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No more learning difficulties with these crisis crunchers


No more learning difficulties with these crisis crunchers

Innovative startups use hi tech to solve Africa’s education problems

Senior science reporter

Pie in the sky, or a genuine ability to crunch the crises of our time? This question might hang over the worldwide proliferation of tech innovations that claim to offer a solution to every problem.
But, judging from the first cohort of startups that received funding from Injini (an incubator for tech innovations in the world of learning in Africa), there are real gains to be made.
At an event at the GetSmarter offices in Cape Town on Thursday, the eight different EdTech startups in the first cohort gave the audience a glimpse into what has already been achieved as they seek more partnerships, sponsors and support. Four of those are South African and are already making an impact.First up is uthini. This offers language learning via a combination of chatbot and mother tongue speakers on a WhatsApp-style platform where picture cards and voice notes are used.
According to cofounder Miguel da Costa, an inroad has already been made with medical students in Johannesburg.
“Millions of professionals don’t speak the language of those they serve,” he says, “and this includes health personnel like doctors, occupational therapists, nurses and many others.”
Uthini allows such professionals to learn the language of their patients, and already a pilot group of 500 medical students have undergone training at the University of the Witwatersrand.
They will also, as part of their clinical exam, have to consult with patients in the patients’ mother tongue.
This is one of several pilots they have run, and the team is now looking for more funding to expand their reach.Another start-up also benefiting tertiary students is called Zelda. This is a platform that matches students to the most suitable university places, bursaries and jobs.
Dominic Schorr, the founder, explains that Zelda (named after his mom) is an Android app that tracks the strengths and passions of its users, and then links them to study and career opportunities and bursaries.
“The feedback we have had from those offering the opportunities is this: we don’t want more applicants, we want the right applicants – so that is what Zelda does.”
Another South African startup pitching for partners and funding is called Syafunda, and is aimed at high school pupils.What this does is give maths and science high school pupils access to “localised digital content” by integrating the best teaching practices on video, audio and e-books through a wireless digital library.
Says its founder Zakheni Ngubo: “We will be reaching over 100,000 pupils in 73 schools by the end of this year.” Although the focus is on science and maths, content also includes entrepreneurship, financial literacy and digital skills – all taught via mobile technology.On the other end of the spectrum in education, Birdtracks is an intervention for early childhood development. It is a game-based method to assess pupils for their teachers and their parents.
According to the team behind this start-up, “early childhood pupils are preliterate and therefore are difficult to assess. Using a digital game-based approach tackles this issue.”
They say that teachers for this age group are often in the dark about whether they are imparting new skills and information to their pupils and, without having effective assessments, “can spend up to 50% of their time on 90% of what kids have already mastered.”
Injini co-founder Jamie Martin introduced the eight startups (the four from South Africa plus one from Kenya, one from Ethiopia, one from Tanzania and one from South Sudan).
“Where some see education in Africa as a hopeless case, we see boundless opportunity,” said Martin.
Injini received over 800 applications for the first cohort from 36 African countries, and have now moved onto applications for the second cohort.
The organisation selects a cohort of start-ups from across Africa every six months, invests in them and gives them an ed-tech dedicated support programme to help them scale up across the continent.​

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