My teacher is a ... cheeky hippo: 7 startups reinventing education in Africa

by Lauren Said-Moorhouse, for CNN

Updated 1009 GMT (1809 HKT) March 30, 2015
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Politicians, academics and business minds came together earlier this month in Senegal to discuss how to improve access to learning across Africa and develop a common strategy in a bid to transform the continent's education sector.

"The rate of access to higher education in Africa is trailing at 7%, compared to 76% in the West. There is an urgent need to facilitate access and build capacity in African Universities," said Macky Sall, president of Senegal, at the Dakar education summit.

And while policy makers and academics are debating the future of education on the continent, African entrepreneurs are also tackling the issue head on. Brilliant minds from across the continent are increasingly harnessing the latest technologies and incorporating them into their solutions for a revitalized approach to education in Africa -- check out our gallery to find out more.
Courtesy: iSchool
A few years back, while studying engineering in the Ugandan capital of Kampala, Charles Muhindo noticed a tech trend among his fellow peers: everyone had a mobile phone. So the plucky entrepreneur decided to base his final project on providing students with a platform for sharing past papers, class notes and e-books -- think CliffsNotes 2.0, the popular American study guide series, and you'll get the idea.

After graduation in 2012, Muhindo won a community innovation award and began an internship at telecoms company Orange, where he transformed his final product into Brainshare, an e-learning app for students, teachers and parents.

The 26-year-old education reformer said: "I was very passionate about that child who is in the rural area who is, I should say, forgotten. Everyone seems to be focusing on the children going to the best schools around town.

"But I know inside me that that child is very brilliant -- all they need is access to information... So I said, instead of having to look for other ways of delivering this content to them, let me start with the kind of device that they can access."

WATCH: Uganda's own digital CliffsNotes
The ever-increasing proliferation of smartphones was also behind Nigerian entrepreneur Elizabeth Kperrun-Eremie's idea: create an app that promotes traditional African stories.

She said: "I noticed a few very young children playing games like Temple Run on a phone and they were so good at it and paying so much attention.

"And it hit me; here was a way to promote our African stories (and the morals they teach) on a new medium, without which these kids may never have hear or see them. While developing we also saw it as an opportunity to integrate traditional educational material such as numbering, object recognition and more. Ensuring that they learn and have fun at the same time."

Launched in October 2013, Kperrun-Eremie has seen her edutainment app grow to 50,000 users. Her team at Lizzie's Creations are currently working on their upcoming early May release of the second iteration of AfroTalez.
Courtesy Elizabeth Kperrun-Eremie/Afrotalez
A social enterprise with a heart, this colorful edutainment TV show was created by Tanzania-based entrepreneurs Nisha Ligon and Cleng'a Ng'atigwa. Passionate about education, the duo's idea was to take existing home technology like mobile phones and computers and provide an alternative educational option.

"Our show 'Ubongo Kids' broadcasts in Kiswahili and English to over a million weekly viewers in East Africa, and teaches primary school math and science topics through fun educational animations and catchy original songs," said Ligon, the series' co-founder and CEO.

Watch the show on YouTube.
Courtesy Ubongo
Gossy Ukanwoke, pictured, was still a student when he embarked on his entrepreneurial journey by launching Students Circle, an educational social network that offers an immense academic resource to students. Later on, the young entrepreneur decided to evolve his idea into Beni American University, a private online institution -- the first of its kind in Nigeria.

"We are providing executive programs for graduates who are looking for employment and want to build up their resumes, or managers who want to climb up the hierarchy of their companies," said the budding entrepreneur, now 25, in a previous interview with CNN.

WATCH: 'Nigeria's Mark Zuckerberg' builds own school
Jessica Ellis/CNN
In recent years, Zambia's primary education has received a major overhaul with school attendance shooting up to 94%. And British entrepreneur Mark Bennett is hoping to introduce children to interactive learning through his tablet, the ZEduPad.

Having lived in the country for over 30 years, Bennett told CNN last year his product teaches basic math and literacy skills to primary-aged kids. Backed by the Zambian Ministry of Education, each ZEduPad is pre-loaded with over 12,000 lessons in eight native languages for children in rural areas.

Courtesy: iSchool
When five young African geeks came together to try and revamp education on the continent, they threw everything at the wall and an online platform emerged.

"Funda," which means "to learn" in Zulu, is the brainchild of 23-year-old Nigerian-born Kolawole Olajide, who came up with the initial concept while finishing college. Upon graduating, he teamed up with four other young entrepreneurs -- Kennedy Kitheka (Kenya), Jason Muloongo (Zambia), Sameer Rawjee (South Africa) and Kumbirai Gundani (Zimbabwe) -- and the e-learning platform started to become a reality.
Today the education portal -- downloadable as a free phone app -- allows students to log into classes remotely by using a unique keycode provided by their education facility.

Olajide said: "The future of the continent lies in how educated people are," he says." All the major problems can be solved with education -- education is the key to the future.

READ MORE on Funda.
Courtesy Kola Olajide/Funda
Take social media, technology and education and what do you get? Well if you're Barbara Mallinson (pictured), you found Obami, an e-learning and communications platform for schools across Africa.

Named by Business Insider as one of the "Top 20 most inspiring companies in the world," the South Africa-based platform uses the familiar Facebook style as its user interface to draw on the concept of "social learning."
The platform allows for a learning experience whereby students are encouraged to connect and collaborate with others, engage and share educational resources and participate in class assignments.

READ MORE on the leading women of tech in Africa.