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Can Education Overcome Inequality? 4 Examples of Simple Tools Making Big Changes

Resourcing in Education is a complex problem. It is also one where global inequalities are highly visible. Many educational systems across Sub-Saharan Africa face tremendous barriers to access, challenges which local innovators are meeting with local knowledge and a goal of empowerment.

UNESCO data show that 20% of children ages 6 to 11 are out of school, and 60% of those above age 15 are excluded from the educational system. Many school systems have fees that are burdensome for families which, according to the World Bank, can lead to further exclusion. Students in rural areas face even more challenges: schools are harder to access, tend to have less infrastructure, and have fewer well-trained teachers. Sub-Saharan Africa is also host to a dazzling array of languages, which makes creating quality curricula a challenge.

Despite these challenges, this region is filled with driven innovators who recognise that access to quality education is a form of empowerment for both the children they help and the communities those children are in. Among the 2024 Global Collection, ACE Radio School, Shupavu291, TAW Academy’s Board Games, and Chalkboard Guides stand out as examples of how barriers can be broken down, education can be democratized, communities can be strengthened, and gaps can be bridged by using precisely chosen initiatives that are cost effective and respect local knowledge. So how can we leverage everyday tools - a radio, a text message, a chalkboard and a board game - to make a big impact?

Breaking Down Barriers

 Eno Simon, Head of Office at ACE Charities, shows how the barriers to education can compound: “Nigeria has the highest rate of out-of-school children in the world. They’re out of school for so many reasons.… Even if you have traditional classroom education, families cannot pay the fees. They don’t feel safe letting their children go to school, and even when they get to school, sometimes you have poorly motivated teachers who don’t show up. And sometimes you don’t even have the resources.” Her team considered ways to make education accessible even in the face of these challenges. They needed an innovation that made quality education available - even free - to students while in the safety of their own homes. 


ACE lessons take place in local communities and in local languages

Their solution? ACE Radio School, which brings school to their students, honouring their situations and giving them a space to continue their education. Eno explains: “We have provided access to quality learning that is free and safe because it happens in their local community, accessible by radio. Everybody has radio, even parents with regular phones have the radio component so they can access learning in their local languages.” The programme, which airs three times a week across four radio stations, hires teachers from the top private schools to formulate the lessons and has furnished education to nearly 36,000 students across 10 states.

But Eno emphasises that radio lessons are an opening: “We find an increased interest in formal education. Some people have been to school but they dropped out… But when the experience is radio school, it inspires their interest to go back to school.”

Democratizing Education

Of course, students who are in school need support as well. While teacher training improves, Shupavu291 and Chalkboard Guides take two different paths to democratising education. 

In Kenya, mobile phone subscriptions are quite common - as of 2021 there are 1.25 mobile phone accounts per resident. Eneza Education realised that this could be an easy way to provide tutoring and educational content at low cost to their users. They paired with Safaricom to create Shupavu291, a mobile learning platform accessible entirely through SMS, with lessons, quizzes and assignments aligned to the Kenyan national curriculum. But they also have access to much broader support: students are matched to teachers who respond in real-time to their questions, and they can access Wikipedia by texting the platform for more information. The scale of this innovation is staggering: they have already delivered nearly 80 million lessons and the students who engage with them perform 23% higher on tests.

Chalkboard Guides.jpg

Lessons from Chalkboard Guides are rigorous and easy to follow for teachers and students

Shupavu291 provides students with high quality tutoring on demand. Chalkboard Guides, on the other hand, works to make classroom teaching more effective. Justice Rising’s Chief Technical Officer Ee-Reh Owo shares why an intervention in teaching methods is urgent: “It's well-known that too many children are not achieving basic literacy and numeracy. But in Sub-Saharan Africa, where according to the World Bank, 89% of 10 year olds cannot read and understand a simple text, students in conflict zones learn six times slower than even their peers who are affected by other types of crisis.” Justice Rising found that structured pedagogy solutions based on best practices were impactful in improving educational outcomes, but teachers did not have the bandwidth to properly implement them. Chalkboard Guides was developed with an eye to Cognitive Load Theory, which stresses the importance of predictable routines and learning in manageable chunks, especially during stressful situations.

“When I use the guides I feel at ease, because it has all the material that I need. I feel proud of what I'm going to teach!”

The Guides provide full lesson plans to teachers who themselves are experiencing the same stressors and conflicts that their students are, allowing the classes they give to be rigorously researched, use best practices, and provide scaffolded assessment and practice activities. Chalkboard Guide teachers find tremendous comfort in having a helping hand, “When I use the guides I feel at ease, because it has all the material that I need. I feel proud of what I'm going to teach!” But Ee-Reh notes that these guides are made with teacher feedback and in response to teacher needs: everything they do is provided and can be taught with just a chalkboard - no intensive resources required. 

Bridging Gaps

TAW Academies found another route for bridging the gaps that educational challenges create. Ogechi Esimai was inspired to create a new framework for learning after witnessing the traditional methods used commonly in Nigerian schools. “Coaching over 60,000 children gave me the opportunity to notice a gap in the learning methods in schools. These methods weren’t able to inculcate skills the children are required to have if they must thrive as they grow. The schools were using rote learning which focused only on assimilating information and cramming.The knowledge wasn't retained.”

Ogechi’s team at TAW sought to bring in playful learning methods to fundamental skills at low cost. They developed two board games, the Chewa Word Booster Box and Mindo Maths Booster Box, which leverage play and meaningful experiences to provide students of all ages with strong foundations in literacy and numeracy. Ogechi says that parents and teachers witness tremendous changes in attitudes when these playful activities are regularly integrated into the curriculum. “Pupils who were termed ‘low-performing’ participated fully in the board games, and topped many students that were deemed ‘gifted.’ Closer observation revealed that these students needed an innovative learning environment to thrive, and that was exactly what the board games provided.”


Shupavu291 leverages the availability of SMS plans to give students a boost

In Sub-Saharan Africa, where educational challenges abound, these innovative solutions—ACE Radio School, Shupavu291, Chalkboard Guides, and TAW Academy's board games—shine as beacons of change. They break barriers, democratise education, and bridge gaps, proving that simple tools wield immense power.

"Some people have been to school but they dropped out… But when the experience is radio school, it inspires their interest to go back to school.”

These initiatives aren't just about teaching; they're about empowering communities. They reach homes, embrace local cultures, and make learning accessible to all. They show that education isn't a privilege but a right, igniting hope for a future where every child has the key to unlock their potential.

As we celebrate these stories of resilience and creativity, we imagine a world where education knows no boundaries and where empowerment through accessibility is the cornerstone of learning for all.

Want to learn more about impactful education innovations? Check out the 2024 Global Collection report.

Working on your own innovation? Submit your innovation to be considered for the next collection.

Alex Shapero