Over the past two decades, Lesotho has placed a priority on improved education for its students. In 2000, the country made primary education free for all and in 2010, primary education became compulsory. However, the country faces many challenges in making primary education truly accessible to all. Today, only one in three children who start primary school end up completing secondary education in Lesotho. Repetition rates remain high, classrooms are crowded, and teaching resources are limited.
Teachers are overburdened and spend almost half their time creating homework assignments and recording grades instead of teaching in the classroom. Many teachers simply do not have time at all to hand out homework, resulting in low learning rates outside of the classroom. Now, Sterio.me aims to address these challenges with their new mobile homework program.
Simple and Effective
Sterio.me was created by Christopher Pruijsen, Danielle Reid, and Dean Rotherham during the 2013 StartupBus Africa program. They wanted to create a simple and effective tool to save teachers time while helping them keep students engaged. While 83% of Africans today own a mobile phone, the creators knew that 63% of mobile users have basic phones with limited access to data. That’s why Sterio.me, a program that allows students to complete homework through voice and text messages, was created to be compatible with any type of phone.
The Sterio.me team generates questions for teachers based on lessons that students will be learning in the next term, and teachers approve the content before the school year starts. Students access the pre-recorded lessons after school using an SMS code. Teachers can see and compare data in real time to measure learning outcomes, data is shared with government agencies to aid in policy formation, and students remain engaged and connected outside the classroom.
Currently, the curriculum covers math, geography, English, and agriculture, while full reading, writing, listening, and speaking lessons are available.
Sterio.me recently underwent trials in Lesotho schools and was supported by the Vodacom Foundation, the Ministry of Education and Training, and the local teachers’ union. As of December 2014, more than 1,000 homework questions have been approved by local teachers and are in use for secondary students. Feedback has been very positive, and students have remained motivated to complete homework assignments and stay engaged.
Teachers have been able to save time and use Sterio.me’s analytics to better support students, both individually and as a class. Sterio.me has been selected as a winner in Education for All at the United Nations World Summit Youth Award, and was a finalist at the Mobile World Congress. They also have pilots ready to start in Chile, Mauritius, and Nigeria. The technology behind Sterio.me is even available to third parties such as NGOs and governments to launch their own SMS and voice mobile services.
The project has been a work of passion for its team, who hopes to extend its reach even further to Asia and South America, and eventually expand the operation globally. Pruijsen, one of the creators, says that “more than 60% of the global population remains offline, and by 2017 this will remain at 50%,” making accessible services like Sterio.me necessary. There are other similar projects out there, but Sterio.me is unique because it is one of the few that does not require the use of a smartphone or a computer. Also, no other services are using voice, which can be especially helpful for students with low literacy rates.
Sterio.me has the potential to become a great solution to the problems of few teaching resources, absenteeism, and overburdened teachers. Pruijsen also says that the team behind Sterio.me is very aware that one approach does not fit all, and they are committed to using different approaches to solving issues in different contexts around the world.