A piece of the future of learning unfolded before me over the past week.
At a school in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, 38 children in the second grade took off their shoes, washed their hands and filed into a room with mostly bare white walls. Exposed wooden beams supported a corrugated metal roof above them, and a single piece of slate hung at the back of the room. The children sat on two different straw mats in assigned spaces.
Using iPads and software created by onebillion, a non-profit and one of the winners of the Global Learning XPRIZE, the students received headphones from the teacher and, once the teacher unlocked the tablets with a stroke of her hand on a master iPad, began learning.
One group learned math while the other studied Chichewa, one of the major languages of Malawi.
There were technical problems of one sort or another, but for the most part it was orderly. At any one time, over 80% of the students were focused and engaged, despite the fact that many of them had likely come to school hungry that morning, and several were underdressed for the cooler weather of the season.
The children had clearly learned a lot over the course of the school year from the tablets. One child expertly worked through a unit identifying the first letter of different images shown on the screen. Another looked at images on the screen and then ordered syllables to form the corresponding word. On the math side of the classroom, another student used a number line on the screen to solve double-digit subtraction problems.