Tanzanian 'edupreneur' ShuleDirect aims to help local school kids learn

How one social enterprise startup is providing local digital study tools for learners across Tanzania.

ShuleDirect is a perfect example of a Tanzanian ‘edupreneur’. Started in June 2013 it is a social enterprise that provides local, relevant, digital study tools for learners across the country. It is also working with teachers to create digitised notes, tutorials and quizzes and multimedia content.

“Our mission is to leverage existing technology to improve access to qualified learning resources for secondary school students and teachers,” Iku Lazaro, the startup’s co-founder and Communications Director tells IDG Connect.

ShuleDirect’s primary content is based on the Tanzania National Curriculum and Syllabus for Secondary Schools. The content is developed to help the students and users not just learn and memorise facts but also understand concepts and their applications in real life

“Our content goes through a vigorous two-stage Quality Assurance review process. Tanzania Institute of Education (under the Ministry of Education of Tanzania) reviews and approves the content for subject matter correctness and curriculum adherence. Once approved, a team of independent language expert consultants who ensure that we publish error free content then reviews the content,” explains Lazaro.

The team currently has 10 full time employees, 12 part time Educational Content Developers (teachers), a Content Quality Assurance Committee that constitutes of four members and two Language Expert Consultants and has also been able to reach over 275,000 users.

The whole concept came about because at the age of 23 Lazaro became a mother for the first time while pursuing her law degree in Britain. “As with all women around the world, I believed in my ability to multitask, to be a law student and a doting mother to my daughter,” says Lazaro.

Yet motherhood provided so many new demands that she had to work extra hard to manage both studies and parenting.

“I could not be a typical student. I would go to the library, borrow revision books, newsletters and rush back home. Having [earlier] studied in Tanzania and not having learnt anything online, it was almost epiphany when the librarian introduced me to online resources. It actually came out of sympathy after watching me rushing in and out with a bag full of books, returning or borrowing, for a couple of weeks,” she explains.

The internet became and still remains her “paradise”. It meant she could more conveniently manage her assignments, revision, chats with other students online while just attending lectures and seminars.

“Coming back home [to Tanzania], I knew, not only would digital learning resources bridge the learning resources gaps [here] but they would also enable a lot of young people overcome their challenges or circumstances posing barriers to their success.”

To date the startup has built its own API that has enabled students to digitise the current Tanzania Syllabus for Secondary Schools. It also ensures that any learning content deposited on the API can be stored, tagged and meta-tagged according to the Syllabus loaded on the API, thus making any content relevant to the learning needs stipulated by the Tanzanian Syllabus.

“Our cloud based repository stores all the resources, with an advanced data management system and Application Programming Interface [API], which allow mobile applications, the ShuleDirect web portal and our SMS Service to pull the right content for students and deliver it to them through whatever technology they can access,” Lazaro explains.

The company has been funded through a blend of self-funding and grants and has plenty of ideas for development. These include content diversification, professional development resources for teachers and opening up is technology to other developers.

“We invite all interested parties to work with us in providing anywhere, anytime learning opportunities for young learners in the region,” concludes Lazaro.