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Mobile technology is improving access to quality education in sub-Saharan Africa, a region in which millions of children drop out of primary school each year and schools are strapped for new teachers.
Girl students with mobile phones (Courtesy of Eneza Education)
Students and their Eneza virtual teacher (Courtesy of Eneza Education)

In 2009, Steve Vosloo, a learning specialist, launched Yoza Cellphone Stories in South Africa to allow students to read and comment on stories and poems on their mobile phones. Similar projects that have launched in the region in recent years include:

  • Dr. Math, in South Africa, which connects students with math tutors for live chat sessions through MXit, a social media service.
  • MoMaths, in Nigeria, which offers preparation tips for secondary school exams via text messages.
  • MobiLiteracy, in Uganda, which provides daily reading lessons via mobile phones for illiterate parents.
  • For-profit Rethink Education, which provides math and science content to secondary school students in South Africa through the Internet and mobile platforms.

But the fastest growing mobile education project is Eneza Education, started in Kenya four years ago by American teacher Toni Maraviglia and Kenyan technologist Kago Kagichiri.

Millicent Mwendwa and Kago Kagichiri seated, smiling (Courtesy of Eneza Education)
Eneza Education’s Millicent Mwendwa and Kago Kagichiri (Courtesy photo)

The service, which has 15 staffers and 40 freelance teachers, delivers interactive content aligned with the national syllabus. Students and teachers can subscribe to it via different platforms, including basic cell phones. Some of its heaviest users are in remote parts of the country.

Eneza is a for-profit company that charges the equivalent of 50 cents (U.S.) for a monthly subscription to its materials. Maraviglia says the company has enjoyed a sixfold increase in the number of subscribers (now 860,000) in three years.

“Being a for-profit was the best decision we’ve ever made,” she says. By offering equity in the company, Eneza Education has attracted venture capital and talent. (The company is not profitable yet.)

Groups of students huddled at desks, with mobile phones and teaching materials (Courtesy of Eneza Education)
A live teacher gets support from a virtual teacher … or is it the other way around? (Courtesy of Eneza Education)

Through the Girl Effect Accelerator, the founders of Eneza have learned from fellow entrepreneurs in Africa and mentors in America. Initially focused on schools, Maraviglia realized Eneza could grow much faster selling directly to students and their families. Long-term, it hopes to reach 50 million users across Africa.

“We are really looking to be huge,” Maraviglia told BBC News in 2015.