This week, there will be no school bells, bustling corridors, busy canteens or uniforms. Thousands of students across Lebanon have been isolated in their homes in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. For some, that means missing class altogether, while others are trialing online learning.
These issues are what the Asfari Challenge for Social Innovation (ACSI) program was designed to support. We currently have 19 teams going through an online sprint and working on improving and refining their pitch to then present their startups during a virtual Demo Day and go through the selection process for the 4-month acceleration program. We have teams working in education, learning, coding, STEAM, blockchain and more.
If this resonates with you, join us as mentors and spend time with the teams giving them valuable insight and advice. Beyond that, if you’re able to provide downstream support to startups, we are still onboarding partners who can help in any way they can.
We’d like to invite you all to join us on April 7, from 4 to 7 pm for our virtual Demo Day to watch the teams showcasing their startups while judges and mentors proceed to the selection process.
There’s more info about the ACSI program below in this article, or at www.pitchworthy.org/asfari.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Unfortunately, for some, it takes a viral epidemic to realize that there are many alternatives to conventional schooling. Not only is homeschooling widely popular in countries such as the US, but other schooling alternatives such as virtual learning continue to sprout. Supplementary online programs, such as Khan Academy and Coursera, expand learning options and allow people to dig deeper into topics that interest them or get additional help in particular areas. A wide variety of new tools, platforms, and methods are also constantly in development, getting researched, and getting tested with people and in the market.
These emerging learning options outside of traditional schooling show not only that “mass homeschooling” is possible but also that it could be highly desirable. Personalized learning, small group interactions that build community and connection, and education without the coercion inherent in standard schooling are beneficial whether or not a pending epidemic is what exposes families to these education possibilities. Mass homeschooling may be just the cure we need.
The importance of distance education in an increasingly uncertain world of global epidemics and other dramatic disruptions (such as wars and climate-related crises) is without a doubt. Developing countries can benefit greatly from it, as it can help overcome emergencies and address chronic teacher shortages.
In 2014 World Bank edtech specialist Mike Trucano suggested that a health-related scare might be the tipping point that pushes edtech into the mainstream. Could the coronavirus epidemic be that tipping point and, if it is, what will be the implications for children’s education?
It’s not just a coincidence that the first edition of the Asfari Challenge for Social Innovation (ACSI) focused on edtech. Indeed, the purpose of ACSI is to build an engaged, active, supportive community of social entrepreneurs in Lebanon and MENA for the goals of economic development and social change led by youth. ACSI supports scalable youth-led education and lifelong learning initiatives in Lebanon through a 4-month virtual accelerator where selected early and prototype stage teams will receive intense training and mentorship support, financial support (between £2500 and £15000), and connections to other supporters and opportunities to maximize the impact of each initiative.
And yes, we hope you appreciate the parallels here. While ACSI is working to support innovative education initiatives, including those that are leveraging technology and developing approaches for online and distance learning, the Pitchworthy programs and tools themselves are also edtech in nature and are designed to support people across a wider geography, and in more customized ways. This is a unique worldwide crisis, but it will not lessen the extraordinary opportunities for terrific founders to start and build epic companies. Being virtual may enable even more entrepreneurs to reap the benefits of our network of experts and mentorship.