By Clifford Akumu
During a recent study by Uwezo dubbed – Annual Leaning Assessment Report 2015, it emerged that learning outcomes in primary schools in Kenya are low and static. Regional disparities in learning outcomes also persist. For example, a child in the central region is over seven times likely to attend a standard two level of literacy and numeracy than a child in North Eastern. It is due to this fact that M-Lesson was founded.
Clifford Akumu interviewed Mr. Johannes Oula, Chief Executive Officer and founder of M-Lesson, a mobile assessment platform that is now helping parents and teachers to track the classroom performance of their children.
Kindly explain what is M-Lesson?
M-lesson is a low-cost mobile assessment platform that helps parents and teachers to understand the day to day classroom performance of their children so that they can improve their learning outcomes. M-Lesson aims to bridge the gap between the parent, teacher, and student by increasing their interaction via SMS.
What was your driving force?
I never knew that I would build such a service back in the days. However, I always wanted to make an impact in the society, but it wasn’t clear how. The opportunity presented itself when President Barrack Obama was in Kenya, and he was speaking to a team of social entrepreneurs at Kenyatta University. Out of this conversation, I saw the impact that my fellow Kenyans were making in the society, and I asked myself what can I do?
So it hit me that I could help parents and teachers understand the day to day performance of their children via SMS across the country. And then the idea was born.
What were you handling before you came up with this service?
I spent quite a lot of time in education having joined Bridge International Academies in 2012. During my employment with Bridge International Academies, I happened to interact a lot with parents, pupils, and teachers. Before I exited employment, I ran a program that ensured over 4000 teachers were tracking pupil attendance, delivering lessons effectively, administering assessments and recording assessment data.
My experience at Bridge contributed so much my skills hence being in a position to run my startup.
Do you have any background on ICT? So how did you land into the tech world?
Actually, I don’t have any background in ICT, but I have a keen interest in technological developments and solutions that can make our society different.
While working at Bridge, I got the opportunity to work closely with the software team and I was able to learn what IT was all about. I learned how people code and got to understand how you get information from one point to the other. Other than Bridge, Self-learning has also made me acquire more skills in software development.I also work with a team of brilliant software developers who have helped pioneer M-Lesson.
At what point did you realize you had what it takes to come up with this service?
The moment I had the idea, I realized that I had all it takes to run the service. The Kenyan market had not experienced an SMS-based mobile assessment platform that measures the day to day classroom performance of a child and so I knew this was an opportune moment to bring about change in the educational sector.
So how does the service work and how will it help other stakeholders?
To start using M-lesson, a parent sends an SMS with the word LEARN to 21475 and then they are prompted to select a class and subject which they would like to receive daily assessment questions.Based on their selection, the parent is then requested to make a payment via MPESA to Till Number 847347 so as to receive the questions in the evening. The parent will then read out the multiple choice question to the child and ask the child to select the most appropriate answer.The parent will then respond with the child’s best answer and receive a correct or incorrect score and where to read more about the question.
Based on the interaction between a parent /pupil with M-Lesson ,we are able to measure the performance of the pupil and be able to provide the pupil , parent , teacher and school administration with a progressive pupil performance report .This information can also be shared with educational stakeholders so as to come up with better methodologies that are geared towards helping children meet their educational needs.
Does your system cover the low end mobile users?
Currently, we have not graduated to an app yet and we purely run on SMS . This means any parent with a basic mobile phone is able to access and utilize our services irrespective of their location or financial capability. In future , we will be able to offer advanced assessment solutions that will not run on SMS only.
What is unique about M-Lesson?
M-Lesson brings all educational stakeholders together with an aim of improving the learning outcome of a child irrespective of where they are .Our solution enables parents and teachers to understand the performance of their children on a national grade at a click of a button .Therefore, parents and teachers can now easily mitigate any challenges that a child is experiencing .
Currently what classes enjoy the service?
M-Lesson offers services to parents and children between class 4 and 8 .
What are the challenges currently facing the service?
Even though our assessments are based on Kenyan national curriculum and are developed by trained teachers , our biggest challenge at the moment is the ability to measure the real classroom performance of a child since some schools are ahead of others , others are performing at optimum and others are behind .
We are also experiencing a challenge when it comes to access to funding since we are a start up. However , we are optimistic that we will soon be able to secure funding. and help us grow.
What does the future look like for M-Lesson?
M-lesson has a bright future . Our goal is to reach 10 Million children across Kenya and Sub -Saharan Africa by 2027 .We are currently embarking on a growth trajectory to cover every part of the country before we start expanding internationally.