Born in Medellin (Colombia), Juan Lopera´s childhood was marked by drug trafficking and limited expectations for progress. His life changed radically when one of his professors invited him to spend his afternoons proposing projects and defining solutions. He was Lopera´s "inspiring teacher," in the words of the young entrepreneur. Three years later, Lopera founded his own company, Aulas Amigas (Friendly Classrooms), with the objective of transforming education in his country. He wanted to use the benefits of technology to fill schools with inspiring teachers like his own mentor. This project has led to Lopera´s inclusion in MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016 awards.
Currently, Aulas Amigas boasts over 200 employees, has trained 50,000 teachers and operates in seven Latin American countries. His philosophy is to provide teachers with training and technological tools to help them in their day-to-day activities. "It is basically a map that describes the set of available technological tools and how to integrate them into their teaching," Lopera explains.
The program offers a set of educationally focused products and services to teachers. The most successful device is TOMi, a digital drawing board that can be used on any surface. The program also offers, among others, automatic exam correction systems and search algorithms for useful information designed for educators. However, Lopera points out that "the program does not always propose the use of technology in the classroom...The project scope goes beyond that, and is centered on training teachers to innovate."
The implementation project in a specific region lasts approximately one year. It starts with a diagnostic evaluation of teachers, who are classified technically and psychologically. Through this analysis, Aulas Amigas´ trainers generate personalized teaching guidelines. Its creator explains: "It is a service that we call a travelling consultation, which sends trainers to remote areas and indigenous schools in the middle of the jungle."
Aulas Amigas´ program is still expanding. Thanks to a one million dollar (approximately 1.8 million euro) grant from a social fund, Lopera is in the process of presenting a pilot program for schools in New Delhi (India). He is also preparing a large launch of products which for now he cannot divulge, but he assures will be very disruptive.
"This project could have an enormous impact on one of the region´s resources: the education of new generations," according to the telecommunications professor at the European University of Madrid (Spain), Victor Padrón. This jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016 awards highlights that "education is a very powerful motor for transforming the region into a very advanced society."
Discover all of the winning projects from Innovators Under 35 Colombia 2016.