In numerous primary schools across Kenya, eLimu recently rolled out a new, user-friendly and cost-effective 3G tablet complete with an innovative new educational application. Speaking at a recent TEDx event in Stellenbosch, CEO Nivi Mukherjee, encouraged by the project’s initial success, said she is now looking to extend eLimu’s reach further into Africa, starting with South Africa.
Created with the help of a local textbook publisher, the eLimu app currently features learning revision content of all six Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) subject areas with a view to helping primary school students study for exams. This should see improvements in pass rates and overall average marks in national exams. At present, Mukherjee says there is a dropout rate of around 40% after primary school in Kenya.
To help students to enjoy and engage with the eLimu material, there are numerous games and songs, as well as 3-D graphics to help them understand difficult concepts. Animated teachers also help give advice and draw attention to important points. Furthermore, wireless connectivity allows students to be involved in forums, to ask questions and to collaborate with different teachers all over the country, and potentially all over Africa.
But eLimu isn’t just about fun and better test scores, it is about encouraging and imparting the right knowledge and values for the next generation to become more “responsible citizens”. With this in mind, the app provides content on environmental issues and sustainability, conflict resolution, community development and civil and human rights.
Having always been an active promoter of what she calls “funucation”, Mukherjee says that her inspiration for eLimu began when she gave a class of students some blank paper and some paint and, after telling them they could paint whatever they wanted, all the children painted a simple house with two windows and a door. She says that at this moment she realised how much the Kenyan education system, still strongly influenced by the archaic English colonial inheritance, was stifling creativity and innovation in Kenyan children.
On another occasion, Mukherjee says she witnessed a teacher, in a classroom of more than 50 students, putting down a list of multiple choice questions and answers on the blackboard, circling the correct answers, and telling students that all they had to do for the exam was to memorize which ones were correct. Mukherjee says that if this kind of teaching is allowed to continue then “we will eventually lose all innovation and independent thinking”.
Mukherjee goes on to say that “although the constitution says that all Kenyans have an equal right to free primary education, access to the right education remains highly unequal”. This is especially true for many of the children in isolated rural areas. eLimu, Mukherjee says, can help erase these disparities and distances and finally help all Kenyan children to have access to an “equitable” and standardised level of education.
The time certainly seems to be ripe. Mukherjee says that Kenya is in the middle of a “tech boom” and points out that 30 million out of total of 40 million Kenyans are now mobile phone subscribers.
Having won the award for ‘Best App’ at the InMobi sponsored App Developer contest earlier this year, Mukherjee says that South Africa is an obvious point of interest for eLimu considering its relatively stable infrastructure and large private sector. South Africa also has many of the same disparities in its education system as Kenya, not to mention a similarly on-going need for further conflict resolution and increased awareness of human and civil rights amongst a young generation too often referred to as a “ticking time-bomb”.