Aug 30, 2012
The iSchool project aims to provide internet connectivity and online education resources (‘e-learning’ ) to Zambian schools on a commercial basis. It is built on two main drivers.
Firstly, the recognition that Zambia, like other developing countries, faces significant problems with delivering education. These include shortage of teachers, books and learning material, large class sizes and a continuing dependence on rote (memorised) learning. Secondly, the project is taking advantage of the rapid spread of internet technology in Zambia. Broadband internet can now bring modern eLearning to an isolated school – no matter its circumstances.
iSchool’s objectives include to offer a holistic blended e-learning environment covering Grades 1 to 12 by
•Developing online content required for successful learning including teacher plans and resources as well as interactive self-paced e-learning material for students. Content is mapped to the National Curriculum and Zambian context.
•Offering teacher training for use and adaptation of e-learning resources;
•Providing internet connectivity and suitable computers to be used in schools.
The inclusive business model has already been tested in a cross-section of 20 schools in Lusaka during 2010. This showed that there was keenness to use e-learning, but that it needed to be locally-based and that teachers needed appropriate retraining to make optimal use of the interactive style that e-learning engenders. From January 2011 Grade 1 will be fully tested in at least 7 schools. iSchool is now seeking support for the development of a sustainable business model for a national roll out of the initiative.
The business of business: what are the commercial drivers?
AfriConnect Development is a start-up company, currently not-for-profit. It was set up by the Managing Director and former owner of AfriConnect, a company now owned by Vodacom, which successfully rolled out internet access in Zambia. The returns to investment in iSchool are seen as long-term, as the pace of scale-up is shaped by progress in spreading technology, power supplies and shifting attitudes to rote-based learning. Nevertheless, the clear business goal is to establish a revenue model which will support the continuous re-investment in iSchool content that will be needed, and sustain it as an ongoing commercial concern.
Revenues are expected to be generated through three revenue areas:
1.Charging pupils/ parents a small fee per pupil/term for accessing educational content
2.Generating revenues from teacher training resources
3.Raising additional funds from the growth of internet access in rural areas (internet cafes and other access points).
In the next three years AfriConnect Development estimate that 200,000 pupils in 500 schools could be reached and based on initial estimates the total turnover in year 3 could be as high as £2 million per year.
An inclusive business: how does the business support development?
iSchool aims to improve the standards of education and the degree of internet connectivity in Zambia. In particular, iSchool aims to increase access to quality education and teacher materials among the poor in urban areas where internet connectivity is relatively widespread but also among the rural poor whose problems are compounded by a shortage of trained teachers. Of the estimated 200,000 direct beneficiaries after three years, the majority are children of low income families with around 50% of the figure being girls. The project is well suited to reaching girls who may have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or early marriage as they would be able to attend or even continue learning at a time and place that is suitable for them. In the long term the provision and adoption of iSchool resources aim to contribute to learning and problem-solving skills more broadly in Zambia.
Support from the Business Innovation Facility:
The Business Innovation Facility is supporting iSchool in setting up a sustainable and scalable business model to offer services on a commercial basis. The existing business plan will be reviewed with a view to raising required capital for iSchool and financing hardware. The Facility will assist with determining local disposable income and willingness to pay among the target group, and ultimately finding the optimal revenue generating model. Additional support is for the development of online education content and support in tracking progress.
The emerging AfriConnect business model will generate insights on some increasingly common challenges in inclusive business: how to harness the internet to expand access to services for low-income consumers in a commercially viable business model, and how to structure a revenue system that works for sustainable expansion?
Pursuing innovation and scale in inclusive business:
The project originated out of AfriConnect Zambia’s experience of running a wireless broadband ISP – operating in urban and rural areas. With the understanding that the internet can now be delivered almost anywhere, and with falling bandwidth prices (consequent upon the arrival of international fibre optic cable availability, and better in-country capacity) it is believed that this is the first time e-learning is possible within a context like Zambia. AfriConnect Development and Cambridge University have investigated the use of e-learning across the African continent and found little or no use of this form of delivery of education especially at lower level. In other words, the project is highly innovative because it aims to deliver eLearning in the context of a low-income developing country, where the spread of hardware and of connectivity have outpaced the learning resources needed for schools to capitalise on them. With successful roll out of the model in Zambia there will be potential for further scale-up to other African countries from which there already seems to be substantial demand.