KEY INDIVIDUAL(s)

Claire Mongeau

WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM
THIS CASE STUDY

Policy/decision-makers
Education Practitioners
Communities

KEY CATEGORIES

Education

Youth

CONTACT CTIN

CASE STUDY

M-Shule: Delivering personalised quality learning through SMS

TYPE OF ORGANISATION RESPONSIBLE FOR THE INITIATIVE

NAME

EMAIL

WEBSITE

M-Shule

hello@m-shule.com

STATUS

COUNTRY

FOUNDING DATE

Live

Kenya

2016

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF CASE STUDY

M-Shule (meaning “mobile school” in Swahili) is a Kenyan edtech designed specifically for primary school students. M-Shule is an education management and collaboration platform that uses innovative learning strategies and mobile technology (SMS) to connect schools, parents, and communities educating learners in lower income areas.

WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM AND APPROACH?

What was the problem?

  • While various efforts have been made towards filling the gaps in education in Africa, the majority of them depended on internet connectivity and many countries on the continent were far from this. M-Shule had to find ways to connect students who did not have smartphones and lacked access to the internet.

What is the solution to the problem?

  • M-Shule is an SMS and web-based learning management platform which makes use of artificial intelligence to design tailored learning experiences for primary school students. Their team of expert teachers studies the local curriculum and creates lessons designed to help students reach topics in Maths and English. Their adaptive learning engine matches the learner to the right lesson content tailored for them through SMS on their parent’s phone.

How it works

  • The M-SHULE platform poses questions or problems to students and uses their answers to continuously assess each student’s understanding and provide follow-up questions based on the student’s current level. Everything is delivered in 160-character chunks, the limit for SMS messages. Crucially, M-SHULE also tracks each learner’s progress and provides assessment data to the student’s school teacher via a web app. The teacher can then tailor in-class lessons and practice exercises accordingly. The platform also provides parents with a weekly progress report, delivered via text message.
    Here’s how using the tool works. A parent reminds their child that it’s time for them to practice, say, math, and hands the child the family cell phone. They text the number for M-SHULE, which is saved as a contact in the phone. The M-SHULE chatbot greets the learner and asks them what subject they want to practice. The learner replies that they want to work on math. Knowing the child’s grade level, the platform will send a few messages refreshing the learner’s memory of the concept they’re learning in school – single-digit multiplication, for example. After the refresher, the chatbot asks the learner a series of multiple-choice questions, which are based on the ability level of that learner which the platform has assessed from previous sessions. If the child gets the right answers, the platform moves on to harder questions; if they give a wrong answer, the chatbot lets them know, suggests where they may have gone wrong, and gives them the
    chance to try again.
What played out and why? (story, enablers / obstacles, successes / challenges, assessment…)

M-Shule is well-positioned to work within the educational system in Kenya and other sub-Saharan countries to provide innovative and adaptive bite-sized lessons that complement classroom learning. M-Shule’s progressive approach to education also leverages both data and community learning. As students learn and progress, data is provided to parents, teachers, and school administrators. This rich dataset promotes dialogue between stakeholders and provides insights and opportunities to intervene with additional support for students.

While Kenya had a growing mobile phone penetration of over 90%, the challenge is in the countries where mobile coverage is low. However, Claire Mongeau, confidently boasts that “We will meet you where you are”, citing the plans of M-Shule’s plan to develop its products accordingly.

Success

In 2017, M-Shule ran a 6-month pilot, where M-Shule proved that adaptive learning through SMS is effective in improving school performance. M-Shule ran trials with 400 students from 15 schools in Nairobi, learning 1 hour a week in Math and English. Students improved their classroom exam scores by 23% and reported greater self-confidence in their learning. M-Shule in 2017 received $40, 000 investment from Engineers Without Borders. M-Shule is also Seedstars Africa, Nairobi Winners as well as the Startup Battlefield Africa Finalists.

What were the lessons learned?

We had initially made some assumptions about an average users’ baseline comfort level with certain different phone functions – but in going through the pilot, we realised our assumptions were incorrect. It really drove home the need to do both user experience surveys and observations, to make sure that our customers have the easiest experience possible.

To read more learn more on the lessons of how M-Shule have grown their start-up up to this point, read this article on Design Series: Designing innovative business models for sustainable scale, written by M-Shule CEO Claire Mongeau and Phoebe Khagame, Head of Operations.

M-Shule's response to COVID-19

Many stories of education programs during COVID-19 are cases of emergency adaptation for remote delivery of curricula normally provided in person, a form of adaption necessary for the very survival of these programs and their educational mission. The story of M-SHULE’s COVID-19 response is different: a platform already built for remote delivery seized opportunities to extend services in response to the changing needs of its users. The M-SHULE team responded by

(a)raising funds so that its services could be provided free of charge to all families and

(b) expanding its content to meet families’ priorities. M-SHULE was well placed to respond in this way because of the core aspects of the program’s design and strategy.

Firstly, M-SHULE used the technology available to low-income families, the target users. Though lessons were provided by the government by radio and TV, many families didn’t have these devices. M-SHULE filled the educational gap by providing its service via text messaging accessible on a basic phone. As Ms. Mongeau put it, they “worked really hard to make sure that what we’re delivering is as close to their existing experience of any tech app or platform they use as possible.”
Secondly, M-SHULE’s service was readily and inexpensively scalable. By designing the platform to operate autonomously, M-SHULE produced a product that could handle the jump in engagement it experienced during the pandemic.

Third, M-SHULE’s collaboration with partner organizations enabled them to both expand their reach to new users and provide free access to the learning platform during the pandemic. These
partnerships will also support growth of M-SHULE’s platform in the future. Working with partner organizations, M-SHULE also used its technology to regularly survey parents and better understand their circumstances and priorities. Based on what they discovered from the surveys, M-SHULE developed new programming for their platform, including a COVID-19 self-screening tool, instruction for younger students, and parent coaching. Enhanced engagement with parents may provide immediate benefits through better and more frequent use of the tool by the children; it also offers the prospect of building parental capacity for the longer term.

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NOTE: The case studies submitted will be used in content creation, we will write articles on your work that engages with our readers. The case studies will also be compiled and added to our CTIN database of civic tech case studies and shared through our various channels.