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Education

Windows 10 device delivers on One Education’s plan to bridge the digital divide

In many parts of the Western World a child learns to swipe before learning to read.  But there are pockets of even developed nations, and great swathes of the wider world, where some children will learn neither.

Rangan Srikhanta could so easily have been one of them.

Three months after being born, he and his family fled the civil war in Sri Lanka. While life was hard for his parents, they made a home in Australia for their family; Srikhanta was one of the lucky ones. But he never forgot the divide between the haves and the have nots, and was keenly aware of the emergence of a digital divide which threatened to exclude some children from being part of the information age.

Today he is working to make computers accessible and affordable to a million-plus children over the next five years.

The CEO of Australia-based One Education, which owes some of its heritage to Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child initiative, Srikhanta has overseen the development of the Infinity:One educational computer. Targetted at children of all ages, the device has been designed for every child, not just those in emerging countries.

Bridging the divide

In 2015 the United Nations scaled the extent of the digital divide, noting that in the least developed nations fewer than one in 20 households could access the internet. For a child, that excludes then from a rich educational trove of information.

As a young boy Srikhanta was fortunate, with access to good schools and teachers; he was a good student, with a fascination for the technical. His parents saved hard and gradually were able to buy a home computer and electronics sets that further whetted his appetite, and eventually led to his studying IT at university.

Hungry both for experience and the opportunity to do meaningful work Srikhanta leapt at a chance to work with the UN Association of Australia just as the organisation was setting its millennium goals, almost all of which demand greater levels of education and information access across the world.

“So that was a really interesting time and Australia was also going through quite a change as well, in terms of the Government response to the plight of the Indigenous people.  All of this stuff was kind of colliding,” he says.

And for Srikhanta, never more so than when Nicholas Negroponte started the One Laptop Per Child project, launched in 2005 with then-UN head Kofi Annan. Working with the organisation in Australia Srikhanta helped distribute 50,000 of the OLPC XO devices all over Australia.

While generally well received – and indeed still used in some remote schools both in Australia and internationally – the device had limitations that Srikhanta wanted to overcome.

One Education has now designed and launched the first of a new generation of affordable, accessible computers loaded with rich educational software, developed as a bridge for the digital divide.

The Infinity opportunity

“We’re starting to develop a methodology for sustainable technology distribution and doing it in a way that’s equitable,” says Srikhanta. In partnership with Microsoft, which has introduced One Education to a global design and manufacturing ecosystem, the company’s Infinity:One is a flexible Windows 10 based computing device that can be both tablet and laptop.

“We found working with Microsoft so much more empowering,” says Srikhanta, adding that; “Microsoft is the glue that connects us to opportunities that help us scale, allowing us to fulfil our mission to reach millions of children.”

Having Microsoft as a partner has also helped ensure that the Infinity One is not just “Technology for poor kids.” For Srikhanta that was hugely important.

“What we do is good for the education of any child.  And over successive iterations of technology over the years we’ve gotten closer to putting out a machine that could be ubiquitous.  And I think this machine that we’ve got here is our best shot yet at achieving that.  If you look at the specifications, you look at the price point, you look at the capabilities and you look at the fact that we’re targeting primary school aged kids, this is our opportunity to make a big difference.”

With only a little financial support – perhaps from Government or corporate sponsors – he believes this generation machine will allow all children to be on par technologically with their peers all over the world and help to transform classroom instruction.

One Education will market its system directly to schools, which can then also make parents aware of the device through any Bring Your Own Device programmes.

Parent insight

Microsoft has also introduced One Education to Assistx and together they are developing Scout, a classroom management and parental supervision app, available on the Infinity:One.

Scout combines two products in one and provides full supervision of what is happening on an Infinity:One, providing teachers and parents remote access to their student or child’s computer from anywhere in the world.

Says Srikhanta; “No one would let our children cross a freeway, you would be considered insane to do that, and yet despite the power of the internet, we are also exposing our children to content without supervision and guidance. In a digital world we have an opportunity to create transparency and with it opportunities for parents and teachers to help children navigate around the most challenging content whilst keeping them focused on learning.”

While the impact of the technology is significant, Srikhanta remains clear-eyed about the challenges that remain.

“One of the biggest lessons we learnt is we aren’t delivering that silver bullet here.” Many communities in Australia and around the world are challenged to even get their children to attend school regularly. However providing access to engaging, rich technology has delivered breakthroughs.

Still, Srikhanta notes; “We think that we can do better.  We need to do better as an organisation and we think that what we’re putting out there in the market now is the best product we’ve ever had.”

Also, the more ubiquitous technology is in the classroom setting the more educational reform is possible, replacing archaic pen-and-paper learning with modern educational approaches that engage children thoroughly, offering the hope of improved academic outcomes.

“Off the back of the innovation that Microsoft is driving, we’re now getting into a space that teachers are able to do things that they just never were able to do.  A simple example of that is there’s this big movement around student self-assessment; getting the children to reflect on how think they went on a task before the teacher gives them feedback.

“We created Journal on the Azure platform, to promote the practice of student self assessment. It’s creating that visibility and transparency right throughout the school that was never possible without technology.  We are hitting this tipping point that I think is going to really blow open the door for people to interact and operate in ways that they weren’t able to just a few short years ago.”

One Education is focussed on being a key educational and societal change agent.

“It’s an exciting time to be around Microsoft because there seems to be a very clear mandate for innovation in the education space,” says Srikhanta.

“So for us, they’re bringing us the reach of a million plus children in the next five years and we feel we’re going to have the best opportunity to do that in a partnership with Microsoft.”