17000 ft Foundation, a Nonprofit organization working in remote hamlets of high altitude Ladakh has pioneered a unique EdTech Learning Solution to reach children even in areas without electricity or mobile connectivity.
Ladakh or the “land of high passes” in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir is a newly formed Union Territory of India and is divided into two administrative districts - Leh and Kargil. Spread over 60,000 sq. km. of harsh mountain terrain, with a few hundred tiny, hamlets dotting its landscape, these sparsely populated hamlets, all in altitudes upwards of 9,000 ft are home to a centuries old indigenous population of just under 3,00,000, whose sustenance and growth depends on the infrastructure, resources and support provided by the Government.
Over 90% of Ladakh is rural and remote, with most hamlets still getting electricity only for a few hours in the night. Internet connectivity is extremely limited and sketchy, with many remote hamlets still without mobile coverage and those with mobile coverage limited to just 2G or 3G. Each year, an average of 30% of school going children from remote villages migrate away from their homes to faraway cities for education, many as young as 5 years old, who stay in boarding schools, private dorms or with extended families, mostly never to return.
About 17000 ft Foundation
17000 ft Foundation is a Not for profit setup to improve lives of people settled in very remote mountainous hamlets, in areas that are inaccessible and isolated due to reasons of harsh mountainous terrain.
The goal of 17000ft is to ensure that communities living even in the remotest and most inaccessible of hamlets of mountainous regions like Ladakh have access to quality education and opportunities of income. We achieve this by improving the infrastructure in remote Govt. Schools & Anganwadi Centers, providing better resources for learning, training teachers, mobilizing communities, driving awareness about these villages, and generating opportunities for income, thereby building replicable models of development.
We today have a presence in 220 very remote hamlets of Leh and Kargil districts of UT of Ladakh, reaching out to over 12,000 children and 50,000 community members. Our programs have today reduced student migration by over 50%, and increased enrollment by over 30% in Govt. Schools.
The DigiLab Program – 17000ft’s EdTech Solution built for villages with neither electricity nor connectivity
The DigiLab is our Flagship Program that brings the power of digital technology to improve learning, even in areas which are remote, inaccessible and truly off-grid. The DigiLab Project assumes neither the presence of uninterrupted electricity, mobile connectivity nor existing infrastructure, and brings together all required components in an offline, but connected system, delivering customized and personalized content through a local internet to students, while also enabling the teachers and administrators to assess and monitor performance periodically.
The uniqueness of the solution lies in its ability to function completely offline in schools, but also sync to a cloud based system through a last mile connectivity app that relies on the presence of travelling teachers and facilitators.
The Program provides each school with the complete solar and digital infrastructure, EdTech Engine, learning content, training, support, monitoring and reporting needed to be fully independent & functional Digital Learning Centers. Under this, each school receives a 300 W Solar Panel to power up a DigiLab, multiple 10” tablets with rich, interactive content which is personalized and customized to the local board and mapped to textbooks, a Raspberry Pi or equivalent server which functions as a local cloud that connects all tablets, stores student usage data, and a Dashboard for reporting. The Program also comes with a “travelling” Facilitator App that syncs Analytical data from the local server to the cloud and also updates content regularly. The Tablets are completely locked down and only display academic content. All this in areas which neither have electricity nor connectivity.
DigiLab Program – The Success Story
The DigiLab Program was first implemented in 2019 and is today active in 120 Schools of Ladakh, covering its remotest and most inaccessible of hamlets. Over 80% of these villages have electricity for just 3 hours in the night. Only 30% of these villages have 4G or internet connection.
However, the DigiLab has transformed each of these schools into Digital Learning Hubs where students are eager to come to school and parents proud to send them there. Teachers are using the DigiLab along with traditional classroom teaching in a blended model while children are learning at their own pace with highly interactive videos and gamified content. Assessments are also taken using the DigiLab as well as through traditional tests and exams. The System has worked in the harshest of winters even in the remote hamlets of the Drass Sector, the second coldest inhabited region of the planet, where teachers opened up the DigiLab for students during the winter vacations. Students across the schools eagerly wait for their chance to use the DigiLab, keep the rooms clean and even shovel snow regularly outside the room in winters to ensure that access to the room is not disturbed! Headmasters and teachers regularly attend the centralized training to effectively maintain the DigiLab as well as to improve student learning outcomes. Not only are Headmasters able to track the performance of each grade, subject and student, Zonal and District officers, as well as the 17000ft team is able to monitor and track progress of each school near real time. Parents, for their part, show their commitment to the school by not only ensuring that their children go to school, but many have pulled their children out of private schools to enroll them back into Govt. Schools.
Today over 6000 children are enrolled in our DigiLab, with over 93% actively using the DigiLab and showing a learning improvement of over 10% in just the first year alone. Today, with schools being shut for Covid, the System can provide a much needed alternative to traditional classroom teaching and also be adapted to an in-home solution where each child takes a tablet home to study and only comes to school for a few minutes a day to sync data, which the teacher can safely monitor.
With the DigiLab Program, no child need ever be left behind, regardless of the geography that they live in.