team also designed the app to supplement students’ school coursework: Users can take a photo of a practice set in a textbook or workbook and the app will display which mathematical concepts the problem illustrates. Then it provides an unlimited number of similar problems, so the student’s mastery of math isn’t bound by a worksheet’s edges.