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M-Shule making personalized lessons accessible to African pupils

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M-Shule is a Nairobi-based mobile learning management platform designed to improve performance for millions of primary school students across Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Foundedin 2016 by Claire Mangeau, the technology powers a service that creates and delivers personalized learning experiences for each child and empower schools with insights all through SMS and web. The Nairobi based company is, envisioning a world where every learning community works together to help students succeed.

TechMoran met up with Claire at M-Shule offices, as she told us more about the company’s goals and progress so far.

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Tell me about yourself, your educational background etc
My name is Claire Mangeau, am the CEO and founder of M-shule. I’m from a smaller city called Rochester, in Upstate New York. I studied Psychology and French at Georgetown University, in Washington, which is the point where I realized that I really had this desire and tried to find which way I was going to channel it. I did a lot of internships, and studied the government and non-profit sides. When I graduated university I went to India to work with some affordable private schools, when I eventually realized that there are people who were using business strategies for good. Especially looking at these schools and how they were tackling problems, bringing in different resources, by monitoring the impact and business perspective, then I realized, now this is what I want to do.
A lot of people ask me how I got myself started on this journey actually. My mum works with special education students in primary school, and along with my brother and I being her little “guniea pigs” for her to test various different teaching techniques, sparked my desire to work with children to ensure, every child could unlock their potential.

How did you decide on Kenya in particular.
As I said in India I was working with a couple of low cost private schools, with gray matters capital, and consulting with these schools, to put together different types of programs, and I became really excited by this idea of business for accessible education and using various tools to support people in their communities. I went back to the US and after a few years got a job with Bridge International Academies (Now Bridge Schools), and at that point, I was uncertain as to what I would be doing, since this is a big chain of schools that are distributed in very many communities, which I think are exciting, so I just closed my eyes and came to Kenya to see what it’s all about, and i have been here ever since.

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Tell us what M-shule is about, your team and your journey to where you are now.
Our goal at M-shule is to become the 21st Century learning platform for primary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa, which I admit is a very lofty goal, but the way we are working to reach that goal is through personalized learning and support to primary school students, and to their learning communities, using accessible technology.
So we built a platform where students can interact with an individualized tutor, using AI on the back end to automatically create different lesson plans for them based on their specific needs, then we take that data and share it with their parents and their schools. A child is most likely to be successful if they have the support of their parents and schools in collaboration.

What market gap did you spot that motivated you to start M-Shule?
Working with schools in India, with Bridge and from my own research, I have seen that there is a huge gap between the quality and variety of tools that parents and schools can access for their students, and the amount of money they can use in that way. Parents in Kenya spend so much money on education, which is a good thing because it indicates they care about their children’s futures. Parents are going into debt looking for school fees, and trying to find extra material like tutors and text books, however there are not that many options for them to standardize the learning for a particular student. In as much as there are tutors, there is not much in the way of technology, like what we see in other markets where AI is used to boost and accelerate students achievement, by tailoring learning according to their needs other than what the curriculum tells them they should be learning. So we decided to design our platform such that eve those without smart phones and internet can access the same content easily.

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Is it complementary to school or can it be used exclusively?
We believe that you can never replace a teacher. Learning happens during all these interactions between a student and themselves, with other students and their teacher. Our goal is not to replace human interaction since that is critical to learning, but rather to supplement and complement what the students get from the teachers. This gives the students an enriching space for them to learn how to learn on their own and give the teachers and parents the ability to work together. It’s meant to be a complementary system

Does M-shule generate the content?
Yes we do, we have a team of 3 in house teachers who are stellar in working on curricula. They spend a lot of their time in the library, cross checking across different text books, to ensure everything we have is well aligned. They are also keeping tabs with all of the changes in curricula as guided by the ministry of education.

How does M-shule make money? Do students pay?
We are operating on a subscription model, where parents or schools can sign up and get a week’s, month’s or term’s worth of lessons. The pricing varies, depending on whether its a parent who wants to try it individually, but we also partner with schools, who sign up large groups of students at once, and of course once they do that, they get better recommendations as there is more data to analyze. Across the board it is very affordable to everyone.

How many students and schools have you reached so far?
We actually running our pilot and are working with a group of 15 schools and about 400 students. The students are mainly from class 4 – 8 at the moment, mainly focusing on Math and English. We have got really good feedback and this year we hope to reach more than 50 schools.

Do you have any competition, and what do you do to stand out from themselves
Yes, of course we do. It’s really exciting. There are various SMS learning companies that came before us, and paved the way for people realizing that text messaging is an interface that works for learning, and have basically opened doors for a solution like ours to come in. There are adaptive learning platforms in existence as well. However we are using this accessible high powered interface to enhance personalized learning, that’s what makes us different, no one is doing quite what we are doing so far. We are looking at the learning community as a whole, not just students in class alone, but all stakeholders like their parents, teachers, school directors. We think that it is critical to provide a solution that works for everyone.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced since the inception of the company?
We are doing something that has not been done before, which is very tough. You can’t just start a platform with SMS, with all its accessibility advantages and expect that everyone will pile on, but we want to ensure that we are building relationships with our students, parents and school partners. Finding and communicating with them is the biggest challenge, most of them are not online. Our biggest challenge is finding the right balance to strike.
Secondly, the goal in going in at the community level means that your business strategy takes much more time.

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