The Karta Initiative
Research, Strategy, UX, 2017-18
There are myriad access gaps in school education at the bottom of the pyramid that prevent students from realising their fullest potential. ‘The Karta Initiative’ is an organisation that seeks to catalyse the bridging of these gaps, and in doing so help these empowered students to give back to their communities, thereby creating a self-sustaining and transformative social movement.
We designed an organisational strategy and an e-platform to help Karta disseminate a research-informed non-academic program for life skills and bridging gaps in exposure.
Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya is a residential schooling system that provides a high quality - and free - education to talented students from underprivileged backgrounds. As they are located in every district in India, Karta has partnered with the JNV system to identify promising students from across the country for their program.
Our research phase included extensive comparator analysis, expert and stakeholder interviews, and several field visits. Our team included educationists, academics, researchers, designers and a tech consultant, all working closely in sync to ensure a balanced solution that address challenges at all levels of the implementation ecosystem.
We identified technology platforms that would support our stringent requirements for low-bandwidth content delivery, even across spotty networks and developed a content strategy in consultation with an educationist and a child psychologist. Our approach was to deal with all the complexity at the design level, ensuring the design solution made it easy for the Karta team to implement and maintain consistency of end-user experience of the learning material, and for users to effectively access and utilise the full range of services.
Co-learning as a guiding principle
Co-learning is big at every JNV school we visited - students rely on co-curricular peer interactions to practice speaking English and other ‘soft skills’. Recognising the prevalence and popularity of the co-learning approach in the JNV school system, we integrated it as a core principle in formulating our design solution.
Karta needed to have its own unique presence in the educational services domain, underscored by a proprietary platform that can adapt and scale for multiple geographies in future. We identified just how wide-ranging its footprint really is, when compared to other organizations in the same service space - helping Karta leverage its unique presence in funding presentations.
Proposed solution: The Karta Access Programme
The solution to the problem of access gaps is conceived of as a resource of non-academic life skills that integrates seamlessly into the student co-curricular activity calendar, without any disruption to the academic programme. For schools with ICT connectivity challenges, content can be delivered online and downloaded for offline use in real-world exercises, bolstered by group/participatory learning, and guided by a senior student or mentor. Self-driven learning is the baseline user experience; where infrastructure is available, group-based exercises/activities can take learning further.
The solution framework was divided into three distinct delivery mechanisms for varying ICT and usage scenarios across a diverse JNV school system, and ranged from individual learning to co-learning, and a Karta Club for group-based learning through a club format. We found the last to be most promising as students were already familiar with reading clubs in their schools, and in interviews were very receptive to the idea of learning through group activity rather than through individual assignments. Our research revealed that every single player in this field in India was spending a lot of time developing their own content, in direct contact with students. The need for close contact was validated through our field visits where we found students to be completely dependent on teachers and peer networks for their learning.
Content and UX strategy
This being a unique problem space - delivering learning content digitally to students with almost no ICT literacy - we realised early that Karta would need to develop their own content on an ongoing basis, to be able to format it for the very specific and unique requrements that the content delivery platform would have. We needed to embrace regional and cultural differences and create localised adaptations of the solution where necessary, to ensure students would actually be able to benefit from the platform.
Eventually the best way to effectively scale and continue to be relevant in varying geographies and with differing socio-cultural contexts was found to be to include the users themselves in the creation of content through feedback loops to improve/localize content and delivery mechanisms, and through mentorship after the students had passed through the Karta Access Programme. We tapped into the strong sense of service in students from the JNV school system - many of whom return to mentor others.