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This week, Lagos will host its third annual Social Media Week. Last year, it featured a Battlefield startup competition that was won by educational portal PrepClass. The startup was also named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Africa for 2014 by FastCompany.
Meanwhile, a few weeks ago one of Nigeria’s major telecoms companies, Airtel, announced the winners of its Catapult A Startup competition. One of them is Pass.ng, an online exams preparatory platform that helps students prepare for Nigeria’s most important university admission and JAMB examinations, among others. The startup won one million Nigerian Naira (about US$5 000) equity-free prize money, as well as other forms of support from the telecoms company.
It is clear that there is high affinity for Nigerian startups focusing on the educational sector due to the high cost of quality education and widespread failure in local and regional examinations. But the startups are yet to achieve landmark success.
Filling a Vacuum
Oluwajoba Oloba is the head of projects and partnerships at Tutor.ng, another education-focused startup that allows tutors to engage their learners anywhere and anytime. He told Ventureburn that over the last couple of years, a vacuum has been created in Nigeria’s — and indeed Africa’s — education sector as a result of falling standards and low level of government involvement. He elaborated:
The illiteracy level is still so high even with sprouting private schools all around. We felt we could offer premium education to complement the little already provided by the government by investing resources and getting involved in content circulated in the schools. We also believe we can help the education development and curriculum by providing soft skills training that are not readily taught in schools generally.
Oloba noted that there was a strong need for more solutions and interventions in the education sector, including those provided by startups. Oloba said educational startups in Nigeria are experiencing a learning curve as they try to understand what works and find the right business model to adopt.
“We are definitely not so close to our goals but we have learnt a lot about what will not work as far as the industry is concerned. Like every entrepreneur will agree, the most important thing is to keep trying and offering your services until you get the perfect offering,” he said.
Ecommerce vs Education
Compared to the ecommerce ecosystem — which is really gaining a lot of attention and investment — Oloba said that the education sector focused on something more serious than innovative commerce companies.
“It is also important to say ecommerce is more of an industry tied to our habit of spending, which is where we have to take knowledge acquisition to for the education sector,” he added.
He also noted that education required one to invest time and a lot of energy compared to a fast-moving industry such as ecommerce.
“With the new research and development approach we are taking into our content, we believe we can actually make getting knowledge more attractive and appealing,” he said.
Unique Challenges, Unique Opportunities
Startups are thus striving to make educational content as attractive as something users would buy off the shelves in a supermarket. They are also making a concerted effort and investing resources to ensure the creation and delivery of quality content that will enable the education sector in Nigeria to thrive.
“[We are making] long-term investments that will make quality education the general norm before the payoff comes in. Another major issue we are facing is getting localised and specific content to us in Africa. We are investing heavily into indigenous content that will be in line with the school curriculum here,” Oloba said.
With players such as Pass.ng, Tutor.ng, PrepClass, Efiko and several others, it is clear that the educational startup ecosystem in Nigeria is growing; stakeholders are also expecting further expansion very soon.
Oloba noted that stakeholders in the education sector are sitting on the fence as it is generally believed that it’s the responsibility of the government to provide education.
“With the level of degradation in education, it must become the responsibility of private individuals to think up ways of making quality education affordable to the average man in the society,” he said.
According to the Tutorn.ng employee, quality education must become affordable and accessible for the industry to thrive in the coming years.
“With this challenge we are facing comes along a huge opportunity for people willing to take these risks and proffer workable solutions,” Olajobo told us.
Image by Anders Sandberg via Flickr