This edtech startup is helping rural schools overcome tech integration barriers in classrooms
BONFACE ORUCHO/BIRD STORY AGENCY
AT a chief’s camp in Lokichogio, North West Kenya, various school children have gathered to observe microorganisms with pocket-size foldable microscopes.
This is the first time these children are seeing and using microscopes.
Barely 30 km from the South Sudan border, this semi-arid area inhabited by pastoral communities usually has limited access to learning innovations.
“Since access to microscopes in this region is difficult, we introduced these foldable microscopes which can fit in pockets. The children can go to the fields with them,” explained Patrick Njoroge, co-founder of Edutab.
Edutab Africa is an edtech startup founded in 2018 to provide innovative learning solutions in remote and semi-urban educational institutions.
“It was a beautiful moment to watch the children’s natural curiosity come to life as they used the microscopes for the first time,” Njoroge added.
After the day’s events, they leave the foldable microscopes with the educators, who will continue using the device with other children in different classes.
Edutab founders, Patrick Njoroge, Maxwell Fundi and Michael Mumbo, met in 2015 during a math camp event at university.
“We met when we were students at Maseno University. I was studying Development studies, Fundi was doing Information Technology and Mumbo was in Mathematics and Statistics,” said Njoroge.
Despite their different course electives, the trio had a few things in common.
They had all attended rural schools and were cognisant of the education challenges in remote areas, they loved technology and Mathematics, and all desired to improve learning experiences in educational institutions.
Three years later, they founded Edutab.
“We are majorly operating from Kitale and cover most parts of Western Kenya. We also have active programs in Turkana targeting the Dadaab refugee camp and parts of Lokichogio,” Njoroge explained.
Because individual schools often lack the resources necessary to sustain projects and programs over time, Edutab empowers educators with technical knowledge and expertise to ensure the sustainability of their programs.
“We trained one teacher in a school in Kakamega in 2016 and years later, he is a recognized technology trainer in the entire region,” Njoroge pointed out.
Alex Anyova, the Deputy headteacher of Birunda Primary School, admits affording technology integration in rural classrooms is a challenge.
“But with Edutab Africa, we have significantly changed the attitude in our learners who are now actively involved in tech-related activities in the classroom,” he said.
“It’s been interesting to see our learners write different happenings in digital journals from Edutab, which they read out to peers as news on Friday,” Anyova added.
In recognition of their work, Edutab received the Falling Walls Foundation Science Engagement Award in 2022 for promoting scientific knowledge transfer.
Besides science exploration, the edtech also provides coding and robotics, online and offline learning resources, and podcast storytelling for learners.
Their African Children’s Stories podcast has over 5000 listens across various platforms, which they use to boost learners’ reading confidence and improve their diction.
While Njoroge acknowledges that there are challenges to integrating ICT in education, especially in rural populations, he believes the impact of technology on learning is well worth the effort.
“Resources have limited the scaling of major programs. In some cases, we have to acquire some equipment overseas, which shoots the costs,” he noted.
However, as he points out, “the results and outcomes are far more impacting.”
Some challenges are, however, due to their areas of focus, the remote areas.
“In some schools, having access to a standard device is almost impossible. Even supporting technology such as a power bank becomes difficult to access,” he said.
“But if we have agencies, governments and more stakeholders actively providing resources specifically for technology integration in the classroom, it will be possible to create more impact.”
Beyond schools, Edutab is integrating communities in the learning and provision of education through setting up community libraries.
“One community learning centre that we work with is Kongoni Community Library… it has helped bring stakeholders together,” he explained.
More significantly, however, the centre is facilitative of coding and storytelling within the library.
Elphas Ongong’o, the Director of Kongoni Community Library, explains that since Edutab resources were introduced, the number of learner visits has increased.
“The Competency-based Curriculum is heavily pegged on the skills offered by Edutab, including coding, basic robotics and standard computer skills,” he said.
“When parents and teachers know they can access those services in our library, they develop confidence in our services,” he added.
To increase learner exposure in the technology space, Edutab collaborates with international organizations and agencies that offer similar education programs.
“These students in the learning centres have collaboratively worked with their peers in different locations, for instance in Canada, working on shared projects virtually,” Njoroge explained.
Anyova, a classroom teacher, highlights the positively disruptive role that technology plays in the classroom.
“Our learners get to experience the real world beyond their space and the world to come because technology has a way of projecting the future,” he said.
In his view, with technology, there is more realism between theoretical teaching and the real world the learner is bound to walk into afterwards.
“Technology also helps boost learners’ retention abilities,” he noted.
Edutab will participate in the World Literacy Summit at Oxford University in April 2023 to share their experiences integrating ICT tools for remote-based classrooms.