These startups make education accessible using phone calls, SMS and WhatsApp – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Editor, Educational Content


  • Learnable uses machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality to create content that can be shared through a dedicated app or WhatsApp.
  • Ekatra uses text messages to share micro-learning courses, teaching important work and life skills.
  • Call-a-Kahaani develops independent learning skills using interactive stories that learners can access through a landline.

The pandemic has highlighted the gap between those who can access the technology and those who cannot. This unequal access – often referred to as the ‘digital divide’ – was particularly acute when it came to distance education, as schools around the world were forced to close their doors.

Even when schools had an online learning offer, many students were unable to access it, suffering from a lack of suitable devices or internet connection.

For many poorer and rural communities, the pandemic may have exacerbated the problem, but it was certainly not the start.

These three start-ups, which are part of the UpLink community of Top Innovators at the World Economic Forum, aim to tackle this problem. Using cheap and easily accessible technology, they try to bring education to the underserved students of the world.

UpLink is a digital platform for crowdsourcing innovations to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

It is an open platform designed to engage anyone interested in making a contribution to the global public good. The main goal is to connect the best innovators with networks of decision-makers, who can implement the change needed for the next decade. As a global platform, UpLink serves to aggregate and guide impactful ideas and activities, and make connections to increase impact.https://www.weforum.org/videos/uplink

Hosted by the World Economic Forum, UpLink is designed and developed in collaboration with Salesforce, Deloitte and LinkedIn.

Learnable aims to make education more accessible and inclusive for African students
Learnable aims to make education more accessible and inclusive for African students Image: Learnable / UpLink

1. Learnable

Learnable uses artificial intelligence, machine learning, and augmented reality to enable teachers to create rich learning resources that they can share through a dedicated mobile app or WhatsApp. It was created with African teachers in mind, enabling them to send and receive high quality curated content over low bandwidths. In this way, founder Shoriwa Shaun Benjamin hopes to help bridge the digital divide that prevents many students from accessing educational content due to a lack of appropriate technology or internet connectivity.

The product uses technology to simplify the process of lesson creation, as well as the assessment and management of learner performance.

SMS learning means students with the most basic mobile devices can participate
SMS learning means students with even the most basic mobile devices can participate Image: Ekatra

Ekatra

Ekatra claims to be the first low-data / no-data learning platform, using text messages to enable students to participate in micro-courses. He enables institutions to create and deploy micro-learning, which he says is a very effective and efficient digital learning tool.

The platform helps organizations that aim to help underserved high school students prepare for careers, by teaching them important work and life skills. Since Ekatra is based on text and audio technologies, it is accessible to anyone with a basic mobile phone – no special apps or devices are needed.

And while the learner can use basic technology, the development process uses AI and machine learning tools to automate the process, making it suitable for large-scale implementation.

So far, Ekatra has tested the learning process and program with nearly 800 students.

The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the digital divide.
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the digital divide. Image: Statista

Call-a-Kahaani

Call-a-Kahaani uses stories and an interactive voice response (IVR) platform to give learners life skills and a mindset for lifelong learning. This technology can be accessed from any mobile or landline phone, without the need for the Internet, making it ideal for entering areas with little or no digital infrastructure.

Learners access four-minute told stories interspersed with scenario questions, which are used to assess learning needs and impact. They are then encouraged to share their own stories on the platform and interact with others.

The interactive stories and challenges are designed to develop skills in independent decision making by exposing learners to the decisions and choices made by the protagonist and the impact they have.

Call-a-Kahaani has received more than 22,000 calls so far, with 34,000 total call minutes from over 15 states across India.

The EDISON Alliance

The EDISON Alliance of the World Economic Forum also works to promote and expand digital inclusion around the world. It aims to foster affordable and accessible digital opportunities for all by 2025.

As Prof. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the Forum, explains, “The time for gradual change towards digital access and adoption is over. We must emphasize the critical nature of this challenge as fundamental to so many others – and those who care about education, health, climate, equality and growth must also be champions of our missions. aiming to bring connectivity to all.

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