COVID-19 has affected just about every sector in the country including education, with learners staying home to minimize spread of the disease. But that does not mean a complete halt to learning. We had an opportunity to speak to Joan Njogu – Head of commercial Operations at Eneza Education – on how the Ed-Tech company is keeping children learning despite not being in school. Here is what Joan had to say.
What is Eneza and how does it work?
Eneza is an Ed-Tech company that was launched in 2012. We started in 2012 and then we got into partnership with Safaricom in 2013. Our founders Kago Kagichiri and Toni Maravigla met in 2012 and one of the things they discussed is that they wanted to give learning materials to the larger population of kids in Kenya. But one of the things they realized is that not everybody has a smartphone even if they were Ed-Tech products that are on the web.
So, what was the easiest way to give learning materials to kids? On research they found out that (91%) of homes have at least a 2G mobile phone. Finding that out they thought, what was the best way to make sure at least 91% of these can access products? They came up with Shupavu291 – an SMS based learning platform where kids from class 4 to 8 in primary and then Form 1 to 4 in secondary can be able to get learning materials.
We have lessons and quizzes which are aligned to the curriculum, and on top of that we usually have revision papers that we produce every term. We also have Ask A Teacher where students are able to ask questions and we have a pool of around 40 teachers who are able to answer them. We usually work with practicing teachers because they understand the curriculum and the learners better and through that we’re able to give really quality responses to kids.
On top of Shupavu291 which is SMS based, we opened up the web platform which is called Shupavu Web where students can be able to access the same kind of materials on our platform.
Do the founders have career backgrounds in education? Or Tech? Or both?
Kago had a background in technology and built the 1st version of Shupavu291. Toni is a trained teacher and was involved in teaching kids in Muhuru bay before founding Eneza Education.
What informed the decision to start Eneza?
One of our co-founders Toni was a visiting teacher with the non-profit WISER Bridge . She was teaching in Muhuru Bay and through there she had started developing sort of flash card materials which she would use to teach her kids. When she came to Nairobi and met Kago they started brainstorming on how they can make sure that not just her kids, but many more kids can be able to access these materials. That’s when they came up with the decision of doing SMS based learning. At the same time they met Bob Collymore and discussed having a content partnership with Safaricom where the kids can have a daily subscription on which they can get unlimited learning. That’s when the partnership with Safaricom started.
How does Shupavu291 work alongside the formal Government curriculum?
Shupavu 291 and Shupavu Web are supplementary to kids going to school. So even though we’ve covered the whole curriculum we say that you still have to go to school, but then our platforms helps supplement what the teachers have taught. For example if you went to school and learnt algebra, you can come home, revise and learn more about algebra. Also, nowadays classes hold about 50 to 60 children and teachers do not have the time to make sure that all the kids get to understand what is learnt in class. So the kids are able to go home and learn more at their own pace. What was that that the teacher taught us? Can I be able to ask questions?
Same goes with kids that are shy. They had a question but they were not able to ask it in class. Then they can go home and be able to ask one of our teachers questions, or get on the platform and do more exercise. In that regard we are supplementary to what is taught in classrooms.
Our content is also approved by KICD, which means that it is ok and it follows the curriculum.
Does Shupavu291 work with any other education system, say GCSE?
No. Currently we just work with the 8-4-4 system and we’re also developing materials for the CBC curriculum.
Why is there a clear high uptake of Shupavu291 in Western Nyanza and Rift Valley?
Traditionally when you look at Nyanza, education is very emphasized on by parents. In Nyanza and Western we’ve seen a lot of interest in supplemental learning away from the classroom environment.
Also, Rift Valley being a region with a large population, there are a lot of people there and this translates to a lot of people on Shupavu291.
Are parents making more use of Shupavu291 at this time when children are home or are some viewing this as a school holiday?
We’ve seen a significant number of people subscribing to the platform and I think I would attribute that to parents looking for materials that are more engaging for children. When you look at textbooks, they just have questions and answers, or texts and notes. But when you come to our product, it is very engaging so that if you answer something correctly it says well done, and it will give you an explanation for it. If you get something wrong we tell you that’s a good try. It is not the correct answer because of 1,2,3, and that the correct answer is this because of this.
I think that interactivity breaks the monotony of just looking at books. Also when you get onto Shupavu291 and you’re in class seven for example, you don’t just have to take lessons in class seven. You can go back and do lessons in class six or class five for concepts that may have been forgotten and you’d like to learn more about. It is more like an encyclopedia of knowledge through primary and secondary school.
On top of just having lessons we have revision papers which students can also be able to prepare for their exams. They can also ask teachers questions when they’re stuck, as opposed to when you’re just reading a textbook and you get stuck.
That has informed why more parents are subscribing to the platform. They’re actually making more use of it now that children are home.
What support are you receiving from Safaricom in this time of COVID-19?
We’ve had a really good relationship with Safaricom over the past seven years since 2013. As schools shut down on 16th of March, we started discussing what we can do to assist learners around the country continue accessing learning materials.
70% of our learners are from rural areas and they’d like to learn just like students in other areas. Safaricom being a big advocate of access to education was very open and generous toward supporting learners during the pandemic. They have been able to support us to open up Shupavu291 to all primary and secondary school students in class 4 to Form 4 for the next 60 days. From the 2nd of April till 31st of May the content will be free for any Kenyan student who has a Safaricom line. They can learn as much as they want, do as many exercises as they want and ask as many questions as they want without paying for any of the SMSes that they’re using.
From the stats, Shupavu291 has a total reach of approximately 5.1m learners, 661,000 subscribers, and an average of 208,000 monthly active subscribers. What’s the difference between these distinctions?
A subscriber is someone who dials *291# and actively successfully starts taking a lesson. So once you’ve subscribed to Shupavu291 and gone through the registration process, you come to the platform we ask you for your name, you pick a class and then you pick a subject. So a subscriber is somebody who has been able to go through that process and they can be able to start learning.
Reach is people who have used the platform since it started. How many people we’ve been able to reach since we started in 2012. Monthly active subscribers are students who have interacted with the learning platform during the month.
What has been interesting and its good you brought that up is that as of yesterday we had more than 900,000 subscribers. We actually had 921,000 people subscribed on the platform. We’ve had over 5.6M people reached, and we can see that around 200,000 people are usually active on our platform every day taking lessons and asking questions.
We’ve seen that based on kids’ behavior, at least most of the subscribed learners learn for at least three days a week. They don’t do it every day, but they usually learn at least three times a week. So the numbers are going up.
Are there any plans to extend learning to university courses?
In the future yes we plan to move away from just primary and secondary education, but for now we want to do what we do best and perfect that. That is offering primary and secondary content and making sure that we’re offering the correct kind of content that kids want to use. That is the short-term plan and that’s also because we know that we’re changing to the new CBC curriculum so there’s a lot of work that needs to be done this year in just the basic level of education. We would like to perfect that first. Those are the users who have sustained us so far and we’d like to give them the best experience.
After we’ve figured that out and everything is ok, then we could probably move to universities.
Can Shupavu291 be a full-on learning platform if one does not go to any formal school at all?
Let me just say this. One of the things that is part of the education directive or guideline in Kenya is that since we have free primary school, all children are supposed to go to school. If they don’t go to school they’re supposed to have a certain structured kind of home schooling program.
Therefore, whereas Shupavu291 has all the content for the curriculum that we work with which is the 8-4-4 system, as a parent if you want to homeschool you should follow all the guidelines as well as use Eneza content.
As much as we have covered the whole curriculum and it can be used to learn, it is very important to follow the education guidelines as spelt out by the Ministry of Education as part of working together. The guidelines are that all children are supposed to attend school or if you’re doing home schooling there is a structured way of doing it. I think that’s very important to note.