Why Nubian Smarts is rolling out educational games in SA’s townships

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Ed-tech startup Nubian Smarts is developing educational mobile games that are easy to use and designed to address the socio-economic struggles faced by parents in South Africa’s townships. 

Founded in September 2016, Nubian Smarts rolled out its Numaths Kids app, an affordable educational gaming app that promotes understanding of the Grade 1 maths curriculum, in January 2017.

Created in consultation with Grade R and Grade 1 school teachers, the app provides access to 120 games developed to excite and entertain children, while assisting them with understanding the maths curriculum. Free to download via the Google Play app, games can be played offline without data, to provide an affordable educational tool that caters to children aged between three and eight years old. 

The startup is working with early childhood development centres in Katlehong, Soweto, Vosloorus and Orange Farm, with its brand ambassadors helping to facilitate learning via the app.

“They spend two hours per week at a centre, and the data derived from these sessions is used to advise the teachers on which sections of the curriculum the learners are struggling to grasp, so as to be proactive with regards to equipping the learners,” co-founder Lungile Maile told Disrupt Africa.

Nubian Smarts was launched in response to what Maile says is a very real education crisis in South Africa and across the continent in general, especially when it comes to mathematics. 

“We wanted to provide a way to make it easier for learners to practice mathematics in a fun way. The market is saturated with apps that are not designed to cater for the socio economic factors affecting parents in previously disadvantaged areas or townships, in that they have high subscription costs and require a data connection in order for the learner to use it,” she said. 

“The second problem we found was that a high number of learners only start attending ECD centres when they were five or six years old, which means that the practitioners are burdened with the immense task of covering the curriculum content in a short space of time, and have no efficient way of measuring progress.”

The bootstrapped startup has taken on small amounts of grant funding, but Maile said securing organic downloads of the app has been hard. So far it has seen almost 500 downloads, though there has been exponential growth since it started physically working in creches and pre-schools last year.

“We started the year with one centre and now have 10 centres that have joined us, and another 20 that have requested our service,” Maile said.

Nubian Smarts charges ZAR40 (US$2) per learner per month for its services, but during the COVID-19 crisis is offering access to its app for free to parents for as long as learners are still on lockdown. This may stimulate many to continue paying for its services once normality returns.

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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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