December 4, 2013
According to the United Nations, a “Least Developed Country” (LDC) is one that exhibits the lowest indicator of socioeconomic development, per three criteria: poverty, human resource weakness (as they relate to health and education), and economic vulnerability (due to instability of weather, agricultural production, government support, etc.) Of the three, though, human capital has been singled as the factor to dramatically improve the development of a country – particularly, with regards to education (both in terms of access and quality).
Having lived in Oman (adjacent to Yemen, a designated LDC) as a child, Varun Arora knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up in the developing world. “Growing up, I remember traveling through the developing world and seeing a lot of poverty…it was really the first of a series of incidents that led to creating OpenCurriculum,” says Arora.
“It’s like a GitHub for educational materials. Allows schools, school districts, [education ministries/departments], etc. to collaboratively produce, publish and digitally distribute K-12 educational materials.”
OpenCurriculum is an online platform that allows educators from around the world to come together online, collaborate on, and publish educational materials. Aimed at tackling the lack of educational resources in the developing world, the company’s goal is to bring educators together and share their various lesson plans and readings with the rest of the world.
While an online platform for shared education materials isn’t entirely new (think Khan Academy or Schoology), there are things about OpenCurriculum that make it uniquely positioned to tackle the issue of education in the developing world:
It’s Focused on Collaboration
“If we can get people to constantly come online to share and collaborate, then [we] can really disrupt the educational publishing industry.” According to Arora, the goal of OpenCurriculum is to bring openness to the education publishing industry. As of now, the cost of educational materials is at too high a pricepoint to be made accessible to everyone in the world. OpenCurriculum is focused on collaboration – getting people to come together and create and compile the educational resources. It’s not merely an aggregation platform, one that simply puts together videos and documents; rather, it encourages educators to build a curriculum together online. An education platform that aims at collaboration – rather than mere participation through contribution – encourages greater commitment on the part of all participants, allowing for the creation of truly great educational resources.
They’re Working Alongside Publishers
But even with this hope of changing the education publishing industry, OpenCurriculum isn’t naive – it knows that it has to deal with the potential threat from publishers. They’ve done a good thing by bringing in publications, early-on (after all, OpenCurriculum is all about collaboration). “We were smart enough to pivot and bring [education publishers] into our ecosystem.” Rather than directly opposing the publishers and the entire industry, OpenCurriculum is bringing in publishers and allowing them to publish paid content on their platform. By doing this, they could hopefully gain access to educational material at lower-than-market prices, which would obviously be a huge asset to those in developing worlds who could never afford such resources at current rates.
It’s a Nonprofit
“There are very few times when other startups can say ‘we’re making the world better,’ but [we] can actually say that.” OpenCurriculum is an NGO, which makes their startup journey a lot different from others. Arguably, this puts them in a better position to take on the issue of education in the developing world. The organization has a unique idea that aims to improve the state of education in the developing world. If you take into account what their platform does and the UN’s never-ending pursuit of the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs), OpenCurriculum could easily snag grant funding from the likes of the Gates Foundation or Kauffman Foundation to further their cause. Their status as an NGO also provides them with more legitimacy within the field of education reform because whether we like it or not: the public is more supportive of nonprofits dealing with a social issue than they/we are of a for-profit entity dealing with such issues.
OpenCurriculum was most recently featured at Tech Cocktail’s Pittsburgh Mixer & Startup Showcase.
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