The 2015 Challenge: Early Childhood Education in the Urban Slum and Beyond
Early education is essential to child development. Yet, understandably, investment in learning at such a young age often falls to the bottom of the priority list for parents more concerned with putting food on the table than with teaching their children the abc’s. Dozens of statistics prove that insufficient or unavailable early education is one of the most powerful forces driving the continuous current of poverty in urban slums. As long as it remains an inaccessible and unaffordable luxury good, this current will continue to inundate one generation after the next.
This year, President Bush has challenged students to design a social enterprise that could provide ten million children under six years old with an adequate early education by 2020. To make a significant dent in global poverty, these educational programs must have a widespread and lasting impact, and neither governments nor NGOs are built with the proper infrastructure to support solutions that are simultaneously scalable, sustainable, and affordable. While for-profit businesses in the private sector do offer quality educational programs for young children, they often fall far outside the budgets of low-income families. Herein lies the magic of the Hult Prize idea factory: over the course of the year, we will watch hundreds of social entrepreneurs reassemble the machinery of a profit-driven business model into a product designed to empower communities in need.
At least one of these teams of entrepreneurs will hail from Yale. Rasa, the winning enterprise of the local competition hosted on campus this past November, has devised a business model intended to provide the best teachers in developing regions with an innovative digital curriculum developed by Nobel Prize and Ivy League professors. The idea is to construct Rasa centers in urban areas where kids can come to learn through an integrated system of personalized technology programs and high-quality teachers who will be paid a multiple of the market rate for teacher salaries.
Mark Pham, one of the team members, claims, “What is really unique to our program is how we use our digital curriculum as a way of efficiently collecting data from each student to optimize their progress and the teaching strategies used.” In the same way that corporate retailers are developing technologies to capture data on consumers’ particular shopping preferences, Rasa is harnessing the power of “big data” to address each young child’s particular educational needs.
Inspired by Yale’s own need-based financial aid model, the Rasa team intends to subsidize tuition for those who cannot afford the service by charging a premium to families who are able to pay for the high-quality educational program. The team chose the eighth district of Ho Chi Minh City for the pilot program, pointing out that while the country has a cultural emphasis on schooling, it fails to provide sufficient early education for tens of thousands of young children. That, in combination with the fact that there are large wealth gaps with the rich and poor living side by side, makes Ho Chi Minh City a perfect testing ground for the pilot program. With 400 families already on the waitlist, there is clearly a strong demand among hopeful parents looking to provide their children with early education. If all goes well, we might see Rasa centers sprouting up in urban areas across the globe.
Convention has it that business and society are mutually exclusive: profit-seeking companies produce goods and services for financial profit, and public-spirited philanthropies provide goods and services for financial relief. But social enterprise says otherwise: when fused into a symbiotic relationship, with the Hult Prize Competition as a catalyst, the resulting compound can generate powerful and lasting change.