Kenya as a gateway to millions of learners

Photo: Marcel Crozet / International Labor Organization / Flickr

In July, the UK and Kenya will jointly host a summit in London on behalf of the Global Partnership for Education, which supports access to schooling in low-income countries. Much of the $ 5 billion the two countries hope to raise will go towards innovative learning solutions for socially and economically vulnerable children. According to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, GPE funding is a chance to “invest in quality education”, so that Kenyan children can receive “the skills and knowledge they need to seize the opportunities of the 21st century. “.

Africa thirsts for quality education. With the increasing availability of cell phones, edtech startups have been able to introduce their digital products, redefining traditional classrooms. Tuteria and PrepClass, for example, connect learners with tutors, while M-Shule provides educational content through SMS and chatbots, and Ambani uses AR to teach young people African languages. The variety of the edtech market accommodates a variety of learning approaches, whether students prefer interactive lessons with a tutor or self-motivated study as exam preparation.

According to venture capital firm Partech Partners, from 2015 to 2020, the number of African tech startups receiving financial backing grew six times faster than the global average. The post-pandemic year is no exception. In June, Ed Partners Africa, a finance company for affordable private schools, raised $ 1.9 million. Cape Town-based computer education platform HyperionDev received $ 3.5 million. Finally, ULesson, an edtech startup offering several core subjects and practice questions for state exams, raised $ 7.5 million.

When Andrey Lebedev, LP at New York-based 13Ventures and co-founder of the Digital Disrupt investment club, began to consider investing in edtech in Africa, he gained experience in product development for Emerging Markets.

“In Russia, we have launched apps to help children memorize what they just learned in school through gamification,” Lebedev said. “We focused on helping teachers through entertainment instead of providing extra lessons for children. To this end, Lebedev created K-Platform, based in Moscow. Its entry into the African market was its next step, and Kenya became its launching pad for the rest of the continent.

One of Africa’s most technologically advanced regions, Kenya is also known as Silicon Savannah. According to a Digital 2021 report from DataReportal, the mobile penetration rate in the country is nearly 109%, with some people using more than one SIM card. At the same time, there are only around 21.75 million internet users in Kenya. With an Internet penetration rate of just 40%, a major market remains untapped, a market that techpreneurs around the world now have their eyes on.

During COVID-19, the mobile penetration rate increased by 11% between January 2020 and January 2021, reaching a total of 59.24 million connections. “Most children in Kenya have cell phones,” Lebedev said. “Although these are older Android models, we were able to help teachers working in overcrowded classrooms. “

The teacher / student ratio in Kenyan public schools is 1:50. Only about 25 percent of schools in Kenya are private, most supported by businesses and non-profit organizations, with an average teacher-to-student ratio of 1:20, depending on tuition fees. With Kenyan business partners, Lebedev offered its digital solutions to Kenyan teachers.

“We have created apps in cooperation with local schools based on their curricula,” Lebedev said. “The most popular subjects in Kenya are English, Math, Environmental Activities, and Christian Religious Activities, so we decided to focus on them.”

Despite his knowledge of the Kenyan market and the help of his local partner, Lebedev had a lot to learn. “When we first launched in Africa, our apps were integrated with Google Pay,” said Lebedev. “It turned out that Google Pay is only available as an online payment option when integrated with M-PESA, Kenya’s mobile money transfer service.”

Users currently pay $ 1 every three months for Lebedev’s app. “Prices in Africa are low compared to the United States and Europe, and a dollar is a big expense for Kenyan citizens,” Lebedev said. Almost half of Kenyan households earn less than $ 93 per month. “Marketing, especially social media channels and user acquisition, is also significantly cheaper in Africa. We pay around 14-20 cents for every thousand users.

In many countries during the pandemic, online learning has replaced the physical classroom, but education officials in Kenya have decided to cancel the school year. The majority of students in poor and rural areas could not attend e-learning programs due to limited internet access and even power shortages.

Kenyan schools recently reopened after a long hiatus, from March 2020 to January 2021, and many students had to repeat a grade. “Technology could help teachers bridge the learning gap,” says Lebedev. “Africa has the potential to become the new China for global investors. And a huge demand for high quality interactive education will drive the rise of edtech solutions, bringing new investment opportunities. “

COVID-19 has disrupted the education of around 18 million children in Kenya and highlighted gender inequalities. Only 84% of Kenyan girls re-enrolled in local schools after confinement, compared to 92% of boys.

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