Smowl, the key to accessible quality online education

Education is the foundation of society and progress. It provides the necessary skills and knowledge to prosper, solve problems, develop as a person, socialize, progress economically, and so on. Education is an essential part of the social elevator. A society that cares about having an inclusive and quality education makes the best possible bet for the future of its members.

The social impact of online training

We have seen this very clearly during the pandemic. Online training is a useful, constantly evolving tool that makes education more accessible to anyone, regardless of their situation. This is particularly important for groups that cannot access conventional on-site education, such as those who have mobility difficulties, live far away from training centers or have limited financial resources.

People with mobility problems face the challenge of physical accessibility to certain educational centers. On many occasions, reaching the destination is very time consuming. According to the Olivenza Report 2017,in Spain there are 1,774,800 people with disabilities of working age (ages between 16 and 64). Of these, only 7% have university studies, compared to 19.9% of the population without disabilities. According to ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean), there are about 70 million people with disabilities in Latin America. These people are much more likely to be excluded from access to basic services such as education due to environmental barriers

People who are far from educational centers,especially those living in rural areas, face a problem of physical accessibility due to the commuting distance to reach an educational center. According to data from the Ministry of Education, Spain has 83 universities, but the offer is concentrated in Madrid (14 centers, 16% of the total), Catalonia (12, 14%) and Andalusia (11, 13%). In some communities, however, there is a scarce supply. For example, Castilla la Mancha, Extremadura and Asturias have only one university each. 

People with limited resources face a problem of financial accessibility. This is mainly due to the lack of resources to pay for tuition, travel or living expenses during the period of study. According to the INE, 26.4% of the Spanish population is at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE rate). The poverty threshold used is EUR 9,626 per person per year. According to ECLACECLAC, the number of people under the poverty line in Ibero-America amounted to 209 million at the end of 2020. 22 million more than at the end of 2019 (33.7% of the population). 

In addition, other groups lack the necessary time to attend an educational center, such as people with incompatible family or work schedules (people who work at night, single-parent families, etc.).

An online training will better fit their needs. It is not limited by distance, has no time constraints, costs less than on-site training and is much more accessible for those who have difficulty moving around. Online training is an effective solution to ensure that more people have access to a good education.

This is particularly relevant for regions in Latin America and Africa, where the population is geographically dispersed, access is limited and universities are concentrated in cities or urban areas. Those who live in rural or less developed areas face the great challenge to access higher education, which is the key for the social elevation and the progress of these populations.

Technology to ensure the quality of online training

However, online training has its limitations. Precisely because of the distance between students and teachers, it can sometimes be unreliable or fail to guarantee the desired quality.. In particular, experts point out the importance of having adequate tools to ensure the quality of online assessment through proctoring. Otherwise, the reputation and prestige of online training courses is diminished.

As an impact fund, we at Bolsa Social Fund firmly believe in the transformative power of education as a key tool for social development.. For this reason, in our interest to promote accessible, quality education, we have chosen Smowl. A technological platform of proctoring services that allow us to verify the student's identity with quality and monitor their behavior during examinations. With this tool, fraud can be prevented and it can ensure that the evaluation process is carried out in a fair and transparent manner. Thus, students and employers can feel secure and confident in the validity of the assessments; and educational institutions can ensure a solid educational quality and reputation.

Smowl was founded in San Sebastian in 2012. The CEO, Ricardo Vea, a psychologist by training, was working as a Human Resources Director and saw an opportunity to help in the world of training through cybersecurity. In 2012 he was working on the implementation of biometric systems to simplify the identity verification process. And in 2018, he begins to develop Smowl as we know it today. Since then, the startup has experienced tremendous growth, going from a turnover of 85 thousand euros in 2018 to a turnover of 1.6 million euros in 2022.

We believe that the tool developed by Smowl can be instrumental in enabling online training to systemically deploy its capacity for transformation and social progress. This is why we have invested in Smowl together with the Finnish impact fund Sparkmind, specialized in the education sector, which has also seen the impact potential of Smowl's solution.

Impact goals

To check the company's impact, we have defined environmental and social impact goals with Smowl, which we measure on a regular basis.

  1. The first objective is to strengthen the quality of online training, and we measure this by counting the number of online training students who have validated a qualification thanks to Smowl. In 2022, this figure amounts to 328,745 people who validated a degree thanks to Smowl.
  2. The second objective is to reduce the environmental impact of travel to educational centers or companies. We measure this by the CO2 emissions avoided thanks to taking distance learning exams, for example, 2,084 tons of CO2 were avoided in 2022.
  3. The third objective is to improve accessibility to university or corporate education, which we measure by counting the number of students with mobility or economic difficulties who have been able to take their exams remotely thanks to Smowl. If we unify both categories, thanks to Smowl 766 people with mobility or economic difficulties were able to access quality online education in 2022.

We have bet on Smowl because we like the strength of its team, it has a differential technology and solution, the market is huge, and its impact is additional. Specifically, it is aligned with Sustainable Development Goals number 1, end poverty, 4, quality education, 10, reduction of inequalities and 13, climate action.

The future of education lies in guaranteeing quality distance education accessible to all groups. Smowl is our choice to contribute to this future.

José Moncada

Managing Partner at Fondo Bolsa Social

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