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Tech innovators in Tanzania connect 5,000 tutors with students in new online platform

Adam A. Duma, a co-founder of Smartclass, an online learning platform, shows the mobile view of Smartclass during an interview. Photo by Goodhope Amani, used with permission.

The Tanzanian government has announced free education for primary through secondary school, but a quality education remains an intense debate in Tanzanian society.

Tech innovators in Tanzania are hoping to improve the quality of education through technology, seizing on the fact that about 45 percent of Tanzanians are now online, and that number is growing.

In January 2019, tech innovator, Adam A. Duma, launched Smartclass, an educational online platform that connects private, qualified tutors with students and other people interested in attaining all sorts of knowledge. Duma, the platform's co-founder, says the platform was the result of the intensive research that found that most parents struggle to get qualified tutors to teach their children various subjects —  especially primary and secondary subjects. He says:

“Smart class is an online platform which connects the best, trusted, qualified tutors to different students to different fields.  Students from normal schools, students from entrepreneurship, students from the health sector, agriculture and more than 300 fields.”

The platform, under incubation at the University of Dar es Salaam, provides an opportunity for qualified tutors to sell their skills for a minimum of 3,000 Tanzanian Shillings (1.30 United States Dollars) per hour. It has already attracted 5,000 tutors and 7,000 students since it started operating.

To ensure the authenticity and qualifications of a tutor, the platform connects to other educational institutions to help to verify their information.

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology helps to measure the qualifications of the tutors since we cannot verify certificates of every tutor physically. We have a database connected with The National Examination Council of Tanzania (NECTA), and University of Dar es Salaam, so this AI helps to verify the information. We are working to connect many institutions to accommodate many people,” Duma says.

Duma is also working with his team to troubleshoot some of the issues that come up between qualified tutors and their students. For example, some students request tutors and suddenly cancel the request when tutors are already on their way to a student's home.

“Another issue [we face]: Students do not respond well [while learning] so we ask them to be attentive. We deal with challenges [of] students and tutors because both … are our customers. Remember once you are a tutor, you become a student automatically — because you cannot stop … learning.”

Co-founder of Smartclass, Adam A. Duma, provides insights on the platform to an attendee during the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair, July 2019. Photo used by permission of Adam A. Duma.

Changing the learning landscape

The internet has changed the way people learn in Tanzania. As more people get online, access to YouTube tutorials, Slide Share, Google Scholar, Academia all opened doors to new ways of learning,  but it hasn't replaced the benefits of meeting face-to-face with a qualified tutor, in addition to online learning.

In recent years, the Tanzanian government has invested in motivating youth to utilize technology and the internet to innovate projects that contribute to problem-solving social and economic challenges.

The Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology ( Costech), for instance, operates various Innovation hubs such as Buni Hub, which promotes innovation in tech and business. In early October last year, Sahara Sparks, a technology and innovation company, organized a big event in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's cultural capital, where many tech start-ups had the opportunity to pitch their ideas and get support toward solving social problems.

According to a Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA)  2017 report on internet usage, 45 percent of Tanzanians actively use the internet and over 51 percent — 23 million out 45 million citizens — currently have access to it. Duma and his team of 14 believe that the future of Tanzania is promising, knowing that more people will get online to seek ways to improve their skills and increase productivity.

“The usage of internet is very low; you don’t use [a lot of data] bundles to access Smartclass — the problem remains for people who do not have access to internet. We are focusing now to build an offline feature which will allow many people to access it.

Adam A. Duma in his office. Photo by Goodhope Amani, used with permission.

Tanzania's 2016 national ICT policy 2016 seeks to transform Tanzania into a “knowledge-based society” through the application of ICT. Duma's company is working hard to sort out all challenges related to their new platform so that tutors and students are both satisfied.

Smartclass — freely accessible through registration as a tutor or student, is changing the learning environment in Tanzania. With many citizens now on their smartphones, tutors can more easily sell their skills and make a living, and students can literally become smarter — by using their phones.

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