Since 2001, the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center’s IDEAS Global Challenge has helped more than 100 teams implement projects to improve the quality of life in 44 countries. Spectrum checked in on four of last year’s winning student teams, all of which had novel ideas for improving education.

Hands-on STEM in Rwanda

In Rwanda, an estimated 20% of the population achieves a high school education; even fewer continue to college. In partnership with the nonprofit university Kepler, based in Kigali, the Kepler Tech Lab (formerly the MIT-Kepler Education Laboratory) has built a hands-on laboratory to complement the school’s online STEM courses. The project debuted its first classes in physics, chemistry, and programming in September 2015. Since then the team has renovated and upgraded its lab space, trained four student staff members, and developed and tested 180 hours of engineering curricula.

High-quality SAT test prep, for free

At most US universities, standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are required as part of the admissions process. By offering free, high-quality online test preparation, Prepify aims to level the college admissions playing field for students from all economic backgrounds. Prepify also helps connect low-income, high-potential students with college admissions officers and scholarship opportunities. Last August, the team piloted its platform around the country with students from five community organizations: HYPE LA, Breakthrough Austin, American YouthWorks, the Hispanic Scholarship Consortium, and Noble Impact.

Inspiring Latin America’s next generation of scientists

A lag in STEM education is negatively affecting Latin America’s economic growth. The Latin American Science Education Network (LASEN) pairs US graduate students and postdocs with students in that region, and—through a combination of project-oriented workshops and digital learning—is helping to educate a new generation of scientists and engineers. To date, LASEN has reached more than 1,700 students and has established clubs in six Latin American locations. The group held events in six cities across Mexico last summer, drawing the participation of 634 students, 82 instructors, 42 science clubs, and more than 300 schools.

Bringing learning close to home for Kenyan kids

In rural Kenya, most families cannot afford to pay for boarding costs, leaving students to travel long distances on foot to the nearest school—or forgo school altogether. The team behind 1Room Education (formerly RARE Education) is laying the groundwork for a new model by combining the concept of the one-room schoolhouse with digital learning. The project aims to establish centers where Kenyan students will be able to learn at their own pace, accessing online resources on low-cost tablet computers and meeting with staff mentors.

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