By Catherine Kuria
Mobile applications for educational institutions have made the learning process exciting and easy for students
Mobile learning applications (m-learning) is done through portable devices such as smartphones and tablets. It is one of the latest educational trends and people are fast embracing it. Nonetheless, these learning applications are not intended to be a unique educational method. On the contrary, they are supposed to complement the other areas of studies such as classes, lectures and virtual learning.
Historically, access for teachers and students in some countries to information communication technology (ICT) has been limited. Over the years, this has posed a major barrier to the advancement of education. Fortunately, mobile phones have come in handy in addressing that challenge.
M-Shule is a 21st century adaptive, mobile learning management platform designed to improve performance for millions of primary school students across Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya’s mobile phones’ penetration rate is over 80% across the country. The platform delivers personalized learning to students primarily through short message service (SMS). Learners can access this through smartphones or feature phones.
M-Shule was launched in the late 2016 but picked up the pace in 2017. It started with a pilot of 400 hundred learners. With time, the number has steadily grown to 4,500 learners. By the end of this year, it strives to have tens of thousands active monthly learners on the platform. This is aimed at bridging the gap between quality education access and improved class performance.
“We build learning communities by involving the parents, teachers and schools in the process. This is through submitting learners’ reports and organizing community events,” says Claire Mongeau, CEO, M-Shule.
Ms. Mongeau grew up in the United States where her mother is a teacher for students with special needs. She was always inspired by how a collaborative approach to working with kids with special needs can really unlock opportunities for them. As she started working in different parts of the world, she noticed that there was a gap in how technology was being used in teaching. She notes: “ Our goal was to create a highly personalized technology that was accessible to every child in Kenya.”
How it works
At home, the student interacts with a series of SMS specifically in mathematics and English. These sms are based on what the students learn in school and their unique needs. “When the children get home after school every evening, they can request to use their parents’ phone for just a short while,” says Ms. Mongeau. “In the process, they are able to access content that is related to what they learn in class,” she adds.
The students get different messages depending on how they are performing. Every child is treated uniquely because they have different learning capacities.
Educational material disseminated to one child varies due to such factors. As the students learn on the platform and via SMS, M-Shule is able to track their performance. It then shares analytics, insights, and reports with the school, teachers, and parent through SMS and web.
Different learners have different abilities, needs, strengths and goals. Its artificial intelligence system understands each individual child’s competency, and delivers the right lesson for them at the right time.
Its team of expert teachers studies the local curriculum and creates hundreds of mini-lessons designed to help students reach topic mastery in mathematics and English.
Mobile technology and innovative learning strategies are used to connect and support parents, teachers, and schools in their educational roles, ensuring that every child benefits.
Ms. Mongeau and her co-founder, Mr. Julie Otieno focused on how personalized technology can best address children’s needs. That was by looking at various technological innovations from all over the world. The most important thing is that it is relevant and contextualized to every child in different parts of the country.
They also embarked on field research. Here they worked with different schools and communities to understand what was important for them and the kind of content they wanted to see in a platform to help their students revise. “We combined this international research with the research on the ground to create a solution that is having a huge impact on its users,” she says.
The most unique selling point of the platform is that it looks at the entire learning community. As much as it is working directly with the students to help them improve, it also involves the parents and the teachers by constantly updating them on the students’ performance. That communication and collaboration between all stakeholders is really important for the students’ success. By providing that information to the parents and teachers, it makes it easier for the students to improve.
Technology has really been booming in Kenya for the last couple of years. However, the concept of mobile learning is still fairly new to some people in different parts of the country especially the rural areas. The good news is that the rural residents have an interest in getting this new tool and information. With a little bit of training, they have been able to become familiar with this fairly new concept.
In as much as M-Shule is providing content to students, it is also providing information to everyone around them that is most relevant and helpful. “It has been a great opportunity working with the various stakeholders in figuring out how to best help the kids,” notes Ms. Mongeau