A cloud-based document storage, verification, and analytics platform that ensures continuous access to personalized learning for refugees
Displacement should not define a young person’s educational odds.This is why we propose StudentBox - a free mobile and web-based platform that empowers refugee and displaced young people in formal and informal educational systems with the ability to:
Store, verify and share academic documents (i.e. transcripts, teacher/counselor recommendations) in a simple and secure way
Access personalized academic guidance through transcript-driven analytics
Track their educational information and learning progress through different schools and locations
According to the UNHCR, only 50% of refugee children access primary school, 22% attend secondary school and less than 1% enroll in higher education. The main barriers refugee children and displaced youth face include inconsistent schooling, lack of adequate academic documentation and uneven educational quality and experiences. Our mission is to disrupt these long-standing barriers and give students ownership over their learning.
Not only is StudentBox a solution for refugee and displaced people on the move, but it is also a pre-emptive solution for families preparing to flee their homes and/or living in conflict zones. By providing access to academic track records, personalized learning tools, and unique document-verification processes, StudentBox carries the promise of catalyzing students to reach their full potential.
What are the key outcomes and impact of your solution?
Below are four key outcomes, followed by metrics that will be tracked:
1. Improve student transition to new schools or educational systems by providing a secure way to store, verify and share academic documents. Student access to education will no longer be dependent on former educational institutions that may be located in a conflict zone, closed or no longer functioning. This will also aid schools and universities in evaluating students and placing them in the correct levels of education.
- Number of verified transcripts
- Number of schools and employers that documents are shared to
- Percentage of students with complete transcripts
- Average number of years in school
- Percentage of users that are enrolled in formal education
2. Promote continuous access to learning by giving students ownership over their education. Using transcript-driven data analytics, students will receive online course recommendations based on personalized academic guidance. This will allow students in formal and informal systems, and at any stage of their migration journey, to solidify their learning and grow their knowledge on an individualized basis.
- Completion rate of online course recommendations
- Number of additional certifications gained through app use
- Advancement in online course difficulty
3. Increase the quality and effectiveness of refugee education by advancing personalized teaching. Through transcript-driven analytics, educators will gain academic insights on student strengths, weaknesses, quality of their prior education and any learning accommodations they may need. This tool will help overstretched educators quickly anticipate and keep track of students who are struggling academically and better meet their educational needs. It will make it easier for schools and learning centers to focus on the individual progress of a student.
- Number of student profiles viewed by educators
- Surveys for educators to measure utility of StudentBox-generated insights
4. Record educational outcomes. Students will be able to continuously track their educational trajectory and academic progress through different schools, educational stages and countries. By building this track record, students will be able increasingly access education, vocational training and work. The educational outcomes for students can also be leveraged for educational oversight (by governments, departments of education, schools etc.)
- Number of users with more than one upload
- Number of students with complete transcripts when they finish high school
- Number of documents shared by type of recipient
What actions do you propose to realize your stated goals?
Our Solution: StudentBox
StudentBox is a free mobile and web based platform that allows refugees to securely store, verify and share educational documents. In addition, it provides transcript-driven analytics that support refugees in formal and informal systems to continuously access and thrive in their education.
StudentBox provides students with an online locker for academic documents:
Uploading - Refugee students, parents or guardians will register and verify their accounts. Users will then upload images of education-related documents (e.g. transcripts) via SMS, mobile app or web to StudentBox. Given that refugees often struggle to obtain recommendations from past teachers, StudentBox will allow refugees to preemptively solicit and store letters of recommendations.
Verification*- Uploaded documents will be processed through an automated image alteration detection algorithm. Users will then have two options for completing the verification process: Students can either share the document with a current/former school official who will provide document confirmation OR can request external verification from a local pre-vetted StudentBox partner (e.g. UNHCR, IRC), if they are unable or it is unsafe to reach a school official.
Storage - Users are able to continuously upload and access their documents throughout their lives through StudentBox’s encrypted platform.
Sharing - Students will be able to securely share their transcripts with educational institutions and employers through StudentBox’s authenticated process. The recipient will be able to assess the document based on a detailed report on the verification and security processes the document has undergone.
Translation Services - StudentBox will automatically translate transcripts using Google Translate API which would then be certified by human translators. For many students, language barriers prevent access to education since documents are not in their host country’s language.
*Note: Based on preliminary feedback, educational institutions support our proposed verification process. Higher education admission officers have counseled us that if we document the chain of custody and provide them with the verification procedures the document has undergone, they will accept these transcripts for displaced students. Since current verification processes are long and cumbersome, StudentBox provides institutions with a cost and time saving solution. To ensure the credibility of our verification, we will work hard to minimize opportunities for corruption.
StudentBox provides transcript-driven analytics:
For students - Uploaded transcripts will be parsed for relevant information such as courses, grades and school names. This data will be used to identify strengths and areas with greatest potential for improvement. This will allow students to benchmark their progress, create individualized academic guidance and recommend appropriate existing online education resources. Partnerships with Khan Academy, Coursera and edX will connect their content with our users. Completed and recommended online courses and certifications will be stored and featured on StudentBox’s custom dashboard. Transcript-driven academic guidance will give each student a curated personalized education to solidify and grow their academic knowledge.
For educators - Students will also have the possibility to share these transcript-driven academic insights with their teachers. Teachers would receive: an outline of their current academic strengths and weaknesses, a summary of the student's educational background and prior education quality, information of any learning accommodations and additional feedback submitted by past teachers. We envision these academic insights will allow teachers to learn more about their students, optimize their teaching impact and maximize their students’ individual learning outcomes.
Refugee and displaced people will be able to download StudentBox from a mobile application store or access the platform via a website for free. We will partner with international and local humanitarian organizations to spread awareness of StudentBox and form on-the-ground teams of external verifiers. We also plan to use social media platforms like Facebook to share our product with our target demographic.
After pilot stage implementation, we will focus our outreach efforts in countries most affected by refugee crises, as well as areas at highest risk of displacement to ensure the preemptive storage of educational documentation.
During the past years we have seen teacher to refugee student ratios grow at an unprecedented rate. Therefore, there is a need for a tool to help teachers design and implement personalized curriculums to help maximize a student’s educational growth. StudentBox 2.0 would include an educator platform that would allow teachers to easily manage their classroom by providing data-driven insights (for example from transcripts, attendance, demographic information, etc) in order to curate personalized educational paths for their students. StudentBox would empower teachers to build and access personal curriculums best suited for their students’ need.
StudentBox 2.0 would also serve as a resource database that would provide users with high priority resources based on geolocation, demographics and academic background. Organizations would be encouraged to partner with StudentBox in order to leverage their existing programs, services and products.
Who will take these actions?
To ensure the successful implementation of StudentBox, we will leverage varied educational and humanitarian networks working to improve the lives of refugees.
Software Team - A team of software developers will build the system and features, as well as ensure the maintenance and continuous improvement of the mobile app and website platform. At an initial stage, we were thinking of inviting a team of MIT and other college students who are willing to volunteer their services in order to help consolidate both the mobile app and web platform. However, eventually our goal would be to hire refugees as our computer engineers.
Primary, Secondary and Postsecondary Institutions - Teachers and administrators in fragile states, conflict areas, refugee camps, learning centers and other educational institutions in home and host countries play a key role. They will help spread awareness of our platform, train our machine learning algorithms that drive our transcript-based analytics tools, and advise us on our verification process. We will seek their endorsement to establish credibility of StudentBox’s verification process.
Refugee Relief Organizations - Organizations like the UNHCR, the IRC, the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations who support families in home or host countries will be fundamental to partner with. First, they will be able to spread awareness of StudentBox to families and students who will be displaced, are on the move or have been resettled. Second, we will train on-the-ground liaisons in these organizations to be external verifiers of student transcripts.
Human Translators - While our technology will translate documents automatically, we will use human expert translators to certify translations. We are imagining translators around the world would be able to volunteer their time to StudentBox.
Online Educational Organizations - We will partner with online educational companies such as Coursera, Khan Academy and edX to provide recommendations for a personalized education plan for each student.
Conflict and Migration-related Organizations - We will collaborate with university centers (e.g. Refugee Studies Center at Oxford University) and international organizations (e.g. UNHCR and International Crisis Group) to track trends in violence and migration around the world. This will allow us to prioritize outreach in areas of greatest risk and will ensure StudentBox is ready to cope with increased demand in specific countries and languages.
Our solution is targeting all areas affected by the displacement cycle, including refugee producing, hosting and resettlement countries. Given its mobile nature, StudentBox will be accessible from anywhere in the world with internet connection. According to the UNHCR, 93.2% of refugees reside in places covered by at least a 2G network, and 62% live in places covered by 3G networks.
We plan to pilot StudentBox in Jordan, a country with the second largest number of refugees per capita. In 2015, UNICEF found that 55% of the 650,000 syrian refugees living in Jordan are under 18 years old, our core target demographic. Research also shows that over 80% of refugees are living in urban areas. This is advantageous for the implementation of StudentBox as refugees living in urban areas were found to have similar access to mobile networks as global urban populations. Even in refugee camps, a study on the use of technology in one of Jordan’s largest camps revealed that 86% of youth own a mobile phone and that more than 50% use the internet at least once a day.
After our pilot test, we will release StudentBox globally. Our outreach and marketing, however, will strategically target countries most affected by refugee crises and areas at greatest risk of displacement. Top priority countries will include: Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan.
What do you expect are the costs associated with piloting and implementing the solution, and what is your business model?
To ensure continuous free access of StudentBox for refugees, we developed our solution with scalability and sustainability in mind.
During the initial stages of the project we will be dependent on grant money to cover research and development costs. However, in the long-term, we expect sponsored advertisements will help cover our costs without compromising the integrity of our long-term goals. We anticipate interest among banking, education, telecommunications and housing businesses as resettled refugees are prime consumers of basic social goods and services. The user would be prompted to opt-in to receive sponsored advertisements. Strategic relationships with private companies and international organizations will also be built as these agencies could help potentially cover costs. Furthermore, throughout the development and release stages of the project, crowd-funding and donation based strategies will be thoroughly explored.
The automated features of StudentBox will be powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) which seamlessly scales with usage. Based on their flexible pricing model, we would only pay for the amount of computational power that our users end up using.
App Development - varies if we hire student programmers or a small firm - App Development - varies if we hire student programmers or a small firm - $15k-$200k5k-$200k
Pilot Study - $25k
Support Services - $45k
Marketing - $25k
Maintenance (AWS) - varies based on usage - $100-$1k+/month
*estimates based on preliminary research
The development and implementation of StudentBox will occur in 4 phases.
Product Development - Duration: 8 months
After conversations with major stakeholders (refugees, education institutions and relevant NGOs) the key product specifications will be outlined.
Partnerships will be built with existing online education content providers and NGOs on the ground.
Technical development team (programmers & data scientists) will be assembled and will build out specific features for: first, a mobile app; and second, a web platform.
Beta Testing - Duration: 4 months
A focus group of 50 students in the US will test StudentBox. Feedback from key stakeholders will allow technical team to revise product and debug issues.
Partnerships with on-the-ground schools and NGOs will be established for pilot release in Jordan.
Pilot - Duration: 6 months
In country (Jordan) marketing of StudentBox will occur via facebook and twitter targeted advertisements and through established partners. Our goal is to reach 2000 active users in our pilot stage.
Technical teams will implement feedback from users and scale capacity of platform for full implementation.
Marketing and sales strategy will be developed for full release.
Full Release - Duration: 24+ months
Marketing and sales strategy for full release is implemented.
Partnerships with education and humanitarian organizations will be expanded through attendance at conferences, virtual trainings and on-site collaborations.
Many MIT Solve ideas would be natural partners to help expand our student outreach or increase refugee access to internet. The projects below would be very complementary to our platform’s capabilities.
Online degrees: Collaborating with A Digital Learning Curriculum, Curriculum For Emergencies or Verified universal learning certificate would allow StudentBox to provide students with personalized academic guidance that gears towards a concrete primary or secondary diploma.
Grading capabilities: Partnering with LearnJournal would help us expand StudentBox 2.0 towards storing student grades and school assessments. The more information students are able to collect for themselves the better.
On-the-ground resources: Pursuing partnerships with projects like The Schoolbox Project, Refugee Mentorship Network and EDaura would allow StudentBox to be a centralized platform that connects users to online and on-the-ground mentorship, trauma support and educational resources.
Refugee access to education
https://www.crisisgroup.org/global/what-s-driving-global-refugee-crisis Information on the global refugee crisis.
http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/education.html Provides statistics on primary, secondary and post-secondary enrollment for refugee children and youth.
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/09/25/syrian-refugee-crisis-and-higher-education Information about the struggles university-aged refugees face in accessing higher education. Abdulrahman al-Masri a Syrian student who completed a finance degree from Damascus University was not able to transfer any credit to Carleton University in Ottawa because of ack of transcripts. Instead, he had to complete a new undergraduate degree.
efugees This article explains how before universities even begin teaching migrants, “they face a major bureaucratic hurdle: working out the qualification levels of newcomers who may have fled their countries without full documentation, or who come from very different educational systems.”
http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001809/180906e.pdf UNESCO report written in 2009 which addresses the educational obstacles displaced youth face when they do not have the appropriate academic documents.
https://www.ece.org/common/loadfile?filePath=%2Fvar%2Fapps%2FWEBSITE%2FresourceFiles%2F%2F1477005986115%2FECE+Refugee+Session.pdf Refugee-specific barriers to verifying transcripts.
http://www.nokut.no/en/Foreign-education/NOKUTs-general-recognition/Recognition-Procedure-for-Persons-without-Verifiable-Documentation/ Norwegian process of verfication of transcripts. They note that the process is long and requires a lot of self-motivation from the student.
http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/01/14/508991615/5-big-ideas-in-education-that-dont-work?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social An article on successful teaching methods. It suggests that teaching should focus on the growth and progress of each student rather than aiming for a certain level of proficiency.
Refugee access to technology
http://www.unhcr.org/5770d43c4 UNHCR report provides information on refugee access to internet and the opportunities this entails.
http://news.psu.edu/story/350156/2015/03/26/research/ist-researchers-explore-technology-use-syrian-refugee-camp Information on technology access in refugee camps.
Information on evaluation and verification of refugee transcripts
How can we improve learning outcomes for refugee and displaced young people under 24?