By Hellen Nachilongo
Throughout the world, there’s been a rise in the number of students who opt to study courses online. Online learning has been deemed as the greatest revolution in contemporary education system. This is because the traditional system of education is still full of challenges. Even as the government strive to make strides by establishing free education, there are still loopholes. However, e-learning has made great changes to the education system and opened great opportunities for everyone who wants to learn.
One among such online education platforms in Tanzania is Shule Direct. Ever since its establishment in 2013, Shule Direct, a social enterprise that provides digital study tools for Tanzanian secondary students has benefited about 1.1 million students and teachers through its online platform.
Some of the best teachers in the country are involved to create digitized notes, tutorials, quizzes, podcasts and videos, while developing technological solutions to deliver to students across the country.
Since its establishment students have been able to access different subjects and textbooks through mobile phone.
The move was not to replace formal school education but to support students with special learning needs who need flexibility in learning or students with physical disabilities that restrict their access to school material; this technology meets their learning demands.
Its founder and Chief Executive Officer Ms Faraja Nyalandu explained she never thought her idea of starting an online platform would grow, though she pursued her masters in law through online studies.
Ease access to education
According to the founder of the online platform, the idea of technology was to help students, teachers, expectant mothers and mothers to access educational material wherever they are without any inconvenience.
“As a wife, I got my first and second pregnancy during my masters course, as a result it was not easy to fully attend classes but through online technology, I was able to access and exchange learning materials with fellow students and was also able to write my course work and submit to my lecturers while looking after my two children and performing home duties, “she said.
The need to provide students with another alternative of accessing school materials led to the establishment of the online feature. Through mobile technology several students have been provided with educational information wherever they are. The problem of lack of access to learning material still persists to a larger extent for majority of students in Tanzania. Many students still have to go to the library in search of textbooks, while some cannot access any reading materials at all.
Ms Nyalandu believes that the provision of mobile technology in education has the potential to overcome several barriers experienced in the sector and it also enhances the learning environment. “Mobile learning if well harnessed can contribute to the improvement of the quality of education provided to students,” she says.
Tanzania’s education system is facing its share of challenges, 67 per cent of assigned teachers in public schools are not teaching due to various reasons. There is a current annual demand of 26,000 Science and Mathematics teachers with an output of only 1000 teachers per year.
She says her organisation is working to change this by creating the best content from qualified teachers that can be accessed via an online educational repository. The organisation is giving an opportunity to children in Tanzania to learn and realize their full potential.
So far they have created a cloud-based repository with content organized and mapped to the local curriculum. It can hold varied content from text based notes and quizzes, to engaging podcasts and fully animated videos, in order to cater for every learning need. It has an Application Programmer’s Interface (API) that provides a unified interface to pull appropriate content to different devices and platforms.
The subjects include core mandatory subjects of Biology, Mathematics, History, Geography, English, Civics and Kiswahili and two Science subjects of Physics and Chemistry that even though they are not compulsory, these subjects suffer from a combination of a lack of qualified teachers, qualified resources, and minimal students’ interest.
“Qualified, accessible educational content is every child’s right and not a privilege, we believe a lot of people will join the movement and be a catalyst to ensure that students access education material anytime and anywhere,” she said.
She says through mobile technology students are able to ask teacher and get response on different academic and student support matters by using text message (sms) through an ‘ask Ticha Kidevu’ feature.
“Therefore, for our content map, the teachers have developed learning notes, revision quizzes, bilingual science concepts and mock exams,” she explains. This is the initial level of content that must be developed before it can be digitally developed into other formats such as audio or audiovisual.
Ms Nyalandu said they have built the educational content repository, testing and restructuring the API as content is being built, “our developers develop and design web portals such as the Open Educational Resource and the Learning Management System and mobile applications and services that pull content from the repository via the API,” she notes, adding, “We are building apps for SMS, smartphones, web and even Facebook, so students can access content from our repository on whatever devices they have. These applications will feed student data back, so that the whole system adapts to each student’s needs.”
Twiga hosting Limited (THL) co-founder Jacob Urasa, said children with access to safe internet learn better, gain self-confidence and are able to retain what they search for much longer than what they gain through traditional learning. “Though if misused mobile platforms could be harmful, but when used well act as good learning tools.”
According to him, science and technology plays a vital role in today’s lives and several fields such as health, transport, education, business, finance, entrepreneurship, production and manufacturing therefore if students embrace innovation well it gives them room to perform better in class and access learning materials without any inconvenience.
He said his online platform is used as educational and assessment tool for secondary school students.
“Students get Free Online educational assessment tools, which is the same as doing online exams, quizzes or tests. The system is capable of marking and providing results and solutions. One review paper can be released daily for 30 days,” said Urasa. THL was established to enable Tanzania stay ahead of e-education game in Africa and globally, more than ever before.
Martha Nelson, 16, a Form Four student at one of the schools in Kinondoni region said accessing educational materials online has been helpful to her especially during free time because she doesn’t have to go to the library.
“Sometimes one might go to the library but he/she might not find the textbook they want to read, another scenarios include finding the book you want to read at the library, but find a few pages missing from the book,” she said.
Martha explained that using mobile or any other digital technology to access material or is very convenient and has helped her perform better during exams.
Bridging the knowledge and skills gap
Shule Direct is keen to develop a youth capacity building program to bridge the knowledge and skills gap between education and careers. They are currently piloting it and it will be underway in December this year.
Ms Nyalandu said they want to provide on demand market responsive courses for young learners to facilitate their career growth in either employment or entrepreneurship and unleash their potential.
“Our next goal is to create high quality, detailed videos of secondary school subjects with a special focus on science practical experiments for biology, physics and chemistry,” she said.
These videos can be delivered to students via various channels including Shule Direct’s online web platform, pre-installation on educational devices, streaming to web-enabled devices and television broadcast.
In Tanzania for example, many students never get the chance to enter a science laboratory or perform a single science experiment before their national exams, this situation is mirrored in other African nations.
Many students resort to memorizing experimental procedures and results, but having never performed or seen the experiments, they lack fundamental understanding of the science concepts involved and the chance to apply the theoretical knowledge that they have gained in reading and classroom lectures.
With the rise of technology, it is becoming more convenient for students to access different reading materials online. Online platforms help fill in the gaps left by traditional learning tools which are filled with multiple challenges. The government should therefore enhance easy access to technology as an alternative way of helping solve some of the problems experienced in the education sector.