Interview: Achieving Quality Education with The Talking Books

Although the literacy rate in Nigeria is reported to be higher than you might think at 59.6%, we all know that the education sector is full of challenges – more than 10.5 million children are still out of school; most public school facilities are in a state of decay; private schools continue to charge more exorbitant fees without providing corresponding quality; teachers are not readily available (one teacher for about 200 students in public schools), and are mostly unskilled (almost 50% do not have the qualification to teach); etc. The list could go on. Even attending school is not guaranteed to get you educated in a way that equips you to compete with peers around the world.

The dire state Nigeria's education sector is in presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses (outside of the traditional schools) to step in with innovative products and services that can help close the many gaps being experienced. One such business is Mavis Computel and their Mavis Education Programme Center.

Mavis Computel is implementing an innovative education model that has the potential to change the face of education in Nigeria by bringing more students quality knowledge material, without the need for teachers or the use of traditional school facilities. Chizaram Ucheaga, the head of corporate strategy and operations in Mavis Computel, was kind enough to chat with me about their innovative model and product, the Talking Book™. 

Tell us about the Mavis Education Programme and why it exists?

The Mavis Education Programme (MEP) Centre is an education model designed by Mavis Computel for using the Talking Books™ to provide high quality, group learning for Out-Of-School Children (OOSC) in rural, semi-urban and urban settings at a very low cost – in some cases less than $2/child/month. The goal of this new Education-as-a-Service (EaaS) model is to improve learning outcomes, beginning with Literacy & Numeracy, across Nigeria. Following a successful pilot at our MEP Centre in Mpape, Abuja, a rural community in the F.C.T, we intend on replicating the success and setting up many of such centres nationwide.

We believe every child has the right to high quality education – no matter their social status or location. Our goal is to make this happen using the power of technology to replicate the knowledge of experts in a very cost effective, yet impactful manner and in a language they understand.

What is the Talking Book™, and what challenge in particular is it attempting to solve?

The Talking Books™ are interactive, audio-visual tools that make learning very simple, motivational and engaging by making quality content prepared by experts easily available to learners. To use the Talking Books™, the user simply turns on the Mavis Pen™ (a digital pen) and taps on the pages (texts or images) of the specially printed digital paper books to enter an exciting new world of interactive audio on paper. Videos of how it works and more details of the product are available on our website: www.maviseducation.com

A lot of people know the sad statistic that Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children worldwide. Of the 57million Out of School Children (OOSC) worldwide, 10.5million are from Nigeria. One of the challenges we aim to solve is the issue of the shortage of qualified teachers – as this plays a huge role in the quality of learning the child receives. Another key challenge is the language barrier. Using the Talking Books technology, a child in northern Nigeria, for example, can be taught English or Mathematics using Hausa (up to Primary 3 level) – which is in line with the National Policy on Education. Before now, that wasn’t possible. But using the Talking Books technology, we make this possible. We also work with expert educators and linguists to create quality lessons which follow the national curricula prepared by the NERDC.

What impact have the Talking Books had on education in Nigeria?

Empirical data from our pilot program (which commenced in February 2016) showed improvement in test results from an average score of 30% to 93% in English learning.

The pilot programme which we ran in a suburban village, Mpape, in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria with thirty pupils whose ages ranged from five to eighteen years and who were chosen by the Emir’s palace, yielded very good results after eight weeks. The data of pupils’ school experiences cuts across the Out-of-School Children (OOSC i.e. never enrolled in school before), Local Education Authority (LEA) pupils, Islamiyah pupils and one Junior Secondary School (JSS1) student.

The Talking Book used in the pilot programme was the Hausa-Learning-English Book 1 (Approved by NERDC and which covers English syllabus for Primary 1, with Hausa as the language of instruction). 

An NCE graduate served as the facilitator. He was not teaching but only showed the pupils how to use the Talking Books. He also kept class attendance, managed the class, kept custody of the Talking Books and ensured that the Mavis digital pens were charged (with the portable solar charging kit provided).

In the pilot programme referred to above, the pupils completed the Primary 1 English meant for one academic year in just 8 weeks. We believe that the future of learning is one that is learner-centred and also incorporates group participatory learning and that is how our solution is designed. We also believe that children who have lost years due to poverty or conflict situations can have accelerated learning and save lost years using the Talking Books.

A number of mothers of the children who were previously attending a mass literacy programme being run in the community contacted us and pleaded that they would like to use the Talking Books solution to learn English. We granted their request and have started the adult literacy programme for them at the MEP Centre.

How do you plan to positively impact Nigeria as a whole with the Talking Books?

Our goal is to be able to change the status quo in education and significantly improve learning outcomes for children in Nigeria. We believe that the way the education system is designed and has been run in Nigeria needs a radical change. Our goal is to be able to cater to a minimum of 5 million out of school children in Nigeria in the next 3 - 5 years.

Any last words for entrepreneurs working to solve Nigeria’s education challenges?

My advice to entrepreneurs in the Nigerian education space is not to give up – though the challenges are enormous. Collaboration within the space is also vital. Design your solution with scale in mind. Don’t just design something that will work in one school but can’t be easily replicated to 1,000 schools. Also, listen very closely to your customers so that you can make the necessary product/service tweaks to solve their pressing problems. When you solve problems, you not only make money, but you can create a lasting impact that will ultimately move our great nation forward.

The Mavis Education Programme Centre model which makes use of the solar-powered Talking Books technology is proving an effective and affordable way to educate out of school children, as well as adults. Scaling up this model will get Nigeria that much closer to achieving SDG 4: Quality Education. I can't wait to see the results of the pilot replicated across the country.

FYI, the Talking Books are available on the Mavis Computel website and Amazon