Gabriela Galilea is an Obama Foundation Scholar at Columbia University and the founder of Okimo, an alternative screening software that uses sensors to detect early vision and literacy problems in school-aged children. Through her work with Okimo, Galilea wants to democratize access to visual health and inclusive education by creating tools that can help screen and treat visual and literacy problems at a fraction of the current market price.
How did your education and previous professional experience shape your current work at Okimo Vision?
Actually, I’m a lawyer with a specialization in access to international markets. So I would not say that my education or professional experience shaped my current work at Okimo, but rather my very own personal story.
When I was two years old, my parents learned that I had a very common visual condition called strabismus, which means that my eyes are not aligned (until today) and that I’m stereoblind, meaning that I don’t see in 3D.
My parents wanted to give me the best treatment possible, and since there were no good specialists in Paraguay (my home country) at the time, decided to take me to Uruguay to get treatment.
Twenty-eight years later, I was curious about how things had changed regarding access to health care services. To my surprise, not much had changed, not even in more developed countries. And since I was already very interested in trying a new career in social entrepreneurship and innovation, I decided I was ready to try to solve this problem.
How do you hope your work at Okimo Vision will help learners who lack access to quality, affordable visual healthcare?
Eighty percent of what we learn happens through vision. Even though having healthy visual skills is critical to our ability to learn, many children today still don’t have vision screenings before entering school.
In the U.S., only 1 out of 3 children has their vision tested before starting school. In developing countries, almost none do.
I hope that by raising awareness and actually screening every single child when entering primary school, we will be able to improve the academic performance of many children that are thought to be lazy or slow, but who actually have an undiagnosed condition that needs treatment and special attention from parents and teachers alike.
What broad trends do you think will have the most impact on learning in the years ahead?
I think that we have to rethink our whole educational system since the robotization of most human activities is coming and I don’t think our current system has been designed for the upcoming world. In this context, I believe that a maker and coding approach to learning will be important.
In addition to that, I think that our current system has been failing too many students who have different abilities and who simply don’t fit in it. One of the trends I see coming is personalized and adaptive learning.
What, if any, are the future plans for Okimo Vision?
We plan to expand our visual screenings to other health and development tests that will give us a more holistic view of a child’s current status. This way, we aim to map the child's special characteristics and needs individually in order to be able to propose new approaches to teaching and learning. We also hope to be able to collect and analyze the data that comes from our screenings with the objective of informing better public policies for improving literacy skills and academic performance in different countries.
Image: Courtesy Gabriela Galilea