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Digital All Stars is a series of articles which aims to celebrate the best of South African digital. The articles, which will appear on Memeburn and Ventureburn, recognise and celebrate South Africa’s best digital entrepreneurs, business people, advertisers, and media professionals among others.
The All Stars listed in the articles are compiled using a combination of our editorial team’s own knowledge, that of experts in the fields covered by each article, as well as public vote.
Education is a problem in South Africa, whether it be under-funded schools, a lack of teachers, or collapsing buildings. There are private organisations trying to tackle these problems and make education ‘easier’ for SA learners.
In this article, we feature some of the best SA startups who are tackling education through technology — whether they’re gaining traction, use algorithms, make parents’ lives easier, or have a range of courses available. The names are featured alphabetically by startup.
This edtech startup wants to change the way education is done by using a combination of story-telling and gamification for each of its courses. It was launched at the 2015 Web Summit in Dublin, and is founded by the ex-head of Innovation for Ogilvy & Mather in Africa, Chris Rawlinson.
Some of its courses include Social Media and Behavioural Economics, with the likes of How to Start a Start Up and The Internet of Things coming soon.
Clock Education looks to solve the education crisis through adaptive technology that enables personalised and self-paced learning. It creates these systems for a range of institutions across all sectors.
Founded in Cape Town in 2013 by Tabitha Bailey, this SaaS edtech startup uses adaptive technology to assess the proficiency levels of students with the correct content for publishers and content creators. It also struck a deal with startup incubator Playlogix in order to build the software.
In 2013, the startup took the top prize at the Telkom Open Innovation Mega Challenge. In 2014, Daptio was named one of Africa’s top 10 most innovative companies by Fast Company, a runner-up in the Get in the Ring 2014 challenge, and participated in the Edupreneurship Programme.
Growing out of publishing house Cover2Cover Books, FunDza Literacy Trust is a non-profit literacy trust with an aim of making reading accessible and appealing to the youth of South Africa. In its early days, the service would serve specifically-commissioned teen fiction using the Mxit portal.
Easily the poster child for edtech in SA, GetSmarter is based out of Cape Town and London. It was founded in 2008 by brothers Sam and Rob Paddock with its first course being in Wine Evaluation. GetSmarter’s courses are reviewed annually by the likes of Wits, Harvard, UCT, and Goldsmiths to make sure the content is always current.
In 2015, it partnered with CiTi to offer bursaries to entrepreneurial students, and according to the website has over 40 000 life-long learners, with their goal to reach one million by 2030.
This startup is a hybrid of fintech and edtech in the sector, with its first test having been run in November last year. The financial app allows parents to pay small amounts to the school and teachers, such as for civvies days.
The app is also backed by Nedbank, who has just concluded a partnership with it.
Describing itself as a social enterprise, Paper Video uses QR codes on previous exam papers. When students scan the QR code, they’re presented with a video helping them on the topic. It currently offers videos on accounting, life sciences, mathematics, natural sciences, physical sciences, and unimaths, across grades eight to 12 and post matric, depending on the subject.
One of its latest innovations is the Paper Video hub, which allows learners to stream 700 hours of help videos without the need of an internet connection. Paper Video is also one of the first startups to be part of the EdTech Open Innovation Cluster in Africa.
Rethink Education is a mobile maths and science platform that allows learners to study anywhere, anytime. It was founded by Douglas Hoernle, who was inspired by Khan Academy.
The startup has partnered with quite a few high-profile partners, such as Naspers, Allan Gray, Microsoft, and even Mxit before it shut down.
A Cape Town-based 2D animation and game development studio, Sea Monster is one of the first edtech participants in the EdTech Open Innovation Cluster. According to CEO Glenn Gillis, two of the company’s products, PnP’s Super Animal AR game and Old Mutual’s Moneyversity, have yielded positive results in the edtech space.
Sea Monster was one of five startups chosen to participate in the Cocreate2Accelerate programme, was one of Grindstone’s 13 tech startups of 2015, received R6.5-million from the Western Cape government, and was featured on 702/Cape Talk Radio’s Nedbank Business Accelerator programme.
Taking more of a specific approach than other edtech companies on this list, SeeBox focuses on electronic engineering. More specifically, the startup has a game console that teaches kids about the subject through practical use.
Siyavula’s aim is to produce open-source Maths and Physical Science textbooks for high school students. Initially, the company created open-source maths and physical science textbooks, which were handed over to the South African Department of Basic Education for free.
The company would go on to create a cognitive learning engine that identifies the relevant needs of students and adapts its questions to the perfect difficulty for the student. The engine pushes learners at the appropriate difficulty level to get a score of at least 70% in their exercises.
This startup concentrates on content distribution and mobile publishing with over 76 000 free ebooks from over 250 publishers. It was launched in 2011 and spawned out of digital strategy and technology partner Realm Digital. Having launched in 2011, the company expanded to Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the US, and the UK.
In 2013, Snapplify announced a partnership with global digital and epublishing service provider SPi Global. In June of 2014, the startup announced its plans for an ebook distribution platform for SA schools, with further expansion into rural areas with SnappBox in October.
While these aren’t startups per se, at Ventureburn we still think they are doing interesting things in the edtech sector.
- Code for Cape Town – this initiative, headed up by Emma Jane Dicks, equips female learners with coding, problem-solving, and life skills.
- WeThinkCode – the organisation trains software engineers in areas of problem-solving in a peer-to-peer learning environment.
This Digital All Stars article has been put together with the help of Graham van der Made (editor, Ventureburn), Matthew Alexander (junior writer, Ventureburn), Hadlee Simons (editor, Memeburn), Sarah Rice, Guillaume De Smedt (global community director, Startup Grind), Camilla Swart (ecosystem manager, Rise Africa), Alexandra Fraser (co-vice chairperson, Silicon Cape), Marcello Schermer (managing director, Seedstars World), Lianne du Toit (management consultant), Bertil van Vugt (business development lead, VC4Africa), and public submissions.
*If you feel there is a startup we missed then please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All entries will be taken into consideration by our panel of judges.