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How can we give marginalized children the tools they need to develop maths and literacy skills?


Marker London
onecourse is a full software course to get children numerate and reading confidently in their own language, wherever they are in the world.

What is onecourse?

Caitlin Clark
“Let’s work together to get this generation of the world’s children reading”

Andrew Ashe, CEO, onebillion

In developing countries, lack of funding can mean understaffed schools and under qualified teachers. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a rapidly increasing school age population means that almost 69 million new teachers need to be trained by 2030. Classes tend to be very large, with the average class in Malawi containing 70 children, meaning children must share textbooks as well as the attention of the teacher. This impacts a child’s education and life chances.

onebillion started 3 years ago, with the goal of bringing quality maths and literacy education to one billion children in need worldwide. The apps are designed to be so simple to use that a child can learn, in their own language, without the need for adult support. 

The innovation - onecourse - is modular, giving the child a personalised and comprehensive learning experience. The child learns at their own pace, building the literacy and numeracy skills gradually.

The onecourse numeracy material is currently available in over 50 languages and starts from the very beginning with exercises such as sorting and matching. The carefully structured material is packed with colourful and engaging activities, which are designed to give practice in core maths concepts. With guidance and instant feedback, children can progress through the next concepts and revise difficult topics.

The onecourse literacy material is ambitious, working towards children teaching themselves to read from the very beginning, gradually progressing to a point where they are able to read with comprehension. It is currently available in 3 languages – Swahili, English and Chichewa. The software is modular, meaning the course is well structured and the difficulty level is built up slowly in line with the child’s ability. Key learning units are also re-presented so children are able to repeat important lessons they struggle with.

The units presented differ for each of the languages currently on offer, in order to build up phonic awareness in a way that makes sense in that language - for example by starting with a language’s high frequency letters and phonemes.

One of the central goals is to instill a love of reading, so onecourse includes a graded library of stories suitable for different reading abilities. The lead author has lived and taught in Ghana and uses her experience to create and edit engaging and relatable stories for the child. Stories from local authors also feature, to ensure a mix of tales from around the world.

Digital teacher ‘Anna’ explains each concept verbally, repeats instructions, and gives the child instant feedback in their native language. The child experiences onecourse differently over the course of a day. Firstly, in the Study Zone, for structured learning with the help of Anna. Secondly in the Play Zone where the child has the opportunity for practice and creative play.

Children with learning difficulties or memory issues can also benefit from onecourse, as it facilitates as much repetition and practice as they need.

Anna (the digital teacher) and the other characters’ appearance changes depending in which country onecourse is being used, in order to reflect the ethnicity and culture of the child.

The stories in onecourse are representative of a variety of cultures and are checked by experts to ensure a wide range of cultural references.

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Intended Outcomes
5 - 12
Age Group
Resources Needed
HundrED Criteria
Apps tend to focus on one topic, for example learning timetables of phonics. Onebillion apps are a full, coherent course, starting right at the beginning and going step by step at the pace of the child. Many schools where the app is used have no textbooks and no access to any other training facilities. One billion apps means the teachers suddenly have the tools to meet the students' maths and literacy needs.
In Malawi, Dr Nicola Pitchfork from the University of Nottingham, UK conducted a randomised control trial of the improvements to children’s maths ability after using the apps for 30 minutes per day for 8 weeks. The study showed significant gains in the children’s learning compared to the control group. In 2014, BBC Click reported from Malawi, that the maths apps helped children to, in just six weeks, make the same progress in maths as expected after 12-18 months of teaching. onebillion has recently been announced as one of the 5 finalists of the Global Learning XPRIZE (GLEXP). There are more than 100,000 users of the numeracy app.
The apps are mainly used in Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Cambodia and the UK. The literacy course is currently available in English, Swahili and Chichewa, while the maths course is available in over 50 languages. The tablet is designed to be intuitive so that children who have not used technology before can learn in a matter of minutes.

See this innovation in action.

“Kids learn to read in their own language”
Bogdan Badiu
BBC Click - XPRIZE in Tanzania
Malawian girls learning to read Chichewa
Children learning to read Kiswahili
BBC Click - Unlocking Talent, reading apps and solar projector


Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Contact onebillion
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Connect with the innovator

Caitlin Clark
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