Curricula similarities make West Africa ideal fit for Rethink Education

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Cape Town e-learning startup Rethink Education, which currently only operates in South Africa, sees Ghana and Nigeria as ideal targets for expansion due to similarities in the mathematics and science curricula in the three countries.

Rethink Education was formed in 2012, and is a web and mobile based platform that generates educational content specific for mobile phones. The platform pushes content to a number of different instant messaging platforms, such as Mxit, WeChat and Bambisa, while the web platform is used in schools.

Accessible on any device, Rethink aims to reduce the cost and difficulty of accessing quality education, while administration tools allow a parent to teacher to monitor a student’s progress and adjust future lessons based on how well they are doing.

It uses all media, including videos and interactive questions, to communicate concepts, with content designed to be engaging and enjoyable. The Rethink platform is aimed at individuals – for whom the cost is ZAR500 (US$43) per year – and institutions, who pay ZAR300 (US$26) per student per year, with a minimum of 30 students.

Founder Doug Hoernle told Disrupt Africa Rethink was planning expansion into Nigeria and Ghana, with the startup seeing opportunities to scale outside of South Africa because mathematics and science learning does not change drastically from country to country.

“Nigeria and Ghana have similar mathematics and science curricula to South Africa so they make logical sense for us to expand to include these countries. We are also exploring opportunities in Zimbabwe, but the curriculum difference is quite substantial,” Hoernle said.

The founder said Rethink had been formed at a time when there was very little academic content available for digital devices.

“The Rethink Education platform feeds into this preference by delivering educational content broken down into ‘bite-size bits’ and presented through a social network style, chat interface,” he said.

Initially funded by its founders, Rethink has obtained private investment, and is seeing revenue growth through sales of its content through various channels.

“We also have strong partnerships with local education trusts and corporates who share a similar vision. We’re finding more and more that the value of our maths and science content is finding a space outside of the traditional school driven context, but beginning to expand into other industries to create new value,” Hoernle said.

“We make it our priority to learn about our market in detail. Our biggest clients are corporates, schools, teachers, parents and students – so we have sales representatives that work to establish close relationships with schools that are on our radar, and to maintain relationships with schools where our content is being used. We feel that quality of the content we’ve produced speaks for itself and conducting demonstrations and providing students with trial versions of our contents has proved to be our most effective form of marketing.”

He said Rethink had made itself a success by realising that a new medium such as ICT warranted a new type of content.

“Just presenting textbooks electronically is like making the first car run on hay. It would not have moved. ICT is not a replacement for good old fashioned writing and conceptualising on paper. It must be seen as an add-on, not a replacement to paper learning.”

Hoernle believes the scope for education from within the electronic environment is “huge” once targeted themes get designed and presented in a manner that harnesses the strengths of ICT.

“Apart from easy, widespread content delivery to remote locations, the Rethink mobile platform lends itself to improved data capture of study and education take-up statistics, which, if efficiently harnessed and analysed, should direct educationalists towards improved methods,” he said.

“The Rethink content has been developed in a unique style. Instead of offering students traditional e-publications, PDFs, worksheets and videos, our content has been developed in a very specific “chat-style” which makes it more engaging and far easier to consume on mobile devices.”

Hoernle said, with the uptake of smartphones in South Africa, there is “massive potential” for a range of e-commerce.

“As education is one of the biggest issues globally, utilising ICT effectively to help solve the education problem across the country will, in our opinion, be one of the biggest opportunities over the next couple of years,” he said.

“The most exciting part about leveraging smart devices for educational purposes is that we can now reach almost anyone across Africa and give them the opportunity to access premium educational resources which will enable to them empower themselves and our economy.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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