Education plays an important role in one’s future. Regardless of how you learn something, as long as you are learning something, and that knowledge is usable, that is the end goal. That being said, Sri Lanka’s education system is far from perfect. This is where Akshika Wijesundara wants to shake things up with the Sustainable Education Foundation.
Education for a better tomorrow
While carrying out his studies at the University of Moratuwa, Akshika was also a Google student ambassador. During that time, Akshika carried out a number of workshops across universities in Sri Lanka. The goal here was to improve the knowledge of students. Akshika wasn’t alone. He sought the assistance and aid of his fellow Google student ambassadors as well.
Following his tenure with Google, Akshika wanted to do more. Thus, he conceptualized a new platform. One that would educate Sri Lanka and aim to rectify any flaws in the current education system. Akshika called it the “Sustainable Education Foundation”, more fondly referred to as the SEF.
Akshika’s goal was simple
Akshika enlisted the help of a few of his friends and conduct free workshops for students from Universities, both state and private in Sri Lanka. Apart from his friends, Akshika also got support from people such as Dinal Kurukulasooriya, Heminda Jayaweera, Yasiru Kassapa, Anjana Wijekoon and Shenal Senerath, Bhagya Nirmaan Silva and Ramindu Sanka Deshapriya. They all volunteered to conduct sessions and help solidify the Sustainable Education Foundation. As things progressed, they were joined by Buwaneka De Silva, Hasitha Senevirathne and Charith Samarakoon.
How are we gonna pay for all this?
As you can probably assume, running a project of this nature would not be possible without funding. But surprisingly, Akshika and his team based the Sustainable Education Foundation on a zero-budget platform. This was largely thanks to the cooperation received from the volunteer speakers and partners. Akshika explained that it was “solely built on the goodwill for the betterment of the student population of Sri Lanka”.
Broadcasting education to the masses
Unlike the somewhat Neanderthal approach of packing together hordes of students as far as the eye could see and then feeding them tutorials and exam questions, the Sustainable Education Foundation operated in a more technologically refined manner. Their objective is to share knowledge without any boundaries. As such, they carry out webinars via electronic media carried out by highly qualified experts and professionals.
Currently, the Sustainable Education Foundation caters towards both state and private university students. But Akshika is determined to adopt the platform to school teachers and students as well. They also use social media to spread awareness of the Sustainable Education Foundation and keep a record of their progress with those involved with the platform.
Tuning into the right program
The Sustainable Education Foundation runs a number of programs to foster education. Namely, these are OneLive, the Mentor Program, and the School/University Outreach Program. We decided to delve deeper into these three to see exactly what they are.
OneLive is essentially an interactive webinar series carried out every weekend by means of the SEF Facebook page. Here, experts from various different fields from around world would carry out sessions to students. Akshika explained that one of the primary goals of the Sustainable Education Foundation carrying out these sessions is to connect Sri Lankans all over the world to a single platform. Thus, they can share their knowledge with students in Sri Lanka. The session would be like the one below
A typical OneLive session would include topics such as technology, astronomy, entrepreneurship, and Innovation. Because these are webinars, there is always a risk of the video stream being choppy or unclear due to internet connectivity issues. In order to alleviate this, the team first carry out a test session with the speaker via a private Facebook group. The speaker is evaluated by the team and feedback is given about the session.
Currently, still in the pilot phase, the Mentor Program kicked off when Akshika and his team members conducted mentoring for Google Summer of Code. Here, students were paired with those who are interested in participating in GSOC with past mentors and participants.
The program runs for 3 months with a minimum of 12 interactions between the mentor and student. The student is encouraged to blog or create a vlog about their experience as well. They are also required to act as a mentor in four years. This ensures that the mentor program is sustainable.
In terms of mentors, the team looks for individuals who have excelled in their specific fields. As such, their primary target for mentors is Ph.D. students, doctors, and industry experts.
School/University Outreach Program
Last but not least, the outreach program is where the team organizes programs based on the requests through student ambassadors. Apart from that, individual requests from universities and schools are also attended to as well.
“Thus far, all the projects initiated by Akshika and his team have been successful,” says Akshika and his team. They’ve all gotten positive feedback and any criticism that they receive is turned into a lesson learned exercise where they learn what they did wrong and rectify it.
The road wasn’t easy
Setting up the Sustainable Education Foundation was by no means an easy task. “Finding a group of people with the same interests and passion is a challenging task”, Akshika explained. As such, finding volunteers to support their cause was the primary challenge they faced.
Probably the largest, and currently one that they still face is the challenge of continuing the operations of the SEF without any funding. To this Akshika explained that “the cooperation of our volunteers and sponsors for our events have been a great relief for us to overcome this challenge, and they should be remembered with gratitude”.
The initial step of a project is always the hardest. It was the same with the Sustainable Education Foundation as well. But in time, the team gained a wealth of knowledge and with a dedicated team, the SEF pushed through to overcome all obstacles in their way.
“If there is something our journey thus far has taught us, it is to find the right people and to empower them” Akshika explained. It is all about the team and having the right people who would take everything to the next level.
The journey of the Sustainable Education Foundation
The Sustainable Education Foundation has been a part of a number of projects. These range from Google Summer of Code (GSOC) sessions to public conferences, the School/University outreach programmes, and a number of student ambassador programs as well.
In April 2017, they also partnered up with SurfEdge. At the time, SurfEdge was working on Gurupaara which was directly aimed at disrupting the traditional education system. According to Akshika, their goal was to create videos with the assistance of university undergraduates, which would help students who were sitting for the GCE A/L examination.
Akshika found it best for both parties to join forces and work on a collaboration to contribute towards the project. The project was quite successful and they were able to launch a series of video clips with tips and advice for A/L students.
Help is always appreciated
Akshika emphasized that the Sustainable Education Foundation is always on the lookout for new partners. If a person likes to share his knowledge and experience with the student community, he/she can partner with them to conduct OneLive sessions, workshops or even blog articles.
If an organization or an individual is willing to provide financial support or scholarships for students, they too can partner with the Sustainable Education Foundation. Those with similar interests can join as volunteers. Experts in a specific field can partner with the team as advisors
As such, the Sustainable Education Foundation has partnered with the likes of Rotaract Sri Lanka and Maldives – District 3220. Where they joined forces to create a series of OneLive (Facebook Live Q n A sessions) inviting global youth leaders.
The team has also partnered with Autochatic, a French-based Sri Lanka startup who has provided the Sustainable Education Foundation with a free chatbot facility to support their operations. Further, they’ve established partnerships with Thuru, Venture Frontier Lanka, AIESEC Colombo North, AIESEC in the University of Colombo, IEEE INSL and the Royal College Astronomy society.
A worthy cause indeed
All things considered, the efforts of Akshika and his team at the Sustainable Education Foundation are to be commended. They’ve achieved all this with little to no funding and a host of volunteers ever willing to lend a heart and a hand to help those in need. If you are interested in helping the Sustainable Education Foundation or you would like to get in touch with them, you can do so by visiting their website or their Facebook page.