For decades, students have been taught many of the same subjects in many of the same ways. A science teacher discussing the study of fossils may click through a slideshow of prehistoric mammals and reptiles. Or a math teacher going through ratios and proportions may draw a sliced pizza and ask the class how many pieces each student gets. Yawn. Truth is, the number of disengaged students is likely much higher than those actively engaged. Nearly 50% of high school dropouts leave school because “their classes were boring and not relevant to their lives or career aspirations,” according to a 2006 report by Civic Enterprises. An education technology company, however, has been working to solve that problem permeating classrooms across the country — most recently, in Nevada. Nepris is an online cloud-based platform that virtually connects students with industry professionals across the U.S.
In mid-August, the edtech firm announced a partnership with the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) and Nevada Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation (OWINN) to provide its career learning platform to all 567 middle and high schools dotting the Silver State. Using the Nepris platform, a Nevada science teacher could virtually connect with a paleontologist who shows a classroom the process of cleaning and examining a dinosaur bone. Or a math teacher could have an architect show its blueprints and explain to students how ratios and proportions are applied to a building design.
“The core root of disengagement is the lack of relevance,” Sabari Raja, Nepris co-founder and CEO, told the NNBW. “And the way to bring the relevance to students? We have thousands of working professionals in these companies that are facing the skills gap. And these companies have goals of engaging with students, but they don’t really have a clear way of how to do it. So, our big vision has always been: why not connect this working professional directly with the classroom that is needing to bring relevance to a particular topic at a very micro level?” Raja pointed out that most schools and teachers don’t have the tools or time to bring real-world relevancy to a topic by inviting guest speakers or organizing field trips to a company’s facility. She said that was especially true for rural school districts. And when the pandemic hit, those options to boost engagement went out the window completely. “The reason we focused on virtual was because we wanted to bring equity of access,” Raja said. “We wanted to give those opportunities to every school. No matter where they are, they can connect with a diverse set of professionals from around the country.” “And one big change we saw during the pandemic,” she continued, “is more statewide department of educations and higher-level stakeholders and decisions makers are getting involved and saying, ‘how can we open up the opportunities for students and really connect them to the world while they are being so isolated in their homes for such a long period of time.’” The state of Nevada is paying Nepris $564,900 to bring the virtual learning platform to schools, according to the NDE. The length of the state’s contract with the edtech company is one year and 29 days, with the partnership ending June 30, 2022. Both the NDE and GOWINN have responsibility and accountability for supporting the Silver State’s workforce pipeline through apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities; the partnership, according to OWINN, will help those efforts. Notably, many of Northern Nevada’s industries are experiencing a skilled labor shortage, especially in the fast-growing advanced manufacturing and technology sectors. “This partnership with Nepris is key to giving our students equitable access to diverse industries,” Isla Young, executive director of OWINN, said. “Nevada students will be able to connect with high-growth, high-demand industries and employers they may have never heard about or seen in their hometowns and plan for the future. Connecting them with the many career possibilities available right here in Nevada.” Raja said Nepris is in the process of training Nevada teachers statewide on how to use the virtual learning platform. She said some teachers will begin using the tool in September and the number to implement the platform will grow from there. To date, Nepris is being used by over 75,000 educators in more than 600 school districts across the country. The Austin, Texas-based firm says its virtual learning platform has connected over 500,000 students — many of whom come from economically disadvantaged rural and urban communities — with professionals from across a variety of industries.