Skip to main content

Search form

Menu Search
Image credit toggle
VSO/Peter Caton

Accelerating child literacy and numeracy through technology

Unlocking Talent Through Technology

Primary education in Malawi is free, but the dropout rate for young pupils is still incredibly high at 65%. There are many factors at play – poverty, overcrowding, resources – but one of the major factors at play is the lack of teachers. 

The Unlocking Talent project that provides:

  • Tablet computers powered by solar panels
  • Bespoke local-language apps for numeracy, literacy and English learning in line with the Malawian curriculum.
  • 'Oneclass' learning centres where children receive half an hour of interactive tuition per day
  • Teacher training to manage the project, use the technology, and track progress


VSO's Unlocking Talent project featured on the BBC's Click programme

Technology for teachers

Class sizes in Malawi’s schools often exceed 100 pupils. Even the most qualified teachers struggle to deliver structured, engaging lessons covering everyone's learning style.

The Unlocking Talent programme is using technology as a tool for teachers to hold the attention of their pupils, and deliver quality learning to their large classes.

Pupils in Unlocking Talent class in Malawi ©VSO/Amos Gumulira

Standard-two pupil, Latif Hussein and other pupils concentrate in their lessons on their respective tablets during the Unlocking Talent Through Technology class session at Ngwenya Primary School in Lilongwe

The programme provides schools in Malawi with solar-powered tablet technology. The tablets are programmed with apps that provide numeracy and literacy education, all delivered in the local language.

With training, teachers can use the technology in their classes to support their pupils to develop these vital skills through simple, engaging lessons.

By March 2018, 90,000 children from 110 primary schools saw significant improvements in their learning - reading scores have doubled and girls are no longer falling behind boys.

A second chance to get back to school

Over the last year, volunteers have brought new ideas to reach out to school drop-outs, applying the technology as an outreach tool to help them catch up to a level where they can re-enrol.

Realising the need to reach out to vulnerable people in communities, Unlocking Talent embarked on a Complementary Basic Education programme, to assist youths and parents who either withdrew from school or have never been to school.

The ultimate goal for this programme was that they either enrol in the mainstream school system after acquiring the basic numeracy and literacy skills or that they will use the skills in their daily lives. Apart from learning on the iPads, these learners were also exposed to other topics including agriculture, business and communication.

It has changed the lives of learners. One impact has been on latecomers and absentee students; now they come every day in order to follow the timetable in that classroom. It is very interesting to them!

Chrispin Chilaka, headteacher of Chatsala Primary School

Recent results

Stembile Naming'ona, teacher in Malawi, collects tablet computers after a learning session ©VSO/Amos Gumulira

“I can see it making improvements with our children. In the second week of using the iPad I saw a change. They are rarely absent now because they don’t want to miss those classes!”

- Stembile Naming’ona, teacher, Biwi Primary School, Malawi

  • For reading, the increase in reading scores was twice as high for children in the intervention schools over those in the control schools.
  • The intervention eliminated the gender gap between boys and girls. In control schools, girls fell behind boys, whereas girls performed as well as boys in intervention schools.
  • The evidence highlighted by the research reflects that accelerated learning is taking place (for example, a 47% increase in learning gains within intervention schools compared to the control schools).
  • randomised control trial by Nottingham University showed children on the 'Unlocking Talent' project take just eight weeks to make the same amount of progress that usually takes a year of 'business as usual' classroom teaching to achieve.
  • The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has adopted the approach - a major step towards reaching all 3,500,000 children early grade children in the country.

Resource information

case studies


Unlocking Talent was named winner of the Tech For Good Awards 2018

Unlocking Talent was named winner of the Tech For Good Awards 2018

VSO leads a consortium of non-profit, state and private sector organisations to deliver Unlocking Talent in Malawi.

Onebillion is VSO’s primary partner, not only creating world-class software but also working with VSO to scale up the project.

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology ensures long-term sustainability of the project. It's integrating the project into systems, curriculum, teacher training, inspections and work practice.

Unlocking Talent is funded through a range of donors including strategic innovation funds from VSO, The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Malawi, the Scottish government and the UK’s Department for International Development through the construction of learning centres. 

Research and ongoing  learning is through a partnership of the University of Nottingham and the University of Malawi.

Technical support is by Cisco Meraki, who have donated mobile device management licences. Airtel Malawi have provided free data access for the website and mobile devices for key stakeholders. This gives real time information about each schools' progress.

Contact us

Find out more about partnering with VSO Malawi by contacting


VSO Malawi
Private Bag B 300
Capital City, Lilongwe 3
Tel: +265 1 795 499, +265 1 795 492, +265 1 795 494.

More information