Education has the power to transform lives. Equipped with skills, knowledge, and confidence, educated children have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty and reach their full capacity. Yet problems such as under-resourcing, poor infrastructure, and low levels of attendance – particularly at the secondary level – have meant that Tanzania has struggled to make its vision of ‘education for all’ a reality. Shule Direct is a Tanzanian social enterprise whose goal is to provide local and accessible digital educational content for young learners across Tanzania and Africa to improve their learning outcomes. The organisation works with qualified teachers to create digitised learning notes for 13 secondary school subjects, as well as tutorials, quizzes, and multimedia content. It delivers these via web and mobile platforms, and also as an offline learning management system. The enterprise delivers web and mobile platforms as supplementary and alternative solutions to the knowledge and information divide for secondary school students. Along with the secondary school curriculum, it offers life skills and financial education content via a web platform, a mobile application for android and iOS, an SMS platform and an offline learning management system for schools.
Makini SMS aims to reach the most marginalised students in the poorest areas of the country and address some of the pertinent problems of underresourced schools by infusing e-learning and mobile learning as a supplement to classroom-based teaching. It promotes independent learning and the ability for a student to learn anywhere, anytime, and can be accessed from even the most basic of mobile phones with limited multimedia and internet capabilities. Students can access short lessons; attempt unlimited revision questions; and also be able to ask and get real-time responses on different academic and student support matters through the ‘Ask Ticha Kidevu’ feature. Ticha Kidevu, an imaginary character, is Shule Direct’s genius teacher who is cool, relatable, and also very tech-savvy.
- In excess of 70,000 students have accessed Makini SMS via mobile subscriptions and over 100,000 students have accessed Makini SMS content via the Shule Direct web platform. More than 80,000 students have accessed Makini SMS content on Shule Direct’s Android mobile application.
- In addition to accessing short lessons and quiz content, subscribers have also been able to receive personalised help through the ‘Ask Ticha Kidevu’ feature, where over 50,000 questions have been posted.
- Shule Direct’s offline learning management system has been licensed in over 80 schools and centres across Tanzania.
- Private sector players need a strong business case to participate in social enterprises: Shule Direct’s low-cost approach was not lucrative enough for many of the mobile network operators (MNOs) it approached. The organisation eventually partnered with Tigo’s ‘Digital Changemakers’ initiative, which agreed to deliver Makani SMS at a subsidised cost – but only as a separate subscription to the airtime purchased for voice, SMS, and data. This made it difficult for users to continuously purchase extra airtime to subscribe to the platform. As a result, Makini SMS is only active during the school examination times.
- Support from participating schools is essential: The ban of mobile phone use in schools could have posed a challenge for implementing the Makini SMS project. Teachers who were involved from the outset and included in the platform’s design are now advocates for Makini SMS in schools, and encourage students to subscribe to the platform when they are at home.
Gender Equity and Social Inclusion
In Tanzania, gender decides whether an individual has the option of receiving an education, and further dictates the choice of school, textbook purchases, and active participation in extra-curricular activities. Makini SMS has been designed to provide the most disadvantaged young people in Tanzania, in particular girls and young women, with access to additional educational support that would otherwise not be available to them.
Principles for digital development
Understanding the ecosystem: Digital innovations in education need to consider existing technological, legal, and regulatory policies in order to be successful. The relationships innovations build with people in local communities, schools, and local, regional, and national governments are intrinsic to this. Shule Direct engaged with the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) on the development and approval of their mobile content to ensure that the content aligned closely with the government-approved secondary school curriculum.
Build for sustainability: In order to ensure sustainability of Makini SMS beyond the HDIF funding, Shule Direct developed its own mobile application that does not depend on a third party for VPN connectivity. In anticipation of an increase in smartphone penetration in the Tanzanian market over time, Shule Direct has designed a mobile application available for download on both Android and iOS devices. The organisation is currently working to diversify its content by creating multimedia and gaming content to enhance the learning experience for Shule Direct users.
Shule Direct is now focusing on measuring the impact of Makini SMS learning content on attaining improved learning outcomes through online analytics, tandomised controlled trials, and cohort analytics. The organisation has also established a legal presence in Kenya and expects to be operational in Kenya and Rwanda within the year. Shule Direct will expand the reach of both its web and mobile platforms by incorporating curriculum content from both these countries. In order to reach more girls – who are commonly left behind when it comes to accessing technology – Shule Direct is incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) to the Makini content by bringing the ‘Ticha Kidevu’ character to life as part of a national competition dubbed ‘Vipanga Challenge’. The challenge will feature Ticha Kidevu asking the Makini quiz questions ‘audibly’ to a live audience. Contestants are then given a short time span to answer questions to advance to succeeding levels. The Vipanga Challenge will be run across Tanzania in secondary schools, open to female students only.