Steve Nguru’s daughter wanted school textbooks, she presented him with a list of 5 supplementary study books she needed at the beginning of 2013 when she entered class 8. The 5 books cost Ksh 2,590/(about $30). Nguru didn’t have the money.
“I thought that was too expensive for the average parent,” he said. Nguru did not buy the textbooks immediately but before long the teenage daughter came home with some of them. When he asked her where she got them from, she said they were abandoned by the previous class 8 class pupils.
“This is when I learnt that this is a common habit amongst candidates, not to mention the so-called “academic fires” where they burn all their books after exams. Aware that millions of homes in Kenya live on less than a couple of dollars a day, it hit me that I can use the power of technology to ease the burden of textbooks on parents, because there are a lot of such unused textbooks lying in many homes as well,” he told TechMoran.
Then Swapkitabu.com, an online market place for school textbooks was born. The site provides a platform for parents to exchange textbooks and takes off the cost, time, and hassle of looking for textbooks. It is based on the Hand-me-down model of sharing among families in Africa. It also enables one to sell the textbooks their kids no longer use, and to use the money to buy the textbooks the kids need. In effect, the parent spends little or no money for books each year.
Nguru says his target users are parents with school-going children who will sign up for yearly subscriptions, where he hopes to make some money.
His idea is driven by the fact that a good education is not an option but a must for the rich or poor. He adds that stats show that the present average book:pupil ratio in Kenya’s primary schools is 1:4. It is worse in urban-poor and rural schools at 1:7 or worse, according to Uwezo, an education research organisation. This means there is a yearly shortfall of millions of textbooks in both the public and private schools, greatly compromising education – a basic right.
In five years Nguru says SwapKitabu will be the go-to for textbooks for primary, secondary, and college/university levels in Kenya and beyond; and a place for users to get bargain deals on used textbooks. He expects to be the leading authority on data on textbooks: textbook ratios by area, textbook deficiencies by area and to assist potential individual/organisational donors of textbooks, as well as policy/decision makers on education materials funding at the local level.
Though without any external funding, Nguru says they welcome any angel investors to help them market and extend their reach countrywide, and to develop a mobile platform for the same. He is not afraid of the digital move as books remain important in people’s lives and people still buy hard cover books on Amazon. The startup is incubated at Nailab, a technology business incubator in Nairobi.
Now doing piloting in Kenya, for a March 1 public launch, Nguru says they are building up support among school administrations andd parents and introducing the platform to students across the country.