Learning to break new ground


When I found out that UNIA (the International University of Andalusia) was about to contribute venture capital in a public contest to fund educational innovation projects, I didn't have a clue what UNIA or venture capital were, nor what the call was about. Fortunately, these things get sorted out in information society, so I read the rules, I checked out what UNIA stands for and what venture capital meant. Almost simultaneously, I was trying to involve my sister, my partner and a friend in writing up a collective and hurried project proposal we decided to name #Protexta, and which we turned in at the eleventh hour. 

The initial and rather ambitious proposal –ignorance is bliss!– attempted to free textbooks by creating a virtual space whereby they could be printed on demand, in a collaborative way and on a national scale, at the very least. Anyone would be able to generate contents, both individually and collectively. The user community (educational centres, students, teachers, students’ parents, etc) would choose contents according to their pedagogical line, and would assess their quality so as to assign certain proportionate financial returns to editors. Returns would come from funds obtained through collective fundraising, from educational organisations and centres’ own budgets and even from sponsors –including students themselves, parents, relatives or virtually anyone, including the next-door neighbour). The result would be a copy of a given textbook for each particular subject, centre and group of students, the contents of which would be updated on a permanent basis, in digital and printable format. Free, costless (or almost so), updated and producing social and financial returns.

The idea was so good that we got through the first round. Following a crowdfunding course in Seville and a fortnight working on the project non-stop we turned in a second, much more elaborate, less ambitious and more realistic proposal, on a cut-down budget and with truly attainable goals. We even edited a presentation video. It was at that moment that we were finally eliminated from the contest.

This experience taught me a lot of things. To start with, that it was lucky for the world (and for ourselves) that our project did not qualify for the final round. Not because our idea was no good or that we were unable to carry it out, but because –aside from the fact that this blog would not have existed as we’d have had no time to manage it– it would have meant that one, among the other projects that finally did qualify, would not have made it. I cannot praise these projects enough so I suggest you take a look at them. Besides, they're on the last funding stage, which is nearing its term and will be over in just a few days. If any of them catches your attention, I’m sure these guys will be grateful for any support you can give.

One other thing I learnt is that our original idea, or an improved version of it (thanks to a multimillion dollar investment, I should add), already exists. Its name is CK-12 and it’s a powerful portal for free contents which can be edited and adapted to a digital book format. Some of the consultants on its board are IT heavyweights, such as the founder of Wikipedia. The two main problems to it are that the platform’s source code is not free, and that contents are only available in English. As yet, there is no Spanish version of CK-12, just in case you fancy...

I learnt many other things that I won’t care to go through to avoid rambling, but I would like to talk about what I consider to be the most important lesson I learnt. In the short (but intense) time we spent working to give shape to our idea, what drove me on was the motivation to create something I had chosen of my own free will. I enjoyed team working, creating something together and dreaming that, if our project got through, I’d be doing my share towards building a better world. I tapped into whatever was left of the child in me, into that natural ability to cooperate, overcome challenges, offer smiles or invent which is so characteristic of children. I inferred that maybe as children we were like that because our survival depended on it, and as the years went by, we lost some of these traits in order to develop others. But today, again in my adult disguise, I can’t help thinking that apart from age and the processes associated with it, what might make us, children and adults, different is that adults have ‘overcome’ a sustained educational process that some call ‘schooling’. And I am not the only one.