UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: SayCel
Improving school participation: Open access to a digital educational platform in Namibia.

eKitabu (UNICEF Innovation Fund‘s startup portfolio member) shares highlights from their 6-month journey with UNICEF’s Venture Fund. eKitabu has been working on an e-reading app that has been designed together with African teachers, students, and content producers in accordance with open standards for accessibility to deliver local, government-approved textbooks and storybooks. View the original article here.

This month marks six years since we founded eKitabu, formally spinning out from Digital Divide Data in Nairobi in March 2012. It also marks six months since UNICEF Innovation Fund invested in eKitabu.

Student at Thika Primary School for the Visually Impaired in Kenya reading accessible storybooks using eKitabu’s e-reader app

We founded eKitabu to fill a gap: across Africa, schools and students were rapidly acquiring laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but quality educational content for these devices was in short supply. Working together with an ecosystem of public and private sector partners, we’ve started to close the gap, delivering content to over 1,000 schools in over 13 countries, sourced from more than 60 African publishers and content developers. Six months ago, UNICEF Innovation Fund invested in eKitabu to innovate for impact and data collection in equal access to education, leaving no one behind in UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

What we’ve learned…

In our 2017 pilot, Technology for Inclusive Education, the #1 challenge cited by head teachers, teachers, and students in user-centered design sessions we conducted in schools for disabled learners was the lack of accessible teaching and learning materials. With support from UNICEF Innovation, we’ve shipped a series of iterations to our open source e-reader app, incorporating successive rounds of observation with and feedback from students and teachers at Thika School Primary School for the Visually Impaired and Thika Secondary School for the Blind in Kenya. User feedback and observation helped us identify stumbling blocks not only in software and content, but also in the environment where teachers and learners spend their time. For example, one key insight from piloting in 2017 was that none of the subject teachers ever entered the ICT lab, only the ICT teachers.

Recognizing barriers to impact in technical, cultural, and policy factors helps us meet the learners, teachers and system where it is. Through the app, we delivered the first accessible storybooks for early readers the schools had ever used. The primary students’ favorite book, measured by utilization data we collect through the app, was The Lost Hat and Other Stories.

What’s next…

We are now taking this work forward in collaboration with UNICEF’s Kenya country office and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) in a project to localize UNICEF’s Digital Accessible Textbook standards to make learning materials accessible to learners with visual impairments, deafness, and intellectual disabilities. As part of this project, we are also developing a toolkit to help local publishers create born-accessible books through open standards and open source tools. With the support of UNICEF’s Innovation Fund, we were also able to add three new team members.

The eKitabu Community is proud to join with UNICEF in our journey!

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make $50-90K equity-free investments to provide early stage (seed) finance to for-profit technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity.

If you’ve got a start-up registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries and have a working, open source prototype (or you are willing to make it open-source) showing promising results, the UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking for you. Find more information visit:  https://unicefinnovationfund.org/

UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: SayCel
Improving school participation: Open access to a digital educational platform in Namibia.