Tech Humans Of Dublin # 39: Linda O’Sullivan, School In A Box

Mapping Dublin’s tech ecosystem, one human at a time.

I’m the Manager of the School In A Box project at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT).

We run a number of community engagement projects, all to do with creative technologies, and over the years we’ve done a lot of work relating to digital media and digital literacy in the classroom. Out of that, we started working in a developing world context.

School In A Box was born from a trip to Lesotho. When we were there, we realised that the biggest barrier to schools using educational technology in the classroom was access to electricity. School In A Box uses a very simple technology; it’s essentially a tablet device connected to a projector, powered by a solar battery, and a solar panel. It’s mobile, and can be moved from school to school. It’s been used in outdoor schools, which are essentially located under a tree, where it can be projected onto a sheet.

We work in a lot of remote areas: in Nepal, it’s in use in a school that’s very high in The Himalayas, three days’ trek from the nearest road. There are about 500 students in that school. In Mozambique, where we’re just beginning a trial, the student-teacher ratio is 72-1, with three shifts of school per day, each teacher teaches over 200 kids in the course of three shifts per day. We’re also working with the Aga Khan Foundation in field farm schools, where agricultural extension workers are literally going out to the fields to work with farmers who don’t have any traditional literacy, giving video tutorials on local farming practices. Those are the different types of environments that we’re working in.

It’s a challenging environment to work in, but it’s very gratifying to see people who might not have used this technology before intuitively taking to it and making it their own in a very short period of time. There’s huge potential on the ground, in terms of locals leap-frogging decades of development and potentially becoming leaders. It’s very much an open book in terms of potential. It’s all about facilitating communities to find their need. The challenge is to measure impact, so that funding can be found to scale, and then making partnerships so we can make growth sustainable.

Dublin’s a great place to be doing this. Right now, there’s a real openness towards creating new initiatives. There is a convergence of skills here that we can utilize, with design, animation, creative arts and technology all coming together, and where that intersects with education is very interesting. Previously, technology was very much about technology, but I think now especially in Dublin it’s about the creativity behind that technology, and what can be achieved, particularly in terms of tackling societal challenges globally and locally.

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