Can learning technology eradicate illiteracy in less-developed countries?
Malawi, in southeastern Africa, is one of the world’s least-developed nations. Many of its children are among the roughly 250 million worldwide who are not in school of any kind. Countless others are among those who attend school but do not learn to read or write. A look inside schools in the capital city of Lilongwe shows why: they enroll between 4,000 and 5,000 students who attend classes of up to 200 at a time, with students sitting on the floor as a teacher holds up a single book.
These are daunting circumstances. Yet two Lilongwe schools are part of the most audacious experiment occurring in education. Rather than participate in sprawling, traditional teacher-led classes each day, a group of young students filters into a learning center in each school where, for 45 minutes, they learn math or reading through instructional software on tablets that are charged by solar power.
The question this and other experiments like it are asking is: can students learn to read, write, and do basic math through technology with little to no adult instruction?
Organizations from the famed XPRIZE to the nonprofit Imagine Worldwide, where I’m a board member and which is facilitating the research in Malawi, are testing the proposition. The odds are long, but if the experiments work, the ramifications will ripple around the world.