The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted learning for more than 1.5 billion students worldwide with over 18 million of those students being in Kenya. With school closures disrupting learning for students in the country, the impact of learning has largely impacted disadvantaged students and their families. This is due to the fact that as much as learning in classrooms has been interrupted, some students have had the priviledge of being taught as well as accessing reading materials online; which has not been the same for students in informal settlements, refugee camps and low-income households.
Despite the shutdown, there was hope that schools would resume before the end of the year. However, hopes were dimmed when the Ministry of Education announced that the 2020 school calendar would be forfeited and that students would be repeating classes come January 2021. Well, that simply meant that teachers, parents, and learners had to figure out entirely how to compensate for the lost academic year.
In response to that, Eneza, through its educational content platform Shupavu291, teamed up with Safaricom with an aim of helping learners access content through the platform for free to help them keep up with their studies during the COVID-19 period.
Eneza Education, a digital education company here in Kenya has been in operation since 2013 and since its inception, Eneza has managed to digitize the Kenya Curriculum while providing quizzes, and revision materials that can be accessed through the web or via SMS. The platform also has an After-Teacher feature where a learner can ask a teacher questions that get responded to in 15 minutes.
“We are not only in Kenya but also Ghana and Cote d’ Ivore and this month we are launching operations in Rwanda.” said Joan Njogu, the head of commercial operations at Eneza Education in a candid interview we had with her.
With Safaricom’s main mandate of transforming lives, they have always tried to identify opportunities that would have the most transformative impacts on its customers. Therefore when the Ministry of Education announced the closure of schools with an absolute uncertainty of when they would be open, Safaricom collaborated with Eneza Education. The collaboration came to light in a time when Safaricom was trying to see what they would do to ease the burden of its consumers accessing education while at home.
“Our partnership with Safaricom started in 2012 when our founders thought about how Eneza could serve not only people with smartphones and good internet connections but also those without. As a result of the partnership, we were able to come up with a product where a user would be able to pay a daily fee and be able to access unlimited materials with the SMS plan.” Said Joan.
Since 2nd April 2020, through their partnership with Safaricom, learners have a chance to access the Shupavu291 platform free of charge and get free revision lessons, revision papers as well as Wikipedia to help them keep up with their studies during the COVID-19 outbreak.
While currently the platform is free, we were taken aback, but at the same time impressed, after learning how ridiculously cheap it is to access Shupavu291. Eneza charges just Ksh 3 per day. Additionally, they charge a weekly fee of Ksh15, and Ksh 50 caters to a student for the whole month.
It is also worth noting that the platform only has resources for learners from class 4 to form 4.
Currently, the platform has about 1.85 million active students, a number that Joan says grew rapidly when they made the platform free of charge after schools were closed.
“In March, just after schools were closed we have around 590,000 registered students. After we joined hands with Safaricom and made it free in April, we started seeing a huge spike in daily subscriptions.” Said Joan.
She also acknowledges Safaricom for its role in reaching out to as many parents as possible. Through advertising, especially via the radio, which has seen a tremendous increase in subscribers to the platform many of whom are from the remote areas of the country.
“Through the research, we did in June, most of our users are from the Rift Valley region, Western Kenya, and Central. The reason for this is because the population of those areas is larger compared to the other parts of the country. “
However, in the case of Nyanza and Western, Joan attributes the huge number of learners to parents who are keen and active in ensuring that their kids perform well academically. In contrast, major towns like Nairobi have recorded low membership numbers because there are several products in which one can choose from.
Out of the total number of registered members on Shupavu291, 60% are girls while the remaining 40% are boys. Joan, while admitting that that was an interesting finding, attributes it to girls having a good relationship with their mothers. However, she clearly states that the Shupavu291 platform is open for both genders.
While the platform is accessible at any given time, it is at its peak in the evenings between 6 PM and 9 PM. The site also records a moderate number of learners early in the morning between 5 AM and 7 AM and low engagement during the day.
“Majority of the learners depend on their parents’ phone. So it is not possible to access the platform while they are at work. That’s why we record huge number engagements during the evenings and early mornings. The ones with their own phones make up the small percentage of those who access the platform during the day” Joan reported.
Joan also reports that students using Shupavu291 have a higher chance of improving academically. This after her and her team conducted a research in order to ascertain that.
“In 2015, we had a controlled group of students who used Shupavu291 for 9 months. During their 9-months learning at the platform, there was a 22.7% increase in their average score as compared to when they began thus an improvement in performance.” Said Joan
Now that there is a lot happening across the globe, especially, with regard to COVID-19 and indefinite closure of schools, learners tend to delve outside the academic aspect with ease. Also, unlike schools, they have an infinite amount of time at their disposal. That means learning reduces significantly as compared to when schools are open.
“Over the past couple of months, through the patterns that we’ve recorded, we’ve found out that students use the platform on an average of three days a week. That shows how inconsistent they are as compared to how they would be while in school.” Said Joan.
With regard to COVID-19, Shupavu291 has a whole section up with content that addresses questions asked by learners regarding the virus and measures they should take in order to prevent themselves from contacting.
While kids are known to be inquisitive, and since they trust that they can get answers from the platform, the teachers on the platform have been trained in such a way that they could answer any question asked while being cautious not to cross the boundaries set since most of them are still under the age of 18.
Shupavu291 has so far seen over 6.2 million quizzes taken and more than 1 million questions asked on the Ask-A-Teacher platform. To join the platform, dial *291# via USSD or through the shortcode 20851. You can also join through their website Eneza Education.