Shule Direct, a Tanzanian edtech startup producing world-class digital learning content, has just launched its newest product, MAKINI SMS, to the public. It is an SMS learning and revision platform for Secondary School students in Tanzania accessible via all types of phones, feature phones and smartphones.
The educational content on MAKINI SMS includes Short Lessons and Multiple Choice Quiz Questions covering nine subjects based on the official national syllabus for Form I to Form IV. The subjects include the seven core mandatory subjects of Biology, Mathematics, History, Geography, English, Civics and Kiswahili and two Science subjects of Physics and Chemistry that even though they are not compulsory, these subjects suffer from a combination of a lack of qualified teachers, qualified resources, and minimal students’ interest. On MAKINI SMS, students are able to ask a teacher and get a response on different academic and student support matters on SMS through an ‘ask Ticha Kidevu’ feature. To ensure diversity of content, students can also access Wikipedia and the available search capacity can enable them to learn their preferred content instantly.
This latest offering from Shule Direct complements the existing approach by the organisation, to drive social change through innovative learning programmes. The use of mobile technology in the education sector helps to overcome challenges that are facing the education sector especially in developing countries like Tanzania. One of the advantages of m-learning is affordability to the majority of people, even to the low income earners, since it works on devices that are already accessible, especially feature phones. They are portable and easy to carry, and hence make it possible for students to use anywhere and at any time.
The support of mobile technology in education has the potential to overcome several barriers experienced in education and enhances the learning environment. Mobile learning if well harnessed can contribute to the improvement of the quality of education provided to students. MAKINI SMS was developed from this backdrop of research. The first lightbulb moment, however, came when Faraja Nyalandu and her team realized that over 85% of Shule Direct open educational resource web users accessed it over Opera Mini browsers. As a data oriented enterprise, the organisation interpreted this to mean that most of its users either do not have PCs or prefer learning via mobile. Looking at the opportunities, 7 out of 10 households in Tanzania own a mobile phone and the penetration rate is growing exponentially. Not only that, but the Government also seemed to have heard of Schule Direct’s mission of ensuring access to quality education for all, by investing 17.5 Billion Tshs in rural telecommunications infrastructure, meaning that rural areas will have better connection for better communication. With all these assessments and developments, all that remained to be done for students in Tanzania was creating an educational platform available on those mobile phones.
The support from the Human Development Innovation Fund of DFID has enabled Schule Direct to hire highly qualified teachers and editors who ensure grammatical correctness and error free content for MAKINI SMS, and the partnership with the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) who review all the resources ensures quality assurance and adherence to the national guides and syllabus. Working with TIE has been an eye opening experience for the team, and they are currently developing resources for teachers’ capacity building in ICT. In the research done in Kilimanjaro and Dodoma on the use of mobile phones in teaching and learning in Secondary Schools in Tanzania, the findings show that teachers had little knowledge on the use of mobile phones as a tool for ICT pedagogical uses. It was also revealed that although the teachers were competent in the basic uses of mobile phones, they were not able to create upload, download and share academic resources through their smart phones (when they have smart phones) and just like the rest of us, others were not aware of the full capacity of their mobile phones. But they were all in agreement that mobile phones were relevant in teaching and learning in secondary schools. Faraja and her team at Shule Direct hope the tools developed will empower teachers to transcend their role as content creators in a typical classroom to the digital sphere. Teachers should no longer remain content consumers of online and mobile learning content. Shule Direct also works with Eneza Education of Kenya who have considerable experience with mobile learning, and so instead of re-inventing the wheel, the team are working with one of the best in the industry.
Innovation’s forte is reimagining processes. It takes more than programming to do educational innovation. It took teachers, researchers, social workers, technical engineers, finance personnel and support, communication experts and students to make this innovation possible. Together, the Schule Direct team rethought, recreated and reimagined the learning experience of a Secondary School student in Tanzania.
Faraja commented on the development process for MAKINI SMS, saying: “The iterations, the pivots, the user feedbacks and the designs that befit a human need, are what drives any innovation team and we are not any different. The innovation eco-system I have witnessed is not rocket science and I am proud of COSTECH and HDIF for preaching this sprit of collaboration and co-creation that in the end is a win-win situation for all, including the end user.”
MAKINI SMS is free for two months, and from the 16th of May MAKINI SMS will be offering a daily bundle of 100 Tshs and a weekly bundle of 500 Tshs for unlimited quizzes. Thousands of quizzes across all subjects for either 100 Tshs or 500 Tshs. The platform is available both online at www.shuledirect.co.tz and on the mobile by texting MAKINI to 15397, currently only for Tigo users. Stay updated by following the hashtag #kwaMAKINI.
For more information on Schule Direct, visit the website: www.shuledirect.co.tz