The World Bank said some years back, that over 230 million jobs will require digital skills by 2020. The figure is way higher than this now but the reality for developing countries in Africa is that the language barrier still stands as a barrier to rapid digital education towards a skilled economy. The pandemic made the digital gap even more obvious, with the lockdown causing loss of jobs and a general shift towards remote working and demand for digital skills.
And then, ScholarX comes up with LearnAm – a learning platform that allows people acquire knowledge and digital skills in different local languages
Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of ScholarX, Maxwell Ogunfuyi explained during the Nairametrics Business Half Hour show that this idea was born during the COVID-19 lockdown when a lot of businesses and individuals were forced to reevaluate their services in line with the digital shift.
Though ScholarX started as a scholarship aggregator and scholarships manager in 2016, the startup had to reevaluate as well and pivot into “a full-blown learning app that connects the underserved, the first time internet users with vocational and digital skills all in their mother-tongue, even as far as pidgin English.”
For a country that is the most populous nation in Africa, statistics show that about 90 percent of employment is informal, and a significant number of them also lack the digital skills they need to compete with their counterparts around the world. By creating a platform that teaches digital skills, ScholarX is closing the gap, making these ones job-ready, and making learning easier for them in their local languages.
“The goal is to build the largest skills platform for the underserved market in Africa so that everyone can be at an equal level for the relevant skills. Being in a rural area, or being unable to speak English language should not be a reason not to learn the digital skills you will need to survive in this economy. Our team comprises software developers, expert educators who are experienced in teaching adults, trainers who understand how adults learn, how their attention span is limited and so on, we also have content creators that know how to tell stories. No matter what level of formal education an adult has been able to attain, he or she can learn with LearnAm,” Ogunfuyi explained.
Barely a month after launch, the product has penetrated 15 cities in Nigeria with the recorded audio and video courses available in five languages – English language, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Pidgin. The courses have been delivered in bite sizes so that a lot of information is covered in short lessons and users can learn at their pace and preferred language, and take the assessment afterwards.
For courses that offer certification, the users can also get certified afterwards. To further perfect what has been learned, interested users will be connected to an apprenticeship or marketplace where they can put those skills to use.
“The name LearnAM means Learn, Assessment and Marketplace. So depending on the course or skill one learns, he or she can be linked to our marketplace where the skill will be honed with real-time tasks,” Ogunfuyi noted.
The app is available on the Google playstore and Kaistore, and will soon be available on the iOS. Within the first month, Ogunfuyi noted that one of the most viewed courses was that of safe online practices. “Maybe due to increase in online frauds, people actually want to learn how they can safely conduct business online, how to keep their banking details safe and how to avoid being scammed”.
Using a freemium model, there are lots of free content for users to learn, but premium courses will be accessed for a fee. Though other e-learning applications are in the market, LearnAm is distinct from the others in that it does not offer the regular school-based educational content platform, but marketplace skills that will generally make people employable or independent. From courses like How To Repair Mobile Phones, How To Navigate Google, and How to Monetise YouTube, to other digital entrepreneurial courses like positioning one’s business online for visibility, and the likes.
Funding and partnerships
Using a grant from GSMA, the ScholarX team were able to get the product out and running. GSMA had called for applications to its Innovation Fund for Internet Adoption and Digital Inclusion grant, and from there, LearnAm was selected. LearnAm also has a couple of angel investors behind the scene.
Also, other critical partnerships have played a huge role in speeding up the market acceptance and adoption of the product. For instance, there is a partnership with telecom brands like Airtel which allows for minimal data consumption on the app, so that users can learn a lot on a little budget.
“We factored the low internet penetration, and thanks to our partnership with Airtel, our app has low data consumption, and you can also download once and watch offline. With the KaiOS option, some communities can access these courses on little and inexpensive phones, and use little or no internet data to access them,” he said.
ScholarX also builds content for organisations that want to upskill their staffs, government agencies that have empowerment programs as well as independent creators who need content for educational purposes.
ScholarX hopes to get this solution across to 100 million users in Africa in the next five years, and to have helped create 230 million jobs by 2030.
“We have Africa in mind. We want the whole of Africa to know that they can learn whatever they want in their own languages. We will set up translators for other languages as we expand and grow,” Ogunguyi stated.