Improving education management in Nigeria through automation

Mike Cohen, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0
Mike Cohen, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Sunday ‘Dimeji Falana, co-founder of the online school management platform Edves and winner of the 2018 Transforming Education Prize, explains how automation can lead to positive change in the education sector in Nigeria, Africa, and beyond.

Lise Birikundavyi: You have dedicated your prize to all African educators. Can you tell us more about the challenges Nigerian teachers experience on a regular basis?

Sunday ‘Dimeji Falana: One of the biggest challenges is that educators have to spend far too much time on paper-based routine work. Student performance report, lesson plan, and daily attendance reports are good examples. In a school of 200 students, teachers spend five to seven days writing performance reports, as they have to compile all the needed documents and carry out the tedious and time-consuming process of manually performing calculations. Once the reports have been prepared, they have to be manually reviewed by the school’s principal before being sent to parents.

With the use of Edves, our online tool for educators, students, and parents, all this can be done in one day. The teachers simply enter the scores in the system, which calculates grades and generates a report automatically. These reports can be approved online and distributed to parents through the platform, which is also able to handle other routine tasks that educators encounter on a daily basis, leading to greater efficiency.

As a school grows, administrators may have a harder and harder time keeping track of what is happening within its walls. As growth accelerates, it becomes increasingly difficult to monitor educational quality, as micromanagement is no longer possible. With the help of Edves, an analysis can be run to identify the number of students who are weak in math or English, to show how various classes differ in terms of performance, and so on. Interventions can then be put in place to improve the quality of education in that school.

LB: How do students interact with the Edves platform?

SDF: Edves currently serves over 68,000 students in more than 300 schools. Students use the platform to access information on their homework assignments. Parents, too, receive a message when an assignment has been posted, encouraging them to log onto the platform for details and deadlines. Access rights differ for parents and students.

In addition to providing information on assignments, Edves includes more than 200 YouTube videos (mostly on subjects covered in class and general STEM topics), which can be helpful for students as they complete their homework. This feature, which is intended to personalize the learning experience, was only recently introduced.

LB: What has been the key to your startup’s success?

SDF: Our ability to listen to educators has been very important. When the first version of our software failed, we went back to teachers to get their input. They helped us find ways to address the problems they face on a daily basis. In business, it is important to trust and listen to your client. In our case, our clients are the teachers who work with and implement the curriculum, observe students’ growth, correct their mistakes, provide discipline, and support students as they face challenges in their lives.

Teachers are our number-one priority. I am convinced that many seemingly good ed-tech projects have failed in the last 10 years because companies have not listened to educators. As an ed-tech company, we are working hard to deliver a product that educators want to use, rather than what we think they should use.

“Teachers are our number-one priority. I am convinced that many seemingly good ed-tech projects have failed in the last 10 years because companies have not listened to educators.”

The education sector holds a great deal of promise, including the promise of financial returns. To position our system to best advantage, we have made our software standardized enough to be scalable but flexible enough so that each school can customize it to meet its specific needs. Many of its features can be broken down into smaller elements so that institutions can choose the combination that is most useful to them as well as affordable. Their plans can then be upgraded as their needs grow. We have also included import and export features that allow our product to be used in conjunction with a school’s existing learning management system (LMS) and accounting software.

LB: What are the major reasons for resistance to ed-tech startups in Nigeria?

SDF: Most schools are reluctant to transition to technology because they don’t want to abandon their traditional methods of educating students and communicating with parents. They also believe that it is expensive to build and maintain an online platform. But with Edves, there is no need for schools to create their own complex and expensive systems, and most of our platform’s features can be accessed offline. Edves also has a feature that allows reports to be sent to parents by SMS which helps if the parent does not want or cannot afford to consume data.

LB: Looking forward to the future of ed-tech: How will artificial intelligence (AI) be able to improve the quality of education in Nigeria?

SDF: AI can do a lot to improve the quality of education in Nigeria, West Africa and the world at large. However, AI requires reliable data. We need African data if AI is to make sense in Africa. Our company gathers data on attendance, responsiveness to homework, parental engagement, and students’ performance, through interactions with the platform, and we believe that with the help of AI, we will be able to improve learning outcomes and both predict and prevent dropouts with the help of individualized early interventions.

“AI requires reliable data. We need African data if AI is to make sense in Africa.”

But as long as teachers cling to pen and paper in our country, the risk is that AI will be based on foreign data, hence applying the wrong solutions to our problems. This is why we need to bring every school into the modern age and take full advantage of the opportunities provided by ed-tech.

Edves is an academic online portal that automates operations in schools and colleges, from admissions to generating transcripts. Edves is the winner of the Transforming Education Prize, a collaboration between Seedstars World and the TRECC program.

Sunday ‘Dimeji Falana is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, software developer, and co-founder and CEO of Edves.

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