Back to database    Sep 26, 2017

Innovation series gathers stories of some of the most innovative social businesses around the world that work with the dual aim of profit and impact. Businesses committed to doing good stand out from the crowd because most customers feel good about supporting socially proactive companies. They also achieve a boost in productivity since employees who know their work tangibly affects the lives of others are more likely to go above and beyond. It is hoped that the series will impart useful knowledge for greater institutional support for activities with social innovation impact. Read about SEV’s new investor-led initiative – a social venture builder.

Social business: Zaya Learning Labs

by Joanne Willemin & Yusuf Jaffar

It is a truth universally acknowledged that good education is vital to helping children from underprivileged backgrounds make their way out of poverty. In many low income communities, however, it remains a serious challenge. Schools lack funding, their classes overcrowded and teachers overwhelmed. When confronted with the challenge of having to manage a class brimming with eager students, even the best teachers find it difficult to engage with all of them adequately and to ensure that no one is left behind. A poor interaction and feedback system inevitably results in students’ losing interest in studying, further undermining the ailing schools’ benefits.

Innovation to emulate

young school girls watching a tablet

Zaya Learning Labs is a social enterprise that has developed educational tools schools can use, through tablets and other WiFi enabled devices. They provide interactive class materials which focus on Maths, Science and English and are targeted at students up to the fifth grade. These materials can also be accessed offline through ClassCloud – a portable wireless device designed to store and deploy curriculum and content in classrooms with no connectivity.

Essentially, in order to compensate for time scarcity that plagues the teachers, Zaya has developed a method based on blended learning. This method divides the students’ time into three logical sections:

  1. Some time is dedicated to learning with the tablet, through interactive courses and exercises that adapt to the individual pace of every student. Their results are recorded by Zaya and sent in real time to the teachers who have a global view of their students’ progress.
  2. Some time is spent learning directly with the teachers, who now have more time to focus on the most important concepts, or intervene at the right time if they see any student encountering difficulties.
  3. Finally, there is some time meant for peer learning when students can interact with and learn from others.

Zaya empowers both teachers and students. Students are given access to education built on quality content and an engaging way of learning. Fast learners can develop their potential and satisfy their appetite for learning, while other students are free to take time to gain confidence little by little. At the same time, teachers feel supported and guided, without the technology infringing on the core mission of imparting knowledge and educating.

In addition to its educational mission, Zaya also pursues the goal of empowering underprivileged women in the low income communities by hiring them as teaching assistants. These women, who often possess no or little specialised skills, are trained by Zaya to help students make optimal use of their tablets. They thus support the teachers, shouldering the learning burden of new technology, and in the process develop beneficial skills that earn them a sustainable income.

Impact to date

Zaya was founded in 2013 in India by Neil D’Souza, a former Cisco engineer. After settling all over India, the product has been exported to Zambia, Indonesia and Mongolia. In the last two years, they have worked with more than 4,000 students from around 20 private and government schools.

Commenting on the positive impact of Zaya products, the teachers have observed a higher attendance rates for Zaya-powered classes as well as a greater desire to learn in students. The use of the tablet, especially, is very fresh and entertaining for children.

The impact and potential for scalability have led the project to win a number of accolades, among them the DBS Venture Challenge and the Microsoft Corporation Affordable Access Initiative. Zaya has also been invested by the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund.

Motivated by a belief that more parties should be involved in making quality education accessible to low income students, Zaya seeks partners in the corporate sector, offering their CSR departments to sponsor a blended program in a specific school or implement it in any school of their choice. Among Zaya’s previous partners were DBS Bank, Porticus International, ING Foundation, and Hope Foundation.

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