Over 400 years ago, John Amos Comenius, the father of modern education, was born in Moravia. A champion of universal education, he introduced pictorial textbooks in native languages instead of latin. Comenius introduced equal educational opportunities for impoverished children and women. He fostered the idea that learning should be fun!
As the schools closed due to COVID-19, the idea of universal education is under threat. Only teachers with strong technical skills and older students from affluent socio economic backgrounds can access education through e-learning. Schools are attempting to use commercial web-conferencing services, but language barriers and complex digital technologies have shut out up to 30% of students from education Also, these commercial platforms do not provide a safe, secure and private environment required for education.
Now, 400 years after Comenius, a small group of hackers in Moravia (and beyond) have followed in his footsteps to create a safe, private, ease to use and economical solution for remote learning. In March 2020, the first version of WebSkola was rolled out to a primary school in the Czech Republic.
A few weeks later, we have scaled up and are running 220 classrooms in the Czech Republic.
What it does
WebSkola is a free video streaming virtual classroom. It has been developed to meet the remote learning needs of teachers and students of primary schools because of COVID-19. Webskola has been designed to be mobile friendly, simple to use and secure. It has been designed to be rapidly adaptable to native languages.
Unlike commercial videoconferencing, WebSkola is developed specifically for teaching of primary school students and to be accessible to students from all socio economic backgrounds.
Webskola does not run any algorithms or profiling on its users and does not provide any user data to third parties.
How we built it
Security is resolved by two factor authentication.
Challenges we ran into
The biggest challenge was finding the funds and infrastructure to scale up from our small test solution to supporting large numbers of classes in parallel. Despite the difficulties, we were able to scale up our initial small-scale solution and are now proudly serving 224 classrooms each day. However, we will need to improve our business plan to be able to scale to serving Europe and the world.
Another challenge was to find a balance between ease of use and functionality. We made many small improvements, but we will devote more time to inventing the perfect user interface.
The final challenge is related to legal protection. We are aware of the legal ramifications, and are planning to have legal experts help us putting in place terms and conditions and disclaimers to make sure we are compliant with all applicable laws. We will need independent assessments of our security and privacy guarantees.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We are proud that the local Czech version caught up so fast and had 220 registered teachers on Friday. It proves there is a need for our app.
During the hackathon, we have
- added support for crowdsourcing new locales. We had Czech. We have added English, Dutch and German, and have crowdsourced Italian, Arabic and Turkish. We still need to teach our chatbot the new languages.
- added functionality for the teacher to mute all students.
- added functionality for students to raise their hands to attract the teacher's attention.
- added functionality to remove unwanted participants from the classroom, as a last line of defense against intruders if multi-factor authentication fails
- fixed multiple small bugs and added small user friendliness related enhancements
What we learned
Our team combined coding skills with education specialists and people experienced in R&D. We learned about regional differences in the COVID-19 related education system challenges and the different target groups we should address.
We had access to some great mentoring. We have discussed legal challenges, including GDPR, the wording and placement of our disclaimers, terms and conditions, as well as how to demonstrate the security by supporting security assessments.
What's next for WebSkolacz
During the hackathon, we have been able to jointly work on the project with computer programmers and experts from the field. We have many ideas for expansion of the app and how to make it work for different usage scenarios. This list must be prioritized taking into account the impact.
We need to find a way to scale the infrastructure to support all schools in Europe! First and foremost, this requires funds. We will need to talk to private as well as public investors, with different "business" models in mind. This requires a refinement of our plan, a dialog with potential investors and stakeholders.
We think that a very transparent foundation, with fees very close to cost, or offset by donations, is the right business model. We are open to corporate donations, but insist on rock solid privacy principles.