Bilimkeni Academy: Bringing Online Education to Kyrgyzstan

It all started when I came across videos by the Khan Academy. They’ve recorded more than 3,500 high-quality video lessons on a wide range of subjects from chemistry to history. Anyone can watch them, free of charge, on YouTube. However, the lessons are taught in English and therefore are inaccessible to the majority of students and teachers in Kyrgyzstan, who do not speak the language.

In the spring of 2012, the Open Society foundation in Kyrgyzstan announced a contest among local organizations to introduce new technologies in education. Steps to Success decided to submit an application based on the Khan Academy model. Our plan: to produce over 700 Kyrgyz video lessons in 12 school subjects.

Open Society funded our project. We spent three months working with local teachers, training them on the equipment (for example, how to use a graphic pen they would use during the lessons), and producing the video classes. The teachers developed original lessons and content for the recordings.

We named our project Bilimkeni Academy, and last fall the first of the lessons was uploaded to YouTube. But we wanted to do more than just post the videos online, and the Issyk-Kul Regional Institute of Education began conducting demonstration lessons for teachers throughout the region.

Tinatin Zhanysheva, one of the Bilimkeni Academy teachers—she has more than 30 years of experience teaching algebra and geometry in Karakol in eastern Kyrgyzstan—started using the lessons with her students and has already noticed a difference. Students who missed lessons were able to watch the video online and stay on top of their coursework. Zhanysheva is also training future teachers using the tutorials.

At the Institute of Education, people are pleased that technology is playing a larger role in education. Students have reported using the coursework to teach friends and undertake home study. Video tutorials are especially useful since many schools in Kyrgyzstan do not have enough textbooks for students.

It’s not just students who are benefitting. Teachers are also learning a lot. Mamatkulova Zinat, a local chemistry teacher who recorded lessons, has noticed colleagues using his videos for ideas on how to teach complicated topics. Zinat and other teachers involved in the academy are happy to see their lessons reach students and teachers in other cities and regions.

At the moment we’ve received more than 15,000 views on YouTube and counting. People from more than 90 countries have watched the lessons. Bilimkeni Academy is active on Facebook and Twitter, and is continually collecting feedback from students and teachers. We are working on a website, www.bilimkeni.kg, where all the videos are collected. The platform will also give students a venue to tutor each other online.

Moving forward, Bilimkeni Academy plans to continue recording videos and enlisting talented teachers who are eager to share their knowledge. In a country where education is uneven, projects like ours can make a real difference.

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