Class with computers, printers and digital projector in use for teaching
Education to Empowerment (E2E) is a non-profit organisation using technology to bridge the urban-rural digital divide by giving primary students in rural Kandiyapita a modern education.
E2E was founded in 2012 by then 17-year-old Yohan Sumathipala while a student at Swarthmore College, USA. Since then, E2E’s vision for Kandiyapita has grown to encompass digital skills, English literacy and community-centred project-based learning to teach students the skills to be engaged with their community and become leaders of change.
Surrounded by paddy fields and croplands, Nalanda Kanishta Vidayala has a little over a 100 students, ages six to 14, who study in open-air classrooms. The idea behind E2E was born while Yohan Sumathipala was visiting his grandparents in Sri Lanka during the summer of 2012, during which time he visited the school and donated a few laptops.
“I was struck by the inequalities of this rural, agrarian community. My impression when I founded E2E was that the lack of social mobility kept the village impoverished from generation to generation. Greatly believing in education as an equalizer, I made a commitment five years ago to help the children of Kandiyapita,” said Yohan.
With recognition from the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2014, E2E’s innovative education model, called U R Learning (URL), uses an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating digital literacy, English and traditional curricula through project-based learning.
The model is made of three parts – ORG for organising technology and human resources, NET for networking with technology experts and COM for conducting community development projects through project-based learning.
E2E has so far donated 30 laptops, three digital projectors, two consumer grade printers and one heavy-duty printer. For the past four years, E2E has been providing free afterschool and weekend English and IT classes for the students. Every summer, Yohan and his Swarthmore E2E team ran technology-integrated learning projects at the school to supplement the students’ digital literacy skills.
In addition to teaching students English and computer skills, E2E coordinates enriching project-based learning experiences. In one such project, the students addressed the issues of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The village and many students’ parents suffered from CKD. For this project, E2E helped students research CKD and its association with agrochemicals.
E2E mentors then helped students build an organic fertilizer venture to reduce the need for agrochemicals linked with CKD. Through the project, the students were producing organic fertilizer, which is dried, packaged and distributed to farmers and families, as well as designing compost systems and selling the product at the local market. These projects are self-sustaining, generating revenue for minor school upkeep, field trips and seed money for more projects.
“My goal was to create lifelong learners and to empower the village’s youth. Inquiry, critical thinking and problem-solving were important to me in this process. So in addition to the digital resources we provide with a technology infused education, I wanted there to be real, active learning through meaningful projects. I saw project-based learning as a way to bring together the community, solving local problems while instilling community engagement and leadership training,” said Yohan.
Students were also taught how to do field research by conducting interviews and surveys and were given tablet computers to analyse their findings in order to better understand farming practices, water and agrochemical usage.
Yohan says: “What is really remarkable is to see that given the resources, how capable they are of organising as a team to charter their learning in new directions, to be innovative and enterprising.”
Although Yohan has since graduated from Swarthmore, the project is still running with contributions from his salary while his younger brother, 19-year-old Adriel, tries to secure more funding. The school’s needs for computing resources have significantly reduced thanks to E2E. And the most promising change over the past five years is not one immediately visible; it is active learning and the critical thinking happening every day and an eagerness of a community for action to better themselves.