Improving numeracy through online learning: iiTablet Tshomiz shares insights

December 04, 2017Réjane Woodroffe

Educators, policymakers, and funders want to know whether technology can really improve foundational numeracy skills. Rigorous evidence must continue to be collected, but our experience establishing the iiTablet Tshomiz program in South Africa’s Eastern Cape gives us confidence that online learning can make a profound positive impact.

We recognize though, that confidence is not enough. That is why we synthesized the main steps of our approach, captured key lessons from our experience, and generated free-to-use resources to help others replicate and build upon our success.

Background of iiTablet Tshomiz

The iiTablet Tshomiz program started in 2016, using a high-quality online program called MathsBuddy. We are now reaching 500 learners (from Grades 1 – 8) at two schools and plan to reach 1200 learners over the next 3 years.  We are only in our second year and already see many more learners performing at the highest developmental level and far fewer performing at the lowest levels.  Our results are significantly better than other technology or catch-up projects.  More detail on evaluating our student’s results can be found here.

Key Inputs

Our model consists of the following foundations:

School relationships
The power of our program lies in its ability to be successful in dysfunctional to semi-functional schooling environments.  Any potential for scalability relies on working in and with government schools.  We have some Relationship Building Advice that shows how to engage teachers, senior management teams, and principals to not only accept the program, but to become champions of it.

The iiTablet Tshomiz Approach
“Teaching at the right level” or differentiated learning is a pedagogical approach which, according to the latest research is the most effective way of consistently improving learning outcomes.  Learning at the right level is the core of our academic approach.  Technology is a powerful enabler of this and for the first time in history truly makes this level of differentiation efficient.  We use the Facilitator Model to implement this pedagogical approach.   

Human element
Our program emphasizes the human element when using technology in the classroom.  This means an overarching focus on the sourcing, training and development of local youth facilitators.  We aim to have a cohort of community leaders who are invested in their schools, dependable, and ready to lead by example. More detail on our training series and the human element to our programme can be found here.         

Our learning and classroom culture puts the student at the center and ensures a positive, reinforcing, and inspiring environment where young girls and boys can thrive. The culture of our program is to always run no matter what happens at the school, this also exposes learners to a model of schooling that is timeous, reliable and never disappoints. More detail on our culture brief can be found here.

Removing barriers to technology
We work in an environment with no cellphone signal or electricity. If we can get a successful online program off the ground, then anyone can. We have more than 10 years of experience of working in a remote rural environment and have acquired valuable problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The iiTablet Tshomiz Toolkit’s insights on overcoming such barriers include advice on choosing the right technology platform, cost-saving tips to accessing the internet at scale, and revenue-generating options to help offset costs. More detail on how you remove barriers to technology can be found here.  

Further reading

In addition to our foundations above we have other inputs that are critical to a successful programme:

Bulungula Incubator Documents to Guide Your Progress:

  • Evaluations document: Contains regularly updated monitoring and evaluation. It includes a broad overview of progress, diagnostic test evaluations and comments as well as our goals for each grade to make sure that they are “on track”
  • Relationship Building Advice: Includes advice on engaging with schools
  • Facilitator Model: Explains our model of “teaching at the right level” using local youth facilitators and technology. It also includes how we prioritise certain topics, how we include concrete items even though this is primarily a technology project and how we reflect
  • Human Element: Addresses the sourcing, training and ongoing development of our local youth Facilitators
  • Foundational Training Series: Details our initial training series before facilitators enter the classroom
  • Ongoing Training Series: Details our ongoing training series to continue to develop our facilitators and deal with content gaps as we move up the Grades
  • Culture Brief: Our culture is driven by excellence, learner-centeredness, dependability and a supportive partnership-based relationship with schools
  • Removing Barriers to Technology: Focuses on the practicalities (accessibility, usability and cost) of running a technology programme
  • Curriculum Choices: Gives a collated list of good online programmes that you could consider
  • Classroom games, posters and extras: Details the types of games, posters and concrete items we think are essential for any foundation phase programme
  • Attendance tracking template: This is a template of our register that tracks monthly and overall attendance
  • Expansion Plan: Includes details of how we intend to expand over the next three years
  • Budget: A transparent look at our 3 year programme budget

Moving Forward Together

We hope the insights and resources within the iiTablet Tshomiz Toolkit can help others make better use of technology’s rapidly accelerating possibilities. Our experience does not hold all the answers, and tailoring approaches to one’s own specific context remains critically important. Still, we are committed to sharing the wealth of knowledge we have collected over the years to support communities, NGOs, corporate entities and government in designing and implementing solutions that contribute to rural development.

To share your own insights on online learning, or to learn more about our diverse portfolio of work, you’re welcome to explore our website –– as well as the iiTablet Tshomiz CEI profile, and contact us anytime.  


Réjane Woodroffe is the Director and a founding member of the Bulungula Incubator, a not-for-profit organisation engaged an integrated rural development programme in a remote part of the former Transkei region of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The Bulungula Incubator initiates and manages a number of projects in Education, Health, Sustainable Livelihoods and Basic Services in partnership with the local community. In 2014, Réjane was awarded the John P. McNulty prize for this at the Bulungula Incubator. Réjane has previously held the positions of Chief Economist and Head of International Portfolio Investments for Metropolitan Asset Managers and Research Analyst for US investment bank, Merrill Lynch, in the economics and fixed-income sales and trading departments. 

Photo Credits: Bulungula Incubator

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