How an Anti-Tech Teacher Ended Up Creating A Mobile App to Improve Education in Africa
Thursday, February 26, 2015
In 2011 I returned to Kenya for a vacation. I wanted to see the community where I had lived just two years earlier, bring gifts to the families I had bonded with, and sing songs with the kids of the rural village that I had called home. I had lived in Muhuru Bay without water and electricity while working with teachers in this community to help students prepare for high school. It was meant to be a break before heading off to the West Coast for business school. I hadn’t expected to start a company, especially one in technology.
On my second day back in Kenya, my colleague and good friend took me to a new innovation technology hub that had sprouted up in 2010. He was the co-founder of the NGO I had previously worked for, called WISER, and he was interested in the idea of using mobile phones to collect educational data. At the time, I was just along for the ride. I wanted to burn off my jetlag before heading home to the village. We headed to an innovation hub called the iHub — a technology oasis filled with people in beanbag chairs on their laptops — in the middle of the capital city, Nairobi. People go there for a fast internet connection, strong coffee, and conversations about code. We were meeting with the manager of the iHub’s incubator, the Mobile Incubation Lab, orm:Lab for short. The manager was a smart, inquisitive guy named John Kieti.
In a tiny meeting room branded by Nokia, I briefly spat information at John about the educational program I had co-founded with Andrew — coaching teachers, inspiring parents, collecting data, monitoring growth, etc. I told him about teaching in New York as a Teach For America corps member and about my dedication to educating girls in poor, rural areas in Africa. It was nothing that I expected a “techie” to truly feel passionate about.
“You should do a mobile app in education,” John remarked.
My first reaction was to laugh. As a teacher, I had shied away from all technology in class. I strongly believed that learning resulted from deep human experiences, interactions that technology could never mimic.
“Teachers hate technology, I snickered. “The best teachers don’t need it.”