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VSO/Amos Gumulira

Prestigious prize to unlock education potential

VSO’s partner in bringing literacy and numeracy to millions of children across Malawi has won a multimillion dollar prize established by Elon Musk.

Tech for good

Two girls enjoy using the Unlocking Talent software in Malawi VSO/Amos Gumulira

Two schoolgirls enjoy using education software in Malawi

Elon Musk is a billionaire businessman with an ambitious vision: using technology to change the world for good. In 2014, Musk threw down the gauntlet, announcing that he would award a $10m prize fund to a team that proved its open source learning software could dramatically upgrade education around the world.

We're thrilled that our partner onebillion is a winner of the Global Learning XPRIZE 2019.

From volunteer to educational tech pioneer


Andrew Ashe with children using tablets to support education in Malawi

Andrew Ashe, VSO volunteer turned CEO of onebillion, with children using education technology on our Unlocking Talent project in Malawi

Onebillion is a non-profit with roots in the UK. It was founded by British volunteer Andrew Ashe, who was inspired by his experiences with VSO in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s.

“Volunteering confirmed to me the massive importance of education,” said Ashe. “When you work with children who aren’t getting the same chances you’re used to it is very humbling.”

“You realise that those of us who have been given this gift have a duty to do what we can to bring change.”

A mission to educate one billion children

Ashe set up onebillion as a not-for-profit. It builds software for children that’s fun and simple to use, while accelerating learning.

There’s no shortage of evidence the approach works. Peer-reviewed research has pointed to massive numeracy gains for children using the software in both the UK and Malawi.

In the UK study, children using onebillion’s numeracy app over the course of six weeks made the same amount of progress that would normally be expected.

Unlocking Talent in Malawi

Together, VSO and onebillion launched a programme in Malawi: Unlocking Talent. Its aim is to bring the benefits of education technology to children in some of the world’s most overcrowded and under-resourced schools.

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

The average class size in Malawi is 70 children to a single teacher. But in the schools involved in our Unlocking Talent project children get a tailored, personal learning experience. They have access to special solar-powered learning centres where they have individual learning sessions using iPads loaded with onebillion software.

Teacher Grace on the Unlocking Talent project in Malawi VSO/Amos Gumulira

Teacher Grace is seeing a big difference in her students' performance through the Unlocking Talent project

Teachers are being trained by VSO volunteers as part of the project, and monitor pupil progress using the technology.

It gives children instant feedback and has been shown to be particularly effective at catching up slower learners.

I can see my learners are better able to read and write, and fewer children are absent from school. They don’t want to miss these classes! Even those with troublesome behaviour have changed.

Grace Chigwechokha, Standard 2 teacher, Chiuzimbi Primary School, Malawi

Making an impact on a global scale

The key to unlocking the potential of a developing country like Malawi is education. Success for me is knowing the overall direction of the world I’m doing here is helping to reduce poverty.

Sean Fitzmaurice, VSO volunteer on the Unlocking Talent project

So far the Unlocking Talent project is benefiting more than 55,000 children across Malawi, and schools involved are reporting big improvements in pupil performance.

But this is just the start.

In April this year, the Malawian Ministry of Education Science and Technology (MoEST) agreed to take ownership of the project over the next three years and mainstream the approach in its National Education Policy Framework.

The partnership between VSO and MoEST means the changes we're introducing are sustainable over the long term. Since technology is easy to scale up, one day children all across Malawi may benefit.

What happens next?

VSO onebillion learning software VSO/Amos Gumulira

onebillion has been granted $1m to develop its software further in field trials

As one of five finalists, VSO's partner, onebillion has been granted $1m to develop and test its software further through field trials.

Then, in 2019, onebillion won the Global Learning XPRIZE. The prize money will be used to scale and employ the winner’s technology across the globe.

Don't wait to find out more about VSO's Unlocking Talent project in Malawi or how you might be able to make a difference as a volunteer.


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