The Unlocking Talent Project

Unlocking Talent aims to improve the quality of primary school education for children in Malawi. The project will focus on marginalised groups across all education districts; Standard 1 and 2 learners, in-service and pre-service teachers, TTC lecturers, Primary Education Advisors, Out of school youths and children with special needs will benefit directly. Other community members will benefit from the project indirectly.

Primary Education in Malawi

Malawi’s formal education system falls under the authority of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST). The system comprises five educational sub-sectors: primary, secondary, technical/vocational training, teacher education and higher education. Primary school education (Standard 1-4) is free and compulsory.

Despite improvements in certain areas, such as primary school enrolment, Malawi still has a long way to go to achieve the Education for All (EFA) Development Index goals on universal primary education. Since 1994 and the introduction of free primary education, Malawi’s education system has in fact worsened, with overcrowding in classroom, lack of learning materials, infrastructure, and shortage of trained teachers, and high pupil to teacher ratios, which is between 1:80 and 1:250.

In spite of these challenges, the World Bank records that education in Malawi brings about a significant impact on social development, with the primary school cycle contributing half of the total effect on social development gains. Thus, Malawi’s emerging young generation has incredible potential if they can attain a good education that will position them to fully participate and drive the country’s economic growth.

Unlocking Talent through Digital Educational Technology (DET)

It is against this background that VSO has partnered with onebillion to address the issue at a core level. Through Digital Educational Technology, children can attain a solid knowledge base in early year education to build advanced educational skills in later primary and secondary years.

A randomised control trial carried out in 2013 the University of Nottingham (UoN) showed that a tablet-based intervention, delivered over an 8-week period for 30 minutes per day, significantly improved mathematical ability compared to normal classroom practice. These results suggest that tablet-based technological interventions could be an effective way of supporting the development of basic educational skills (e.g., numeracy and literacy) in early year education in Malawi, and considerably raise standards.

Scaling the project

Over the project’s three years, VSO and their partners will set up oneclass classrooms in 63 primary schools across ten education districts: Karonga, Machinga, Dedza, Ntcheu, Blantyre, Thyolo, Lilongwe Rural East, Lilongwe Urban, Salima and Kasungu. This is the beginning of a structured scale up to reach all 5,300 Primary Schools in Malawi.

Unlocking Talent is also responding to the challenges of the most marginalised groups. Out of school youth will obtain access to the technology and curriculum after school hours within selected participating schools. The initiative will be monitored to adapt the software in the best possible way. Special needs learners will obtain access to the technology and curriculum in three special needs schools in Malawi. Unlocking Talent will assess any necessary adjustments to the software in order to really work for these children.

The use of Android devices will be evaluated in a pilot within the third year of project implementation. The objective is to find out about the relative value for money between Apple iPad tablets and Android tablets as well as to compare suitability for scale up and long-term sustainability.