Afrilearn: Providing accessible, adaptive, and affordable learning for Africans everywhere
The UNICEF Venture Fund is featuring members of its A.I. & Data Science Cohort. In this interview with Afrilearn CEO Isaac Oladipupo, learn more about the Nigeria-based EdTech startup developing an application for accessible, adaptive learning, aligned with national curricula. The prototype developed includes audio, video, practical quizzes, and class notes for all lessons.
Tell us about your startup and what you are building.
Nigeria currently has over 200 million people. Of this number, 80 million (40%) can't read or write. 120 million (60%) can't engage beyond religion and metaphysics. 170 million (85%) can't build or create anything meaningful.
Afrilearn is a fast-growing EdTech startup that unites seasoned teachers, animators, and developers to provide affordable, world-class education for Africans anywhere. Afrilearn offers richly animated and curriculum-relevant video lessons, class notes, practice tests, live classes, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower high/secondary school students (ages 6–18) to study at their unique pace, in and outside the classroom, via Web, App, and data-free Dongle subscription services.
In response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and school closure across Nigeria, on April 5, 2020, Afrilearn launched its ClassNotes.ng prototype, a disruptive e-learning platform that provides complete primary and secondary education content online. The platform has since reached 686,032 learners, with thousands of users achieving improved learning outcomes, and was listed by MyJobMag as the #1 basic education platform in Nigera. ClassNotes has received over 10.5 million page views to date.
In November 2020, to help people prepare for local and international exams for free, Afrilearn released the Exambly web app and mobile app, which instantly took the #2 Trending Education App spot on Google Play Store, with overwhelming feedback. Afrilearn was awarded Digital Innovation of the Year by the US Chambers of Commerce in December 2020, Top Innovations for Education in Africa by the African Union in December 2021, and Changemaker Innovation of the Year 2021 by ACT Foundation.
The global EdTech market is projected to reach $404 billion by 2025 and Afrilearn is well positioned to be a catalyst fueling this growth in Africa. Therefore, an investment in Afrilearn is an investment in Africa’s future.
How would you describe your solution to a non-technical person?
Every day, the Afrilearn studios host expert tutors who teach different subjects in front of cameras. These seasoned tutors simplify difficult subjects and topics in entertaining ways, resulting in thousands of engaging video lessons covering government-approved curricula. This helps learners to assimilate easily, because whatever we learn with pleasure, we never forget.
These video lessons are then developed into engaging animation and deployed to subscribers through app, web, and data-free Dongle services at highly affordable rates for primary and secondary school students (ages 6–18) across Anglophone West Africa, a market of effectively over 300 million people.
In addition to Afrilearn's powerful and iterative profiles for students, teachers, schools, and parents, our vast and culture-specific education video library will also be optimized for video streaming, offline download, and playback on any device, with affordable monthly, quarterly, and annual subscription packages.
What social issue or impact area does your solution aim to solve?
Irrespective of their background or circumstance, every child deserves access to quality education, in line with Sustainable Development Goal 4. This is one of our areas of focus and social concern at Afrilearn. Widely described as the Netflix of Education for young Africans, Afrilearn’s social impact also cuts across SDGs 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and 17 (Partnerships to achieve the Goal).
What’s promising about the use of artificial intelligence and data science technology?
Based on research, we found that some children learn best in a variety of ways - some by reading class notes or solving practice problems, and others by social collaboration. However, in Africa, we largely use one method to educate children. Afrilearn seeks to change this by leveraging AI and data science to give every child access to personalized learning and content recommendations using the unique method that works best for them.
This would empower every child/learner to quickly discover their strengths and weaknesses while optimizing towards being their best.
What is unique about your solution and how is it different from what currently exists?
Beyond leveraging social learning to deliver tech skills (coding content), Afrilearn’s competitive advantages include leveraging storytelling and personalization to deliver highly immersive video lessons for improved learning outcomes at the most affordable price.
“Afrilearn will significantly improve the lives of children by leveraging AI to give children the freedom to customize their learning, choose their learning style, and understand how they learn best; thereby empowering them to be their best.”
Why does being Open Source make your solution better?
Seeing that poor education remains one of Africa’s greatest challenges, being an Open-Source solution helps us empower several other innovators to contribute to and utilize our innovation towards advancing their solutions and solving Africa’s educational problems more rapidly and at scale.
How did you come up with your solution and what inspired you to form your company?
My co-founder and I were raised in a marginalized community on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria, where we grew up alongside childhood friends.
My parents, with the limited resources they had, sacrificed everything to send me to school while I helplessly watched my friends hawk away in their formative years. Along the way, I fell in love with books, and these experiences transformed my life.
I now hold a master's degree, a Software Product Management certification from Product School, USA, alongside an E-Learning certification from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.
Sadly, this is not the case for many of my childhood friends.
Therefore, in May 2019, after discovering a spike in a striking e-learning experiment, we left the comfort of our lucrative jobs to found Afrilearn, an edtech enterprise that integrates genius, animators, and developers to deliver affordable, world-class education to Africans anywhere.
Because nothing inspires me to act like seeing marginalized kids in school, I have since dedicated my professional life to solving Africa's educational challenges, by leveraging technology.
At Afrilearn, we believe Africa’s greatest need is quality education. Most often, we only address the symptoms of poor leadership in Africa: we give palliatives, food, and handouts to those afflicted by disease, poverty, and illiteracy. But these efforts will never stop unless we democratize quality education leading to a rise in entrepreneurs who create jobs, and innovators who develop lasting solutions to the root causes of Africa’s problems.
In the United States, the teacher-to-student ratio is about 1-16. In India, it’s 1-19 and considered bad. In most parts of Nigeria, our teacher-to-student ratio is 1-70, and in many cases, the available teacher lacks the capacity to deliver quality education.
If we are to stick with the brick-and-mortar system, it would take us centuries to deliver quality education across the African continent. Even if the government were super-efficient, it could not keep up with the rapidly increasing educational needs of the populace. Therefore, the most effective opportunity for us to deliver affordable world-class education is through technology, hence the timely invention of Afrilearn.
Tell us more about your team. What makes your team diverse?
Our team comprises 60% male and 40% female collagues, from across different backgrounds. Beyond our innovative approach to learning, our strength also lies in the uniqueness of our team. Our young, energetic, and passionate team has over 30 years of collective experience and expertise across the tech, media, and education sectors.
Beyond our proven track record and high potential, our team is incredibly passionate about leveraging technology to solve Africa’s complex education problems towards achieving global good.
Why is diversity important for your startup? How does it add value?
For us at Afrilearn, a diverse workplace is an outstanding leverage and asset. It not only acknowledges the individual strengths of each employee and the potential they bring, but it also helps us to reach the most effective possible solution to challenges. Valuing the differences of others is what ultimately brings us all together and this has been one of the secrets to our thriving workplace and progress since inception.
What do you plan to do with UNICEF’s Venture Fund investment and how will you use that to leverage raising follow-on investment?
With the UNICEF Venture Fund investment, Afrilearn plans to add Personalization features, which will include new lesson topics recommendation, learning speed adjustments and features that determine the areas of weaknesses of each student. The objective is to use Artificial Intelligence and machine learning to improve the learner’s interaction and deliver customized resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner.
With these added capabilities, Afrilearn will become optimized to deliver better learning outcomes and greater value to its target audience. With this traction, we will be well positioned to raise follow-on investment from the right institutions.
“This timely investment will help us democratize quality and personalized education for every secondary school learner across West Africa and beyond.”
What challenges are you currently facing in building your solution and/or startup?
The major challenge for us is access to markets, partnerships, and funding to scale our product development and marketing efforts. Having helped over 15000 students achieve improved learning outcomes within three years, we have built a disruptive solution that has the capacity to transform the education landscape across and beyond Africa. However, if we can surmount the above challenges, our impact will be transgenerational.
How can others support you in working towards overcoming these challenges?
We are looking for the right partners to support us with access to market, which simply means opening us up to millions of children ages 6 to 18 across Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. We also need support to form strategic partnerships with major organizations across the private sector, public sector, civil society, and development partners. Beyond this, we need funding to scale our product development, content, and marketing efforts for global impact.
Finally, there is no iota of doubt that Africa’s education will experience exponential transformation because of the Afrilearn solution, based on UNICEF’s support. To be sincere, it feels surreal and extremely fulfilling to be a part of the Fund's larger cohort of startups working on bridging learning or digital connectivity gaps for young people. For us at Afrilearn, this has been one of our biggest wins and we plan to maximize it towards scaling the solution for the benefit of millions of children across the continent of Africa and beyond.
Afrilearn company profile here.