Spiffy's Interview: Isaac Nyangolo Brings Tech to Kenyan Schools
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs. This series features interviews with founders working on SDG 4 – Quality Education by a character named Spiffy. During COVID-19, education is especially important, so let’s get ready to learn!
Hi earthlings, I’m continuing my conversations with leaders in education today. I’m in Kenya talking to Isaac Nyangolo from Zeraki Learning, he’s full of insights so let’s take a look.
Isaac: Hello! You got here quickly, Spiffy. Can I get you something to drink?
SPIFFY: Hi Isaac! With a ship that’s meant to cross the galaxy, getting across Planet Earth is no problem! I’m actually feeling refreshed and excited to talk about education and learning. Tell me about what challenges Zeraki is addressing?
Isaac: Many students need help to sustain or improve their performance in school. We support learning by providing parents, teachers, and students with innovative technology tools that make teaching and learning effective, engaging, and productive, helping students succeed in school and in life.
SPIFFY: Where did you identify this problem?
Isaac: It was from personal experience. A decade ago, I worked as a manager in one of the largest high school scholarship programs in Kenya. We ran holiday tutoring camps to support the students in our program who were falling behind in class. When we could no longer fit them in our camps, we sought technology tools to provide the support they needed. My start-up develops tools to support hundreds of thousands of Kenyan students who need help to succeed in school. We also provide similar tools and platforms to schools and parents.
SPIFFY: This sounds advanced, how does equity play into your work?
Isaac: Because of the inequitable distribution of resources in most African countries, low-income students are less likely than their high-income peers to have access to effective teachers and, therefore, to quality instruction. The digital learning resources we provide help such students access quality instructional material both in school and at home providing them with a better chance of success.
SPIFFY: What is a recent milestone that you’ve hit recently?
Isaac: Over 100K Kenyan high school students have downloaded and used our platform to study during the on-going school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This interest shows that there’s a big potential for digital learning resources to support learning during such circumstances.
Zeraki Learning platform [Courtesy of Isaac Nyangolo]
SPIFFY: You’re getting great traction, have you encountered any failures with Zeraki? What did you learn from them?
Isaac: Of course we have! When we launched our Zeraki Learning digital learning platform in 2017, only six thousand people downloaded our app in the first year despite the clarity we had in our minds that such a solution was desperately needed. We tried a lot of things to generate interest but it's only this year that we were finally able to leverage our experience and networks to turn around the solution. Sometimes it just takes a while to find an answer, so just hang in there.
SPIFFY: Have you learned anything unexpected lately?
Isaac: I joined a running group a few weeks ago and soon realized that my times placed me at the back of the pack. That was uncomfortable for my ultra-competitive self. But soon I realized that life is so much fun living when you run your own race. I still race with the group but running - albeit at the back of the pack - has never been so much fun.
Isaac is the co-founder and CEO of Zeraki, a Nairobi-based edtech startup that provides parents, teachers, and students with innovative technology tools that make teaching and learning effective, engaging, and productive. He holds a Engineering Sciences degree from Harvard College and is a 2020 MasterCard Foundation EdTech Fellow. (Nominated by Nisk Capital)
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