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Anyone who has worked in the education sector in Kenya knows about an exam called the KCPE. It stands for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education, and it is the most important exam for not only students, but also teachers, school owners, and just about anyone involved in primary education in the country.
Students take the exam during their final year of primary school. It lasts four days and tests students’ knowledge in basic subjects taught in primary school. Most importantly, the test determines which secondary schools students will be eligible to attend. Unfortunately, for many students, secondary school is not actually an option, since only primary education is free and many poor families cannot afford the fees. Nonetheless, the KCPE exam, to many, is a gateway to success and vehicle for economic mobility. Because of the disproportionate importance placed on the exam, the time when KCPE scores are released is always fraught with tension.
When I worked at Bridge International Academies, I often had discussions with coworkers about the KCPE exam. During my time in Kenya in 2011 and 2012, Bridge only offered up to class 4 and 5. The KCPE exam, which takes place at the end of class 8, was far enough in our future that it would not necessarily pre-occupy parents who were considering sending their kids to a Bridge academy. But once those children reach class 8, parents in the communities we serve will be closely watching the results of the KCPE exam.
Unfortunately, such a system is fraught with inherent inequality. Students attending overcrowded and under-resourced schools are naturally at a disadvantage in preparing for the KCPE exam. It serves as a further barrier to socioeconomic mobility, where poor students will never be able to compete on the same level. And that is where M-Prep comes in.
Now, just for full disclosure, I know the founder of M-Prep, Toni Maraviglia, from my time in Nairobi. We briefly worked together at Bridge, where she developed the school manager and teacher training materials. A Teach for America alum, business school dropout, and true social entrepreneur, Toni discovered while developing an education program in rural Western Kenya that, despite the best efforts of teachers, students lacked access to adequate test prep materials and, as a result, were struggling with the KCPE exam. Fortunately, with mobile penetration at more than 70%, cell phones offer an ideal platform for disseminating material to students studying for the KCPE exam. Here is an overview of the problem, and how it works:
In Kenya there are currently 9 million students registered in primary school and less than half of those students pass their primary school exit exam. We’re talking about 5 million kids who do not receive a basic education, 5 million kids with few options for career paths. Most become subsistence farmers or slum laborers; some even become criminals. The poverty cycle continues. Limited study materials exist, but all are low quality or too expensive. Additionally, teachers are overburdened by crowded classroom of 40-80 students and cannot give individualized feedback to students. Most importantly, little interaction exists among educational stakeholders – teachers, parents, schools, and students – and often, nuanced data is nonexistent until a student fails. These stakeholders don’t know what students need to do to improve until it’s too late. If information were widely available and learning was high-quality, accessible, and fun, far fewer students would fail.
MPrep helps kids learn, review, compete and collaborate through accessible and fun mobile applications. We also give teachers data about their students and help parents stay informed – all on simple mobile tech. Basically, we make it easy and fun for an educational community to communicate and share information.
It is a massively scalable model, and they have already made inroads with many school districts. Parents love the fact that their kids are receiving extra tutoring, and the kids find the product interactive and fun. Teachers and school headmasters appreciate the fact that they kids are gaining an advantage, which not only translates into prestige for the school, but also real dollars. Schools that have higher than average KCPE scores are hugely popular, and frequently see a big jump in enrollment. And, in the latest round of KCPE testing, M-Prep saw real results:
The Head Teacher of Malanga Primary, a school way out near Kisumu said, “Our pupils have improved from a 210 to a 234 average, and we attribute this growth to MPrep. Thank you.” The Head Teacher then told our Sales Manager, Peter Sereti, that they’d like to renew their MPrep data subscription.
The Head Teacher of Muthurwa expressed the same. Their scores jumped from a 199 average in 2011 to 230 in 2012.
M-Prep has a great model that has the potential to effect real change in the primary education system not only in Kenya, but really anywhere where people have access to cell phones.
Now, they are trying to get into the Unreasonable Institute, an accelerator and incubator for social enterprises that offers access to funding, mentors, and a network of other entrepreneurs who are making a difference. So please support them.
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