Millicent Mwendwa, the Chief Business Development Officer of Eneza Education, talks about the challenges ed-tech startups face in Africa and the role of parents who have chosen to use ed-tech for their kids’ education.
Elizabeth West: Millicent, why do you work in the ed-tech community?
Millicent Mwendwa: Because I think there’s a big lack of African ed-tech solutions for African people. A lot of foreign solutions do not work.
EW: Why don’t you think foreign solutions work for Africa?
MM: Because, first of all, the providers of foreign solutions don’t really understand the culture and the end consumer. Secondly, these solutions are not localised. Foreign companies that want to introduce their solutions in an African country think what’s created in a developed country will meet the customer’s needs. But there are a lot of gaps in that thinking because there are many things you need to put on the ground first before that great idea you’re bringing from a developed country can work.
EW: By things that need to be put on the ground, do you mean infrastructure?
MM: Yes. For example, if you decide on a solution that involves tablets, you need to think about who is going to purchase the tablets. And if you think you are going to go through the government, getting that to happen will take you forever. Also, how parents perceive technology is one of the biggest barriers we had to overcome. So we’re just thinking through those cultural issues and finding ways to make sure the parents feel safe and comfortable having their children use these new methods of learning.
“There are many things you need to put on the ground first before that great idea you’re bringing from a developed country can work.”
EW: Tell me more about your thoughts on parents and their role in ed-tech: Do you think they are supporters, or can they sometimes be a hindrance because they may not be used to technology themselves?
MM: All parents, whether in Africa or anywhere else, want their children to do better than they did, just in general. In Africa, education is seen as a way of getting out of poverty, so parents would rather spend all their hard-earned money to send their kids to school than even to take them to hospital. The role for parents is to understand their child’s needs and what it means to have quality education. Sometimes resources are scarce and they are unable to pay for their kids’ schooling up to university, but they definitely understand their role in terms of making sure their kids have a better life than they have had.
As someone who’s in the ed-tech community, I believe that viewing parents as a barrier is naive. We’ve been able to prove that, with two million parents who use our platform for their kids. As soon as parents understand the benefit that you are providing and you can show proper learning outcomes, they will find a way or the means of getting that particular technology.
“You have to understand each country’s policy for what they are trying to achieve in the education sector.”
EW: Are there other institutions or individuals acting as a barrier when you’re trying to provide ed-tech solutions to children?
MM: Yes, certain entities can be seen as barriers; you’ll find people who are against this new way of learning. Another reason why Eneza was created is because software is easy to scale, and we were able to reach the mass market not necessarily by using government bodies, or by waiting for NGOs, international organisations, or foundations to purchase mass tablets or computers to give out to kids, but just by letting parents use what they have – mobile phones. We have been smart in terms of using that.
But if you want to be in the classrooms, then that’s a different story. You have to understand each country’s policy for what they are trying to achieve in the education sector and also understand the difficulties they have in terms of scaling a brick and mortar education platform. So sometimes working closely with the government makes it quite a huge barrier for you to scale rapidly.
“Scaling is very important to ed-tech companies like us: It enables us to get students learning who could not afford to buy textbooks.”
EW: Why is it important for you to scale?
MM: With the African population boom, it’s going to be very hard for governments to build schools and train enough teachers for everyone, and coming up with a solution earlier on – as in 2017 – is a better way of educating African children than waiting to create that solution in 2030, for example.
Scaling is very important to companies like us because that means, firstly, that people see value in the product you’re providing, and secondly, that we are able to get students learning who could not afford to buy textbooks.
Eneza Education is the most widely used mobile education platform in Africa with local content delivered via SMS and online. The company is currently working in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. Through a partnership with the TRECC program, Eneza will launch in Côte d’Ivoire in 2018.
Millicent Mwendwa is the Chief Business Development Officer of Eneza Education. Millicent received her BA in International Relations from the United States International University and served in multiple management and marketing roles in companies in South Africa, Somalia, and Kenya. She is also the co-founder of Nairobi’s Edtech East Africa.