Children, especially from underserved communities & developing countries, need an offline digital learning solution that adapts to their needs

Why “offline” digital learning is critical to impact children worldwide


Children, especially from underserved communities and developing countries, need an offline digital solution that adapts to their specific learning needs

Children drive their own learning at their own pace by using interactive software that provides a complete, research-based curriculum and pedagogy. The learner accesses the software on a tablet, which functions without connectivity and can be charged by solar power. Intermittent access to the internet allows the software provider to collect data and update content accordingly.

What’s more, it costs less than $10 per child per year, including the cost of the digital learning curriculum, accessories, the power stations, shipping, and implementation support. As these interventions scale, the cost is also declining.

Increased evidence of impact

This learning solution that works for offline students shows immense promise. A two-year randomized controlled trial that Imagine Worldwide conducted with children in Malawi showed statistically significant learning gains in literacy and math despite multiple COVID-induced disruptions.

The highlights were:

  • 4.2 months of additional literacy learning after 13 months of disrupted schooling;
  • 72% of students attained emergent or fluent mathematics status;
  • 50% more children advanced on national literacy benchmarks;
  • Girls benefited at least as much as boys, in stark contrast to the results in standard classrooms in similar environments.

There was also promising evidence of improved engagement, with the data showing better attendance, behavior, and attitudes toward learning.

Galvanizing action

Students in these environments will likely gain access to the internet, but it’s going to take a while. Investments in these offline solutions can, fortunately, pay off immediately for these children and provide many of the benefits of online solutions at a lower cost.

And, in classic disruptive innovation fashion, these same solutions will improve as these students do gain internet access over time, so there’s no wasted investment.

What that means is that it’s time to start scaling these edtech solutions that meet the needs and conditions of the tens of millions of the most underserved children.

Imagine Worldwide reports robust demand for its program across sub-Saharan Africa, with significant opportunities to scale to millions of students in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Malawi, and Tanzania—in both government schools and refugee camps.

It also means that funders should begin to search for ways to invest in more edtech solutions that address this need and opportunity.

Some of these solutions may be locally-based, for-profit opportunities that take advantage of the ingenuity of entrepreneurs to create solutions tailor-made for the local circumstances. By way of analogy from outside of education, these examples might look like Copia, a Kenyan e-commerce startup that helps rural populations buy basic goods, or Metro African Express, a Nigerian ride-hailing company that uses motorcycles, not cars. That’s a better fit for the African context than car ride-sharing companies, for example.

Others may be by inducing top edtech companies to craft solutions for the hundreds of millions of children who are offline or to create open-source solutions on which local entrepreneurs can build.

All of these pathways hold immense promise. But they require the edtech sector to think not just about online-learning solutions, but also about digital solutions that are offline and put children in the driver’s seat.

The need is acute, the technology is accessible and massively scalable, and proof points backed with robust research exist. It’s time to act.

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