Online learning platforms are increasingly big business in Africa, as innovators look to tackle the lack of access to and poor quality of education on the continent. Governments and large corporates are getting involved in the space, but there are a number of startups across the continent coming up with exciting ideas and getting funded to bring them to scale. Here are five of the best.
Quite literally born on a bus, Sterio.me is plotting a mobile revolution in education. The startup engages learners via mobile to reinforce in-classroom learning. A “sterio” is a pre-recorded interactive lesson delivered via an SMS-triggered inbound voice call to the learner, which is accessible to learners even with feature or basic phones and does not require internet access.
Sterio.me founder and co-chief executive officer (CEO) Christopher Pruijsen says teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa frequently spend more than 20 hours a week on the homework process. The startup aims to save teachers significant amounts of time by automating the homework preparation, distribution and marking process. Set for a big year.
Cape Town-based e-learning startup 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.
Rethink Education currently only operates in South Africa, but sees Ghana and Nigeria as ideal targets for expansion due to similarities in the mathematics and science curricula in the three countries.
Tanzanian edutainment startup Ubongo aims to simplify the teaching of mathematics to children through fun video stories in Swahili, and allows participation via SMS. It is watched by over 1.4 million viewers in Tanzania and is available in over one million more households across East Africa.
The recipient of US$75,000 in seed funding in order to help it scale from learning firm Pearson, the startup in March announced its Ubongo Kids in English is to launch in Kenya, teaching mathematics through fun, animated stories and songs.
Nigerian startup Youngsoul produces e-learning software with the aim of addressing the “dearth” of competent ICT teachers in the West African country and furthering government policies promoting ICT education in schools. The startup believes that with the introduction of ICT as a compulsory subject in schools in Nigeria, a gap has emerged between teachers’ skills and the new educational requirements.
This “dearth” has prompted the startup to create software which supports both teachers and students, with its products giving teachers tools to enable more personalised learning for students with the aim to improve each student’s academic performance. Youngsoul’s most recent product, VirtualClass, is an interactive software built to teach ICT in schools. It contains animated videos, simulation exercises and teaching tools to enable Nigerian schools to meet the requirements for the National ICT curriculum.
Another South African educational startup, Obami has been through a number of phases since its launch in 2009, but has now found a profitable niche in providing learning solutions to a variety of organisations. Obami is available on web and mobile, and offers learning solutions to students, teachers and parents, as well as governing bodies, NGOs, small businesses and corporates.
The startup launched in 2009 as what founder Barbara Mallinson describes as a “generic social network”, only shifting its focus to schools the next year in the hope of addressing South Africa’s educational challenges. The company later moved away from its sole focus on educational institutions, looking to provide e-learning solutions to a much wider group of individuals and organisations.
It has since seen strong growth in the basic education sector, with over 400 schools from across South Africa and beyond using its solutions.