The CEO of Dasaran pulls up a slide that shows the number of logins they get from abroad—click throughs by the thousand from Russia, Spain and other parts of Europe and the Middle East. “These are dads working abroad” says Suren Aloyan. “Men who can’t live with their families, but who still care how their kids are doing in school”. Gulp.
There is very little that Dasaran doesn’t know about parents and children, teachers and schools in Armenia. The non-profit organization started as a resource for teachers in 2009— an efficient way of confidentially reporting grades, sharing assignment details, and updating parents on their children’s absences from school. (Attendance has risen sharply since this data was captured and shared—Teachers 1: Truants 0).
Now Dasaran (it means Classroom in Armenian) is in every school in the country. In addition to sharing information between schools, students and families, the organization also uses its data to inform education policy making— invaluable information to direct government spending. Further, it is reinventing education in Armenia through the development and dissemination of online educational games. Kids log in and learn. There is online real-time and self-paced tutoring and communities of practice for all kinds of study support. Dasaran also works beyond the classic curriculum, teaching a range of life skills to those who care to learn. Now every kid with an internet connection can learn from peers and first-rate coaches, regardless of whether he or she lives at the top of a mountain or the bottom of the deepest gorge. Dasaran is particularly proud of its work for children with disabilities—everyone can play.
Armenia has taken to the internet. There is 98% 3G coverage across the country. The many families without a computer will use a smart phone for the telecom bill is one that people here put on the top of the pile. In a country where travel internally and externally is difficult and expensive, the internet opens a route to the rest of the world.
You might think that a data-driven organization would be all Avatars and Artificial Intelligence— cold, remote and Big Brotherly. Nothing could be further from the truth. The team at Dasaran definitely care about hearts as much as minds.
My colleague and I got lost on the way to Dasaran yesterday. We called the CEO who sent a very gracious driver to retrieve us. We were met at the door by three young women who looked thrilled to have us there. Our names were on a welcome board by the door. The offices are filled with pictures of the children of Armenia, taken during the many events hosted at Dasaran HQ. There are photos of local, national and global dignitaries too of course: Dasaran wins awards, attention and funding from all over the world. The kitchen and stairway are lined with artwork from a recent national competition. I was particularly taken with a 3D collage of a ballerina in a wheelchair. Her powder blue tulle skirt fizzes out of the picture’s frame. Dasaran’s offices are clean, comfortable and beautifully styled. There is a serenity, optimism, energy and spirit about the place that is good for the soul. This country that cares so much about learning and qualifications has spawned an innovation in education and a workforce that is shaping Armenia’s rising generation. This is the future, and it works.