Imelda Mumbi is a great example of just how much educational technology can mean to low-income students. A few years ago, Imelda Mumbi’s mother told her they were moving. Imelda had just gotten home from elementary school in the Kawangware slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Jane Mumbi could no longer afford to live in Nairobi and support Imelda and her two siblings alone; they would have to move to a rural village to live with a relative.
Imelda was devastated. The village would mean a very different life for her down the road. Her job opportunities would plummet, and education would be limited. For Imelda, her world was turning upside down.
The next day, however, changed everything. School was bustling with excitement and activity. Students and teachers gathered around a group of special guests from FINCA International’s partner, Eneza Education. The guests told them about a new learning service made possible by phone technology. Crowded in the classrooms constructed from aluminum siding, wood scrap and chicken wire, Imelda realized this could be her salvation.
Eneza Education is an African-based social enterprise offering educational technology in the form of digital educational curricula that work on basic feature phones, smartphones, and tablets for K-12 students and adults. Known as “Shupavu 219” in Kenya, this service is available to Safaricom mobile network customers for $0.10 per week. This makes it more affordable for low-income communities than textbooks, and convenient to use. The word “shupavu” is Swahili for “champion,” and “291” refers to how Safaricom customers dial *291# to access the service.
Imelda returned home that day and explained to her mom how Shupavu worked, and how they could save money on textbooks. The convenience of the app could also improve her grades by supplementing her school lessons. Jane decided to postpone the move.
Imelda made sure to wake up at 3 am so she could borrow her mother’s phone and use Shupavu for an hour before school. Over time, Imelda completed thousands of lessons using the app and her grades went up, and Jane was able to save money. Imelda’s confidence in her future soared.
It is difficult for low-income and even middle-income communities to get access to quality education. According to UNICEF data, only 32 percent of primary school students in low and middle-income countries qualify for secondary school, and of those only 1 in 10 graduates. The high cost of tuition, learning materials, and limited infrastructure to support the growing population make matters worse. Because of this, the need for solutions like mobile learning and other educational technology couldn’t be more urgent. Here are some brief stories about Julia Wangari and Jane Muthoni, two other students whose futures have brightened thanks to the difference Eneza Education made in their lives.
Julia Wangari signed up in 2016, when she was 13. She had been failing almost all of her subjects, but after using her father’s phone for an hour each day to supplement her studies she improved her grades to a B+ average. Her favorite subject is math, but she wants to become a journalist so that she can “report on good things like Shupavu 291 and tells others about it, so more people may benefit.”
Jane Muthoni signed up for the service in 2018. Disappointed with her B- average, she wanted every edge she could get to improve her future. When her parents said that they couldn’t afford to buy her a phone to enroll, she took the initiative to ask her aunt. With access to Shupavu 291, Julia’s grade point average rose to A-, and she hopes to become an accountant. FINCA is glad to have a partner like Eneza Education to help makes dreams like that come true.
If you’re interested in learning more about Eneza Education, read our interview with their CEO, Ms. Wambura Kimunyu.