PCSE Seed Grants in Action: A Report from BUKO Founder, Joaquin Benares ’15

The Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards annual seed grants to fund the launch or early stage growth of a Wesleyan-connected social enterprise, project, program, or venture. Each grant recipient reports back with blog posts and photos. Here’s the first report from Boundless Updated Knowledge Offline (BUKO), one of the three 2014 winners, written by founder Joaquin Benares ’15. You can read more about Joaquin and BUKO in Wesleyan News.

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Introduction

Although the Philippines boasts one of the highest Internet dissemination rates in the region, the majority of the population is still on the wrong side of the digital divide. In recent years, the Internet has created a paradigm shift in how educational content is spread and digested; however, this phenomenon extends only to those fortunately connected. Boundless Updated Knowledge Offline (BUKO) is a Social Enterprise that seeks a sustainable solution to this problem. BUKO aims to bring video lectures, e-textbooks, and other online education tools to Philippine public schools to supplement their (sometimes non-existent) libraries, teaching aids, and contact time with teachers. We hope that BUKO helps to alleviate pressure on the teacher, fill a gap where books and learning materials are lacking, and lead to an increased standard of public education.

We have successfully deployed BUKO, with the support of the Department of Education, to two schools in Metro Manila. However, data gathered from these schools remains sparse, as a consistent metric of evaluation has not been identified and the logistics for the collection of data have not yet been put in place. A clear need for an educational consultant has been identified.

How does it work?

New tablets ready to be programmed with BUKO software

New tablets ready to be programmed with BUKO software

Our product is an electronic bookshelf (Raspberry Pi powered server) that contains 200,000 e-books (Project Gutenberg), 1,000 video lectures (Khan Academy), and 200 e-textbooks (CK-12) among others. All content is sourced from free online resources, but made accessible to students by us, offline over WiFi, through our server and Android tablets. The tablets are the most economical way to access the server’s content. The server and tablets are housed inside a secure mobile cart to mitigate deployment among teachers. Additionally, the Kariton enables the schools to maximize the utility of the BUKO package by enabling transportation of hardware between classrooms. Our vision is that teachers reserve the Kariton at the beginning of the school day, and on a schedule wheel it to different classrooms throughout the day, thereby maximizing use of the system. The server is also 100% customizable, just as one can stock a bookshelf with favorite books.

The past two months since the beginning of summer have been filled with challenges. Every social entrepreneur will grumble that “everything changes on the ground, and I couldn’t agree more. Our central question remains – “how do we prove, and improve on, BUKO’s effectiveness?” With the generous Seed Grant afforded to us by the PCSE, we continue to work to answer this question.

Moving Forward

The BUKO Kariton, or cart, that will hold tablets and be easily transported between classrooms

The BUKO Kariton, or cart, that will hold tablets and be easily transported between classrooms

To try to improve is more straightforward than to try to prove. The former involves actively assessing our server’s functionality and the design of our cart (which houses all of our tablets).

Unfortunately for us, the project’s coding requirements have become increasingly more complex and we were forced to seek the assistance of an external coding agency. After a short canvassing period we were put in touch with Orange&Bronze Software Labs. They have agreed to help us move through several iterations of our server in exchange for our public partnership. Not a bad deal at all.

Orange&Bronze Software Labs are currently helping us add new features to our server, namely, a feature that gives teachers the ability to add custom content directly from their own computers or smartphones. The addition of this feature comes in response to the feedback, collated from forms and conversations with students and educators, that we received on our earlier version of the server. We believe that this new feature will enable BUKO to better adapt to the needs of the specific teacher and school.

The BUKO team is also working to make the interface of the server more dynamic. We hope to add moving buttons, interactive animation, and brighter backgrounds so that the children get even more excited when using our product.

The “proving” portion of our central question was more challenging. We realized that at this stage in our development as an organization, we needed to collect some concrete, empirically based evidence that our product works. However, none of the members of our organization are professional educators. In fact, we are all full-time students. We have no experience collecting academic data, and no experience in compiling surveys of this nature.

To help us gather this data, we have teamed up with individuals from two institutions: Teach for the Philippines, and the University of the Philippines. Teach for the Philippines (TFP) is a partner of Teach for America, with a model of outreach built on the latter. The institution currently has over 50 fellows teaching 3rd grade within the Philippine public school system. With the help of the Teach for the Philippines management team and 7 TFP fellows, BUKO will be deployed to one of the schools that TFP works with. There, the product will hopefully serve over 300 students. Our partnership with the University of the Philippines, on the other hand, is through Monalisa Sasing, a PhD candidate in Mathematics Education. She will be helping us design a quantitative data collection process that will be based on the “pre-test and post-test” method. With her help, we hope to deploy to 10 schools throughout the Philippine archipelago, and hopefully serve over 1000 students in the process.

We have procured our first order of 60 tablets from China, and are in the process of quality testing each tablet and placing the next order. Exciting times are up ahead! We hope to deploy with Teach for the Philippines in late July and with Ms. Sasing in early August.

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