Denise Abulafia

This description of Denise Abulafia's work was prepared when Denise Abulafia was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2017 .

Introduction

Denise is flipping the traditional classroom education model by delivering easily accessible instructional education content online. The digital content can be accessed at home or in school by students and teachers, democratizing access to quality education in Argentina.

The New Idea

Through Educatina, Denise seeks to address the growing need for self-managed, personalized learning. In Argentina, the dropout rate for secondary students is 50% and 73% at the university level. To address this problem, Denise is improving student success rates and combating a failing education system by offering easily accessible educational video tutorials and online academic applications. In addition, Educatina provides capacity building workshops and trainings for teachers, filling the gap in an education system that has failed to provide trainings and professional development to teachers. In doing so, she is decentralizing access to high-quality education for both students and teachers who are seeking new ways of learning and teaching content through creative techniques.

Educatina’s virtual learning space is accessible through cell phones and computers; in Argentina all students are provided a computer. The platform offerings correspond to the Argentine curriculum, providing tutorials on all basic content required by set graduation standards and requirements. In addition, the program is complemented by an initiative in which Educatina partners with schools to train managers and teachers in innovative and interactive ways of teaching. In doing this, Educatina is able to provide the necessary training teachers fail to receive through the public education system. In addition, they are encouraging innovative ways of educating, accompanying teachers throughout the semester in order to provide guidance and follow up for their practice. Moreover, Educatina stays with the teachers until they have achieved autonomy in designing courses based in new methodologies for class dictation; applying flipped learning methodologies among others.

This new pedagogical approach enables students to place themselves at the center of learning, achieving autonomy and acquiring the necessary skills for professional life; solving problems, finding and analyzing information, critical thinking, effective communication and collaborative work, among others.

The Problem

In Argentina and Latin America, the dropout rate for secondary students is 50% and results from international and local standardized tests indicate that on average, learning is deficient. One of the contributing factors of this failure to provide quality education is due to learning gaps and articulation between primary and secondary schools and then secondary and university level programming; the resulting factor being high levels of desertion with less than 15% of young people achieving a university degree before the age of 24.

Like most countries in the world, the educational system in Argentina is outdated and representative of education during the Industrial Revolution era. Because of this, today's generation is failing to receive the necessary education needed to succeed in a professional environment that is constantly changing and no longer abiding by the same methodical technical rules and training that was taught in previous centuries. Moreover, teachers are still the only channel through which educational content is distributed, making it difficult for students to learn how to critically think, analyze and be flexible, if teachers themselves have yet to embrace 21st century schools of thought. Moreover, there has been little to no development in innovating the public education sector in Argentina. Apart from basic investment in teacher training, the federal government has done little to incorporate technology into classrooms. Chalkboards, books and outdated teaching materials have been the central tools of a failing educational model.

In Argentina specifically, there is also the problem of how the school system is designed. The federal government sets the standards and manages the education system, while the municipal and district government are those who deal with the repercussions of a failing educational system. To this end, there is an indirect correlation between education attainment and crime and unemployment. After years of federal government failures to improve dropout rates and better prepare students, the social impact of educational failures has left district governments looking for solutions that can prevent crime as ultimate consequence and deter unemployment by investing in youth.

The Strategy

After piloting the materials on Youtube and reaching users from all over the continent looking for educational support, Denise developed Educatina in 2012. The online platform complements the educational requirements of the Argentine public school system, providing over 35,000 video tutorials and interactive exercises that are organized by subject. Each tutorial has functionalities that facilitate the work between students and teachers. For students, the tutorials are provided in a didactic and attractive way, through interactive exercises where students put themselves at the center of their own learning. All educational content is created and reviewed by expert teachers and organized in a manner where material is directed in a series to simulate a system of real classes.

In partnership and with financing provided through the district governments, content is further adapted to each municipality. Through her model, Denise promotes a change in the historical role of the teacher, shifting from content distributor to a facilitator of exchange processes. To this end, teachers are empowered to creatively use technologies. Thus, in addition to students being empowered to take charge of their own learning, teachers are also adapting and being trained in flipped classroom methodologies. Teachers learn to play and break traditional and outdated teaching techniques, with the result leaving teachers with new skills and a concrete work plans on how to transform content to meet the needs of the students.

Currently, Educatina is working in eight Municipalities. In those eight alone, they are working with over 800 teachers and are directly reaching 40,000 students in Argentina. In addition, the online platform’s video tutorials have more than 165,000,000 views and through their YouTube channel, Educatina receives around 5 million views per month.

In districts where Denise is unable to work with schools she partners with community centers, offering access to Educatina platform and services; sessions at community centers are often attended by young people who left the school or are at risk youth on the verge of dropping it.

In the near future, Denise expects that the tools of the platform will allow schools directors to better understand the quality of the education they are providing in order to then identify areas of improvement. Denise has called attention from the National Ministry of Education who has partnered with her and the organization Educar 2050 to develop a research on quality of education, and Denise was pointed to develop the technology components of the research.

Educatina is set up as a social enterprise, with a team of six members and a board of experts. 90% of the budget comes from program revenue, and 10% from venture capitals. Educatina is a very young project, but is already increasing outreach and impact across Latin America. Most recently, Denise has begun to implement a platform in Puerto Rico through the National University College and is also developing a program in Perú and Mexico where she previously lived and taught.

The Person

Denise was born and raised in Argentina. She studied at ORT High School in Buenos Aires, where she specialized in Chemistry. She then continued her University studies in Sciences. Her grandmother was a big influence for her as she was the first woman doctor (PhD) in Chemistry at her time. Denise spent a lot of time with her during her childhood and was inspired also on the entrepreneur side, having developed a small business of personal care. Later, Denise became a doctor in molecular biology, with a specialization in neurosciences. Between 1998 and 2003 she worked as a Technician at Boheringer Ingelheim Laboratory and as a researcher at Fundación René Favaloro.

After graduating from the University of Buenos Aires she moved to Mexico where she worked as a professor at the Anahuac University. During her time in Mexico, she founded Pharma Educational Services and she was also a member of the “Expert Committee on Biopharmaceuticals Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF)”.

In 2014 she was selected by Vital Voices Global and Bank of America’s Regional Program for Entrepreneur Women Empowerment. She is still connected to Vital Voices Argentina, as a program mentor for women empowerment and development.

She is a member of the TEDxRiodelaPlata Education team, which develops and implements free workshops on communication and socio-emotional skills in hundreds of schools across the country. She is an active promoter and influencer in matters of innovation and educational improvement.

She founded Educatina 2012 with two other partners and is now the CEO. In 2014, she was recognized as one of Newsweek’s “Women Entrepreneurs to bet on”. In 2015 she was finalist at the Cartier Women's Initiative Award edition and in 2016 she won the Argentinian Creative Prize and was finalist at The Venture Argentina.