Bringing skills and technology together
The project focuses on marginalised groups across all education districts, directly benefiting Standard 1 and 2 learners, out of school youths and children with special needs, in-service and pre-service teachers, Teacher Training College lecturers, Primary Education Advisors,. Other community members benefit from the project indirectly.
Children in participating schools learn through apps installed on tablets, in solar powered Learning Centres.
In the Learning Centres, children work on tablets. The tablets are all locked to educational apps developed by non-profit organisation onebillion. The onebillion apps teach a comprehensive course, ‘onecourse’ which follows a curriculum; it is not just practice.
- The course is designed for children to work through on their own and at their own pace, with minimal adult supervision.
- All content is in Chichewa. Children don’t need to understand English or be literate as everything is explained through audio instructions.
- Children receive praise and reward from a teacher figure at every step of the way.
- Children receive certificates for each topic completed and a diploma at the end of the course.
Unlocking Talent is an initiative by VSO Malawi, in partnership with onebillion (non-profit software development), with funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Malawi, the Government of Scotland, Comic Relief, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF.
The numeracy course starts at the very beginning with concepts such as patterns, sorting and matching that are important for maths. Children are taken step-by-step from these basics to counting, shapes, weight and time, all the way to simple equations and multiplication.
A randomised controlled trial carried out in 2017 by the University of Nottingham showed that after nine months of using the onebillion numeracy app, children had progressed 15 months as compared to normal practice.
onebillion's numeracy app doesn’t require the child to have any pre-existing literacy skills.
The app contains a whole course – from sounds, letters, syllables, to whole words, and a large graded library of stories. Some of the stories are specially written for the Malawian context. Others come from different cultures and are adapted culturally and linguistically.
A randomised controlled trial carried out in 2017 by the University of Nottingham showed that with 9 months of using the onebillion literacy app, children progressed 18 months as compared to normal practice.
The new learning centres are made from environmentally friendly interlocking soil stabilised blocks (ISSBs). These are made from the same material as traditional burnt bricks but they do not need to be ‘fired’, a process that uses large amounts of timber and contributes to deforestation in Malawi. The high quality and durable ISSBs interlock as they are laid and almost eliminate the need for mortar. Additionally, the blocks themselves are twice a thick as traditional burnt blocks and thus provides a more temperate environment for learning.
The Learning Centres are powered by a low-cost renewable solar energy system. The tablets are recharged each night from solar storage batteries, which themselves are charged by a solar panel on the roof. The Learning Centre’s solar panel and batteries provides enough power and storage for four to five days of learning should there be an extended period of completely overcast weather.
Learner sessions in the Learning Centre
Standard 1 & 2 children spend several 60-minute sessions a week in their Learning Centre. They are registered so they can use any of the tablets in the Learning Centres to continue where they ended the previous session.
At the end of each topic, they receive a certificate in the app. The teacher who monitors the session has a dedicated teacher’s tablet to see every learner’s progress and gives praise when a child receives a certificate.
Children’s progress is recorded by a small low-power server. This sends real-time data over the internet, allowing key information to be tracked outside the school by education management and other stakeholders.
Through the online dashboard, it is possible to see the results of learners and schools anywhere in the world.
Teachers in the Learning Centre
Teachers at the school trained in digital educational technology lead sessions in the Learning Centre. In addition to all Standard one and Standard two teachers, this may include teachers from upper classes as well.
These teachers help, guide and praise each child as they learn. They use the dedicated teacher’s tablet to run the session. One teacher, who is selected as the Learning Centre Coordinator, is responsible for the proper functioning and effective use of the Learning Centre.
Teacher Training Colleges
Government-owned Teacher Training Colleges have adapted the Unlocking Talent training materials for pre-service teachers. Unlocking Talent training has been incorporated at the teacher-training-level and teachers are being trained in Unlocking Talent’s digital education technology approach at college-level.
Scale and impact
Since the first pilot in Malawi, we have now reached 150,000 learners across 110 learning centres in 15 districts in the country. There are plans to significantly increase reach by 2023.
Unlocking Talent - reach in Malawi
The selection of schools and implementation of the learning centres was undertaken in partnership with the Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MoEST) and the Education Infrastructure Management Unit (EIMU).
Unlocking Talent is an initiative by VSO Malawi, in partnership with onebillion (non-profit software development), University of Nottingham, University of Malawi, Imagine Worldwide and Airtel Malawi, with funding from the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Malawi, the Government of Scotland, Comic Relief, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF.
VSO has recruited and deployed local and international experts in education, child development, digital education technology and civil engineering to support project implementation.
VSO Malawi is leading the implementation of Unlocking Talent, providing technical support and managing project governance, finance and compliance, as well as the construction of the Learning Centre. VSO has recruited and deployed local and international experts in education, digital education technology and civil engineering to support project implementation.
onebillion provides the software to teach Malawian children the fundamental skills of reading and numeracy. The software offers a real time monitoring solution so teachers can keep track of each child’s progress. Onebillion also assists with solar power design and implementation and provides continuous technical support and guidance.
University of Nottingham and University of Malawi evaluate the Unlocking Talent programme in Malawi that provides a scientific evidence base to support and inform implementation and scaling.
The Malawian Ministry of Education, Science and Technology fully endorses the Unlocking Talent project and ensures that it is well-embedded and adopted at all levels of the education system.
Get in touch
To discuss Unlocking Talent in greater detail, please contact Dario Gentili at firstname.lastname@example.org