Most of the applications that break through the Kenyan tech scene on an almost fortnight basis have their origin in one of Nairobi’s incubation labs or app competitions.
Not so with Kytabu, the first textbook subscription app for tablets designed and developed in the country and which targets the 8-4-4 curriculum.
Kytabu, which went live in February, allows the buying of books or chapters of books on a tablet through mobile money transactions.
It is the brainchild of a unique father and son partnership.
The application will be installed in the affordable Aakash tablet (or an equivalent) from India that retails (with subsidies) at an average of Sh3,320 ($40) and introduced to the Kenyan market at between Sh4,150 ($50) and Sh4,980 ($60).
The Kytabu app is primarily for android tablets though it is downloadable on the iPad and other OS devices such as the OLPC tablet.
The concept for the application came together when Mr Tonee Ndung’u, an application developer, and his 65-year-old father, Francis Ndung’u, who manages a primary school for underprivileged students, came together to fill a gap that the latter had noticed in the education system.
“I run a small school in Marurui slums in Nairobi and most of my students come from poor households. It emerged that their greatest hindrance to learning was lack of text books,” explains Dr Ndung’u.
“A student is required to come up with almost 10 text books in each class with each book costing anything between Sh400 and Sh1,500.
"You can imagine what this translates to for poor and middle class parents who have children at different levels of education,” he states.
In addition, most of the books are defaced or misplaced and within a year there is hardly anything left to hand down to siblings.
Dr Ndung’u took the idea to his son, one of the founders of Nailab.
“My father asked if there was a digital solution we could come up with to provide school children with affordable textbooks in an interactive and engaging platform that would ease the cost burden for their parents,” said Mr Ndung’u.
“Kytabu is set up to work through an encryption and subscription model where we have taken school textbooks covering the 8-4-4 syllabus from Class Four all the way to Form Four and provided them in a digital and interactive format through low cost android tablet devices.”
Users are offered the books at a lower price than the shelve price.
“Once users log onto Kytabu, they access the database of books that are indexed by student year e.g. Class Eight, book subject e.g. CRE, book author or year of publication. They then get to choose what book they want to subscribe to,” explains Mr Ndung’u.
Once the user has selected a book, he can choose to unlock it in one of four timeliness. One can decide to have the book for a week, a month, a term or a year all with corresponding prices.
Users can also obtain a chapter of a book for reference. Once a book has been selected and the time frame confirmed, the user then selects a mobile money platform through which to pay.
“Since there are multiple mobile payment platforms, we have come up with Kytabu credits that users can purchase as a form of currency to pay for the books”, says Mr Ndung’u.
The Ndung’us are currently developing a pilot project with a couple of schools to establish the viability of the application.
“We need to test it for a period at least three months in a secondary school to enable us gauge the adoption of the same as we move for mass production.”
To address copyright and piracy challenges, Kytabu has adopted spider coding programming which offers automated publishing of data while allowing for continuous updating of information.
Spider denies the user copying, duplicating, or transferring the book to third parties thus ensuring that both authors and publishers get their due.
Only one per cent of Kenyans own tablet computers — an indication that the latest gadgets in the field of consumer technology are still beyond the reach of the country’s majority.
According to statistics from research firm TNS RMS East Africa, 99 per cent of Kenyans can’t access tablet computers while 95 per cent do not plan to buy them.
Mr Ndung’u’s decision to install the Kytabu application on the affordable tablet might accelerate its adoption.
The slow uptake of tablets mirrors the adoption of e-readers which is slow. This has been largely attributed to the fact that most of the reading material in the country is yet to be digitised.
But the country still remains in the top seven adapters of the device in Africa together with South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Gabon, Nigeria and Ghana.
Early results of a project dubbed “One Kindle Per Child” has seen children spending up to 50 per cent more time reading than before the introduction of e-readers, and higher fluency scores.
With increased digitisation of primary and secondary school syllabi, the uptake of e-readers is bound to increase.