As I mentioned in my previous post, we built (and keep on building) Elewa around a straightforward mission: “To improve the quality of education in Kenya and beyond.” In this post, I will continue the story by telling you how exactly we went about that.
To achieve our somewhat ambitious goal, Elewa first targetted the so called KCSE exams (the idea Mike came to me with). We chose this angle because in the Kenyan education system, a lot of problems come from the existence of standardized tests. Unlike the system we have in Belgium, in Kenya you get only one exam at the end of your secondary education. This exam basically determines the rest of your life. Score high, you’ll end up with a scholarship in the best colleges. Score low, and you have no chance on getting into university. Teachers also get paid better if they have a high scoring class compared to a low average. All of this results into students being insanely pressured to do well on these exams. This recently took a turn for the worse when students are now being locked up in their dormitories, to study for these exams and to help avoid cheating on these exams. The lockdown is now resulting in riots and even arson..
Having the “one exam determines all”-card, leads to tremendous stress amongst students. And worse, it leads to bad and very ineffective study habits. Some students turn into the type of person I like to call “the parrot.” To study for these exams, students buy bulk past exam papers and their corresponding example answers. It is the only way they can prepare themselves since they haven’t a clue what parts of the 4-year curriculum will be tested on KCSE. They take these papers and study the question-answers by hearth. Question -> Answer, Question -> Answer, Question -> Answer, … What happens (the so called parrot) is when you feed them a question, they can provide you with the perfect answer. Or they can give you the mathematical process to solve the equation you provided. Though the parrot can answer the KCSE-question, he/she still hasn’t a clue as to what it all means. Nor why they are thaught the matter, how they can play around with it and how they can use that knowledge to improve their every day lives.
Our first product
So a quick recap. If you remember correctly, our mission statement at Elewa is “to improve the quality of education.” Also, KCSE-exams are a source of stress and pressure, undermining the quality of education in Kenya. Taking into account these two facts, we can infer that if we are able to improve the way students study for these exams, we positively affect the quality of education. One of the major problems students encounter when they face these exams, is the fact that they have no clue what to study for these exams.
What we did at Elewa to tackle that problem, is we took all these exams and statistically analysed the past 15 years of KCSE exam data. We then used that data to give feedback to students and teachers on what they had to focus. We made it explicit what the most important topics are on the KCSE exams. For example, we can say that over the past 15 years mathematical differentiation took an average of 30% weight on KCSE Mathematics Paper 1. Students and teachers can use this as a reference when they determine their study plans for KCSE. They can target their efforts and spend more time on what matters to pass for these exams. Time we hope they spend on actually getting to understand the topic. On the 7th of September 2015 (after 6 months of development), Mike and I officially launched this solution and my journey into the EdTech industry was completed.
Question -> answer Problem -> solution
Though Elewa was able to help a lot of people, it is not a full blown solution yet. As a company, we constantly try to evolve our product so it fits our users needs. This gave light to what is now my masters thesis for the school year to come. To what I am currently working on, and to what I have been working on for the past six months. Elewa 2.0, a full-blown eLearning system we hope can revolutionize the educational sector in Kenya. Elewa 2.0 is heavily inspired by modern learning techniques such as inquiry based learning, Freinets democratic learning,… Since the topic is room for a whole other blogpost(s), and I’m out of scope for this one anyway, I will not go into details here. The main idea is that content should be thaught from a problem’s perspective.
The road to get to this point has been long, but great also. Over the past years, I had the opportunity to discover and live a whole new world. I got to learn a lot, and ended up on a path on which I will continue doing so for the coming years. Though it might have turned out to be a long one, I do hope you enjoyed my first blog post and the journey I explained. If you have any comments, don’t hesitate to share down below or in a PM. Thanks for reading!
As I am starting my career as a blogger, it’s been almost a year since I officialy helped launch Elewa. And what a year it has been. The stuff we’ve been upto this last year was interesting, challenging and enriching. But before I can talk about just what that stuff was (probably in a later post), I’d like to use my first blogpost to go back to the beginning. That’s why in this post, I’d like to shine a light on why and how I ended up doing bussiness underneath the African sun.
How it all started
My story starts in 2012. As a last-years student in the bachelor “Applied Computer Science,” I was obligated to do an internship. Being someone who identifies himself with being always up for an adventure and socially engaged (at that time mostly through my local scouts movement), I applied for an internship at VVOB. VVOB is a Belgian NGO that is active in the educational sector in many third world countries. As the assignment of this internship, I was send to Kenya to build a school management information system.
Through this internship, I got to experience a whole new country and culture. Such an experience can be liberating and life-changing. Liberating in a sense that my view on life and on the world completely changed over the course of four months. Secondly, the internship consisted mostly of work (duh). Through my work, I learned a lot when it comes to flexibility. Having to work in places you can’t rely on basic commodities (at least over here) like electricity and internet forces you to innovate and look for new solutions. But the biggest thing I got from that work, was the fact I got connected to a lot of great minds within the NGO- and educational sector in Kenya. Most notably for my story in those connections is Mike, who will without a doubt return later in this post.
Life goes on
After the internship, life went on. I finished my studies, got my first job and started the rest of my life. The first few months at my new job were great. I got to learn a lot of stuff, met a lot of cool people and was able to grow in my job. Though after a while, I felt as though something was missing. Working in the financial sector, I lacked a sense of meaning. I wanted to feel like the work I did had an actual impact. I wanted to be able to see that impact with my own two eyes. I wanted meaning in a sense that a lot later I would be able to look back to my life, and I would know the world would be worse off if I hadn’t exist. Maybe you can call it vanity, that belief I have the power to actually make a difference. Or maybe you can call it (leaving a good and stable monthly paycheck, with a sweet company car and tons of other benefits) pure insanity. Whatever it was, it was a strong enough feeling to push me into quitting my job. I went back to school and started the pursuit of a masters in “Civil Engineering: Computer Science.” All whilst starting my Belgian web design business, and a project that would eventually result in my first bussiness in the edtech space in Kenya.
About that project.. While I was quitting my job and on the full hunt for jobs to pay for my college, I got back in touch with Mike. It turned out he needed someone with my skillset to train some developers (interns) and finish a job. We worked on the project, stayed in touch and not long after he came to me with an idea he had. An idea that would surely improve the quality of education in Kenya. This idea turned into my first Kenyan company, and is now called Elewa.
What you need to understand at this point, is that ever since I was a child I’ve been immersed in talk about teaching, about life at school and managing a class. Mostly due to the fact that my mom, and a lot of other family members, is a teacher. Working on Mikes project, I took on several interns. With whom I spent a lot of time, in between classes, to teach them about software development and software architecture. Training these interns, I discovered a passion for teaching must run in the family. The feeling when someone finally gets what you’re trying to explain to me is amazing. Being back in Kenya a year later, I even discovered I even have a passion for pedagogy. I love to discover and explore new ways to teach. This passion is now my main drive. It’s the meaning I lacked in my past job, and its what inspires me to happily push myself through hours of debugging to find that one typo I wrote.
“To improve the quality of education in Kenya and beyond”
Times went by, and now two years after I quit my job, my main effort still goes to the further development of Elewa. The mission of our company is simple: “To improve the quality of education in Kenya and beyond.” The implementation of that mission is the more challenging part. We believe a lot can be improved if people are educated well. If people understand what they are being thaught. It is therefore no coincidence that Elewa means “to understand” in Swahili.
It is with that notion I end my first blogpost. If you want to read on and find out about our first effort to reach our goal, you can continue and read my next post! I’d like to thank you for reading my first blogpost! Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you on the next one!