Personalised digital learning system: can it work in Kenya?

Credits/Shutterstock: Happy African student using a smartphone at school.

In February 2022 in Kiambu County, Kenya, 22 km from the nation’s capital city of Nairobi, we are driving through the coffee plantation within Tatu city, a developing and economic area. We approached Tatu primary school, a national and county government-run school to talk with them about having recently started using digital personalised learning platforms for children from 4-6 years old. In this case, the EIDU mobile learning app.

But how are digital learning platforms important? The gold standard we imagine is teachers accessing resources and development support, all precisely linked to their talents, and working with detailed insights on each of their learners’ progress. With learning platforms, access to professional coaches provide ongoing support to teachers in their classrooms as they acquire the best teaching strategies. 

Beside teacher development and coaching, our children are presented with an opportunity to use a digital learning platform that is perfectly adapted to each learners’ skills and way of learning. 

That’s where EIDU comes in. As partners in EdTech research work collaboratively to provide evidence that will encourage decision-makers to prioritise technology in learning, EdTech Hub’s partner, EIDU provides a great solution that enables the government to see the learning progress of all students in realtime. They do this by using the EIDU’s mobile platform which provides detailed analytics of every aspect of the overall education system.  

The EIDU mobile application platform is tailored for learners in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) which brings vibrancy to learning and enhances monitoring and evaluation of learners’ progress.

Tatu primary school’s early childhood development (ECD) centre has three classrooms, each containing about 80 learners who have been using EIDU’s mobile application since late January 2022. Teachers are citing both progress in literacy and increased motivation and engagement. 

When it comes to technology, everyone is interested and I am seeing the same with my class. My learners are very motivated and they want to keep on trying until they have grasped as much as they can as compared to writing.

Phyllis Wambui, teacher at Tatu Primary School

In Kiambu county, about 300 private schools and 100 public schools are using this application. One of EIDU coaches shared that, based on his experience, public schools are keen to adopt this technology and their retention is 100% as every class within the public schools they are working with will use the platform for an average of 8 hours per day.  

Another school that we visited is Mutuya Primary school which has 67 learners in one PP1 classroom and 88 learners in one PP2 classroom, the latter with two teachers. They started using the EIDU platform in early 2022. Because the students at both schools come from a variety of tribal backgrounds, the school languages are Swahili and English.

EIDU’s implementations

EIDU first began implementing its platform with lower class primary schools (LCPSs) charging around KES 9000 per student per year. Their breakthrough point was approaching Mombasa county, which embraced the intervention and has worked with EIDU for one year. About 80% of public schools in Mombasa County are now using the platform for learning. EIDU continues establishing good relations with more Counties including Murang’a, Embu, Kiambu and can implement in public school ECDs.

When other counties heard what we have done in Mombasa, they began to approach us; we were approached by Kiambu county and the relations have grown as we spread to more counties in Kenya.

Faith Karanja, EIDU coach

EIDU is keen to move to grades 1, 2, and beyond; they have already developed content for these levels. They hope to begin implementation after the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) content approval process has been completed.

Currently, EIDU’s content is only available in English; school teachers using EIDU are managed by coaches, with one coach managing 50 public schools or 30 private schools, as the latter often have more devices. Coaches travel from school to school, spending most of their time on the road. They are remunerated with KES 30,000/month and get a lump sum for travel. 

Administration of the mobile app

Schools have been allocated codes in the EIDU mobile app where teachers log in using specific school codes and add learners to the platform. Each classroom has one device on which to use the app. When the phones are handed to schools, they are given with SIM cards as well as paid data by EIDU which is supplied by Safaricom every month.  

Once the teachers have added the learners’ profiles on the app, the system is automated. Learners use the phone for around 5 minutes of educational activity, after which a photo of the next child is shown. The child using the phone then invites the child pictured to enter the app. This requires minimal one-to-one supervision and coaching as the system records progress. That progress is synchronised in the EIDU dashboard where the school coaches can reach out to teachers in case they note a child is not progressing as required. Data use is not very high as the students can still learn and submit their assignments offline. All the data is synced when the mobile network is back on. 

The app is available in English where currently they are providing Maths and language activities. However, with growing interest from users, EIDU is looking to expand to environmental lessons. The app is child-friendly with pictures and sounds making it easy for children to engage. There are many learning activities within the app that keep advancing as the learner progresses through levels.

The opportunity for intervention

EIDU’s dashboards, for coaches and the EIDU team, are all built-in Tableau, which uses live data synced from the phone. This may be an eye-opener and smart use of existing ‘building blocks’ to those who are looking at alternatives to building dashboards from scratch. From the schools visited in Kiambu, what is clear to bring this application to scale is that more gadgets (mobile phones) are needed. Currently, there Is only one phone per classroom.

To alleviate the mobile device shortage in the near term, teachers have established labelled spaces – ‘the EIDU corner’ – within the classrooms where children can sit and use the device. More teachers are becoming innovative and some even bring in Bluetooth speakers to ensure that all children can collectively listen to stories in language lessons.

The good news is that the government has warmed up to this intervention and in all the schools where EIDU has rolled out the product, they are working closely with the ECD officers hired by the county government. This has ensured full ownership and smooth transition as teachers pick up the management of the class through the app.  

With time, EIDU records the data on the progress of learners, and coaches follow up with teachers to ensure that learners are getting enough attention to advance their learning. Encouragingly, it has been reported by EIDU coaches that there is a reduced dependency on coaches as teachers are increasingly adapting to the new technology and taking ownership to advance learning.  

How will the EIDU platform evolve moving forward? 

Currently, the use of mobile phones seems to be an affordable intervention that covers several issues, including reach, security, storage, gadget costs, and management.

We will be able to reach more children at a lower cost with smartphones rather than a tablet. With smartphones, it is easier for teachers to handle while a tablet brings more attention, especially in schools within the low-income settlement which poses a security issue and can easily be stolen.

Faith Karanja, EIDU coach

Going forward, EIDU will offer “Tayari” content, developed by another EdTech Hub partner, RTI, under the TUSOME project which contains lesson plans for teachers on the phone. EIDU will train teachers on how to use the lesson plans and the Tayari approach.

Kenya’s educational system still has a long way to go in terms of completely implementing digital personalised learning in public institutions. This is possible, considering the reception from the aforementioned counties appears to be positive. It does, however, necessitate careful implementation, a solid product, and a committed and supportive team for sustainability.

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