Jamie Stuart: Fighting Global Learning Poverty
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hey, gang! Spiffy here, your trusty interplanetary journalist bringing you the scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference in the world! I have another great interview for you this week. Today, I’m excited to chat with Jamie Stuart, the co-founder and CTO of onebillion. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Thank you for joining me, Jamie! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing?
Jamie: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! Did you know that 70% of ten-year-olds worldwide are in “learning poverty,” meaning they are unable to understand a simple written text?
Spiffy: I did not know that! It’s quite a concerning statistic.
Jamie: Indeed it is. The very high level of global Learning Poverty is a signal that many education systems, despite their progress in recent decades at improving access to schools, have not delivered learning. The magnitude of the learning challenge in the developing world is immense, and it is now even larger than before as a consequence of the pandemic.
Spiffy: What motivated you to tackle this challenge?
Jamie: It was my conviction that it’s inexcusable that so many children are being denied a solid foundation to their education. I have been in classrooms with 250 children and one teacher. Reading is a fundamental building block for the rest of the skills a child needs to succeed in life. We can and we must do better as a global community.
Spiffy: How specifically are you and your team at onebillion working towards a more equitable world?
Jamie: At onebillion, we've built onecourse, which is software designed to get marginalized children reading and doing math. It delivers targeted, personalized learning in the child's own language. It also works offline and has significant evidence of efficacy. Together with our partners, we are getting this into the hands of the children who need it the most.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone by onebillion. What impact does that make?
Jamie: Our software is now being used by over 200,000 children in over 200 government schools in Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries. We now have a consortium of partners working together with the government of Malawi to scale this to all of the nation’s 5,000 primary schools over the next 5 years.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from that experience?
Jamie: Children are our best, yet harshest critics. When we design new learning activities for them, we anticipate that they will love them and be engaged. Yet, when it comes to trying them out with children for the first time, we often face immediate rejection. Sometimes it's tough to swallow, but the child is our customer, and we simply have to go back to the drawing board.
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Jamie: It will take $100 million dollars to scale our software to all 5,000 primary schools in Malawi. We already have $10 million in commitments for the first phase. Join us as we transform learning in a place that needs it greatly.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Jamie—it’s been an honor!
Jamie Stuart is an education technology professional with 20 years of experience designing solutions for marginalized children. He is the co-founder and CTO of onebillion. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 2, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.