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Microsoft has long been committed to driving a conversation of using technology for the betterment of communities around the world. In his address on the subject of Cloud for Global Good last October, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith emphasized this mission.

As the world realizes the benefits of cloud-based innovation, it’s important to recognize the disruptive impact that technology has on society. We need to ensure that as technology moves forward we do not leave people behind. That’s why Microsoft is working to build a cloud that is trusted, responsible and inclusive – a cloud that serves the global good.
Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft

In honor of the Global Education Partner Summit, we are highlighting the work of Microsoft partner Terawe and how they are using the cloud to serve the global good. With their digital education services and learning software, Terawe is actively combating illiteracy in the developing world. Their unique platform helps K-12 and adult learners read and write despite limited access to learning resources. Their work in expanding access to technology and education in remote areas is a powerful response to the lack of internet and communication technology within the developing world. Here is Terawe’s story of how they are building Literacy for Life.

The Foundation for All Learning

Literacy for Life is a global initiative, building sustainable solutions to address illiteracy across the planet. Their Chekhov service allows users to write and record dynamic eBooks which help learners develop reading and writing skills. Terawe is working to bring literacy to both children and adults through their partnerships with Microsoft, UNESCO, World Vision, and various Ministries of Education in developing countries such as Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia, Mexico and Bangladesh.

The Digital Education Services helps students learn how to read through illustration, word recognition, and voice, all localized to the student’s native language. The power of a voice-enabled solution allows students to learn to read without having a literate adult or teacher there to teach them directly. As we currently experience a global shortage of primary school teachers, this self-learning solution helps students learn how to read on their own.

Terawe believes that it is literacy which is the foundation for all learning and that reading, writing and technology skills will ensure that individuals in even the remotest parts of the world have equal access and opportunity in the modern day.

Phase One: Creating eBooks

After piloting the program in Lesotho, Terawe brought their simple and sustainable solution to Kenya. Phase one starts off by helping educators create relevant eBooks that students will use to learn in phase two of the program. In Kenya, the Terawe team went to a remote village of the Maasai community to lay the groundwork for the program. They trained teachers to use Chekov services and helped them understand how the app could be best used in their own schools.

By staying directly in the village, Anil Balakrishnan, CEO of Terawe, said that they were able to experience some of the challenges that both teachers and students would encounter in using their program. A key obstacle to success was reliable access to the internet needed to upload or download content from the cloud and limited power supply that was generated using solar and shut off at 6 PM. These limitations were taken into account by Terawe to develop a sustainable solution that works in remote villages and communities.

Teachers were trained to create eBooks. They came up with relevant ideas to create their own eBooks that applied to their communities. Terawe then collaborated with the teachers to get these eBooks published to the Microsoft Store using Chekhov services running on Microsoft Azure. Due to infrastructure limitations, it was important to be able to run this program mostly offline. Teachers charged their devices during the day and continued to use them in the evenings on battery. The entire creation of eBooks was done offline.

Phase Two: Learning to Read

“When we started the program, the schools we were working with only had 1 book in each classroom, but after the first phase, students had access to 50 different books, all in Swahili.”
Anil Balakrishnan, CEO of Terawe

For the second phase of the project in Kenya, Terawe focused on going directly to the participating classrooms and distributing devices to learners, in this case 2nd and 3rd grade students. The amount of books made available to students because of the program made a substantial difference to students. “The beauty of this is that you give a device to a kid and, they know what to do with it. We loved the fact that students could easily consume the books that their teachers were creating. The books were relevant and what the students wanted to learn” Anil said.

In order to measure the success of the program and of the students involved, multiple student assessments are built into the program itself. When students start reading, the software has built in analytics to track how many books are being read and at what speed students are learning. As part of deploying the devices in the classrooms, teachers take a baseline measurement via a questionnaire related to the words chosen to create the books. The teachers assess the students 1 on 1 on the level of reading before and after starting the program. Teachers measure progress again every three months.

Expanding the Program

Terawe is now working with educators in Zambia, Ethiopia and Mexico to bring access and education to students in remote regions of the world. They connected with a teacher in Zambia who sought funding to teach literacy to adults in his community as part of an evening-course education program. He wanted a software solution to help teach them English and Terawe was happy to partner with him on his mission. All set-up of devices was done remotely and shipped to the school and all teacher training was conducted over Skype. This uniquely self-sustaining method of deployment has seen great success to date.

Through their partnership with UNESCO as well as the Ethiopian and Mexican ministries of education, Terawe has launched programs in both countries. The first phase has launched successfully and phase two is now projected to begin later this year.

“We look at this as a sustainable solution. It is a solution for life. We help get communities going with the right framework, easy to use apps and services, and the model put in place is a lifelong teaching and learning solution.”
Anil Balakrishnan, CEO of Terawe

How do you see your company supporting Microsoft’s mission of building a cloud for global good? Share your thoughts in the comments below.