Ayudinga: resilience and passion for quality education for all
When Johel Batista was a high school student, he knew wholeheartedly that there had to be another way to learn certain subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics which, he and his classmates found disconnected from reality, difficult to understand, impractical, and without direct application. Then, he set out to make this idea a reality.
Batista, the 24-year-old Panamanian and founder of Ayudinga, admits that he was always an inquisitive young boy, fascinated by knowledge and by understanding the why and what behind things. He remembers that he would run away from home whenever he could to sneak in lectures and talks on various topics at the City of Knowledge and he would listen to conferences until his parents could come for him at the end of the day.
In retrospect, Johel recognizes that the City of Knowledge was always an exciting place for him, an innovative community where multiple events happened; events that generated, shared, and disseminated knowledge, and above all, that it was a space where he could see that positive change is possible. Although Batista could not foresee what would happen later – that he would create and build the Ayudinga Foundation, the most popular educational platform for virtual content in Central America, together with a team of young people passionate about changing lives through the education— he always knew that the City of Knowledge was a space where he wanted to be.
Much has been published and written about Ayudinga’s story. Local media have extensively documented the inspiring journey of this young entrepreneur and his paradigm-breaking project. Ayudinga’s positive impact has been recognized in two different years in the ‘Héroes por Panamá’ initiative and by multiple actors in society, however, as its founder explains, the history of the Foundation continues to be written and continues to evolve, faithful to its purpose of “changing the world through quality, free, free, inclusive and humane education.”
Today, more than 90 million young people from all over the region consult Ayudinga looking for another way to understand these scientific subjects, with more modern methodologies, a kinder language, and above all, to learn via a different, easy, didactic, and entertaining method that allows them to solve doubts for free.
Ayudinga is today a non-profit educational foundation with regional projection and scope that changes the lives of thousands of students every day: it has more than 2,431 free videos on the platform and more than one hundred thousand subscribers on YouTube. On the other hand, according to its founder, of all the platform’s visits, 13.9% come from Panama, the rest comes from different countries in the region, which coincides with the goal that Batista explained to “create educational content with export quality, from Panama, in the City of Knowledge, for the entire region.”
However, many may not know about the obstacles that Ayudinga has faced along the way or how it went from recording one-man videos at home to operating a small content production studio of the highest level from the City of Knowledge, thanks to the time and talent of a team of thirty people and the support of private sector organizations. Furthermore, few know the resilience and tenacity that these same challenges have forged in its members: far from diminishing the momentum and desire to transform more lives, the conviction that education is essential to help the youth of our region to get ahead has only strengthened with time and challenges.
For Alejandro Carbonell, Director of Innovation at the City of Knowledge Foundation, Johel and the team behind Ayudinga are an example of tenacity, courage, and resilience. Alejandro has witnessed the evolution of Ayudinga and believes that it is a privilege to support organizations such as them.
The Director of Innovation recalls that in 2016, the Ayudinga Foundation was the winner of UberPITCH, a collaborative project organized by UBER and the City of Knowledge that encourages innovation within local startup communities to give entrepreneurs the necessary resources to accelerate the growth of your ideas. Carbonell highlights that the presence of Ayudinga in the community of entrepreneurs at the City of Knowledge strengthens and contributes to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and vice versa.
David Aguilar, Business Manager at the City of Knowledge Foundation, for his part, agrees and adds that Johel and his team have also proven to be particularly insightful in understanding and “continuing to understand many of the challenges and problems in the region, knowing how to create own methodologies and systems to face these challenges and solve those problems” (…) In this sense, Ayudinga’s work is a real lesson in how it is not enough to identify and analyze a challenge to achieve social change, but rather that we must act; in other words, walk the talk.
Aguilar highlights how Ayudinga has become much more than an educational content platform to be “a knowledge platform that connects people and common purposes through a gear that is gradually assembled to achieve an extremely powerful result,” this is just one of the reasons why at the City of Knowledge we continue to support Ayudinga, especially in difficult times.
The founder of Ayudinga believes that the City of Knowledge is a prominent place to interact and generate a sense of community: “this is an interesting and incredible place,” he explains. “The person who may be by your side in La Plaza or at the Parque de los Lagos, may well be a well-known scientist or your next business partner. Here, no one believes to be more than others, we all want to contribute and see the other grow. Each one wants to change the world in a positive way in their own way; that common ground unites us; in this community, we give each other feedback and grow”. For 5 years, the City of Knowledge has been Ayudinga’s home, and “I wouldn’t think about being anywhere else: this is where you can conceive your idea and make it grow,” he added.
Ayudinga in times of COVID: “education does not stop.”
If there is something that Johel and the team were clear about from the beginning, and above all, in the face of the enormous challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic adds to the education system, it is that “education [should not and cannot] stop”.
When the pandemic began, Ayudinga was one of those first responders to the educational emergency because they already had a plan developed. For Johel, it was obvious: if the electricity supply is lost, for example, in a hospital, it is not negotiable not to have a plan B, explains the founder of Ayudinga. “Educational processes are so complex that they cannot stop for a single moment. If something must stop during an emergency of any kind, it cannot be education: we have to have a contingency plan to guarantee an alternative system B that can supplant the previous system ”.
Adversities are a part of life and Ayudinga is no stranger to them, however, they have done their best to continue helping young people in their task of learning. This was facilitated since, according to Batista explains, “we already had a team of volunteers previously prepared, and we had already developed a curriculum for everything that we were going to give during the year in Panama and the region.”
In this sense, Johel adds that Ayudinga’s day-to-day has adapted to the health crisis: they work in rotating shifts so as not to saturate the office, the vast majority in “tele-volunteering” and each day starts with strict biosecurity measures, however, the production of educational content was maintained. In 2020, a year of pandemic, Ayudinga produced 707 hours of virtual classes, and more than 8.9 million students benefited from its content.
Joel believes that the most important part of all this is what it means for young people to have uninterrupted access to education. “Given the loss of hope, with all the situations happening in education, locally and globally, I feel that we were able to give a small glimmer of hope to the youth. We remind them that education does not stop, that learning can be fun. It was as if we were saying to them: don’t forget that, with education, you are capable of growing, of overcoming yourself. Don’t let a pandemic drown your dreams, aspirations, and goals, all of this is achieved through education”, he explained.
Additionally, the Ayudinga team enabled a WhatsApp line partially attended by artificial intelligence and partially by human beings, which responds to students’ concerns and doubts, guiding them. Batista says that the tool is, in reality, a “learning facilitator and manager. It doesn’t give you the answer, but it guides you on how to get there. It’s like an Alexa, but math and science,” he adds with a smile.
When asked what we can expect from Ayudinga in the near future, Johel admits that he believes that they will never finish their work: “We are always mutating, evolving and adapting to the market and the students. And we do it because they deserve it. Your pocket should not determine the educational quality you receive. For us, it is very key to guarantee the inclusiveness of education at this time”.
In the short term, Ayudinga plans to create content for networks like Twitter and change to new platforms: “our idea is to reinforce that science as such, not just mathematics can be fun and interesting and can be the coolest thing in the world”, he points out.
Fotos: Cortesía de Ayudinga