These startups are making education accessible using phone calls, texts and WhatsApp

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content

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

The pandemic threw into relief the gap between those who were able to access technology and those who weren’t. This uneven access – often called the ‘digital divide’ – was particularly acute when it came to distance learning as schools around the globe were forced to close their doors.

Even when schools had online learning provision, 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 certainly wasn’t the start of it.

These three start-ups, part of the World Economic Forum’s UpLink community of Top Innovators, are aiming to tackle this problem. Using low-cost and readily accessible technology they are trying to bring education to the world’s underserved students.

UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations in an effort to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

It is an open platform designed to engage anyone who wants to offer a contribution for the global public good. The core objective is to link up the best innovators to networks of decision-makers, who can implement the change needed for the next decade. As a global platform, UpLink serves to aggregate and guide ideas and impactful activities, and make connections to scale-up impact.

Hosted by the World Economic Forum, UpLink is being 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 allow teachers to create rich learning resources they can share via 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 accessing educational content because of a lack of appropriate technology or internet connectivity.

The product uses technology to simplify the process of creating lessons, as well as the assessment and performance management of learners.

Text-message-based learning means students with even the most basic mobile devices can participate
Text-message-based learning means students with even the most basic mobile devices can participate Image: Ekatra


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

The platform helps organizations focused on helping under-served high school students be career-ready, teaching them important job and life skills. Because Ekatra is based on text and audio technologies, it can be accessed by anyone with a basic mobile phone – there is no special app or device needed.

And while the learner may be using 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 process and learning programme with almost 800 students.

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


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

Learners access four-minute-long narrated stories interspersed with scenario questions, which are used to gauge 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 build skills in independent decision-making through exposing learners to decisions and choices taken by the protagonist and the impact they have.

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

The EDISON Alliance

The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance is also working to promote and extend digital inclusion around the world. It aims to foster affordable and accessible digital opportunities for everyone by 2025.

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

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