Students step in with application to unravel varsity course selection

Photo/Phoebe Okall  University of Nairobi students writing an exam at Taifa Hall. ChaguaPlus is an app that has been created to help students and parents evaluate all their choices before settling on a course. It provides details on curriculum to help in career decision-making.
Photo/Phoebe Okall University of Nairobi students writing an exam at Taifa Hall. ChaguaPlus is an app that has been created to help students and parents evaluate all their choices before settling on a course. It provides details on curriculum to help in career decision-making.  

Kenyan students have a hard time accessing information on what courses to pursue and what various colleges or universities offer.

Part of this has to do with the fact that many institutions are yet to accept the true value of having their detailed curriculum posted online while those who have contend with poor marketing that has failed to unlock real value.

Five technology entrepreneurs have, however, singled out this need in the education sector and developed a mobile phone and web application that could solve this problem.

The team conceptualised the ChaguaPlus app last year after being part of a six-week technology course sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at iLab Africa.

“It is commonplace to come across students who, after they complete their university education, confess that the course they studied was not what they should have picked in the first place,” said Oscar Okwero, the product manager.

“Some of these students end up enrolling for a different degree course immediately they are done with the first one.”

Mr Okwero, a fourth year BBIT student at Strathmore University, says that such scenarios arise when students rely on relatives’ opinions to select courses.

The situation, Mr Okwero says, is made worse by the fact that the candidates themselves are not armed with any information to counter their seniors’ suggestions.

He says that he had to visit different universities so as to get sufficient information and familiarise myself with the schools to enable him decide.

The team says that their unfortunate experiences were their driving force, apart from the innovation dogma that “most successful inventions are those that seek to cure existing societal problems”.

ChaguaPlus will source information from Kenyan universities – both academic and co-curricular – and this will then be used to create institutional profiles which will be stored on the application.

This data will be available to former and current students of these institutions so that they can grade the profiles.

“Peer reviewing will make the information more acceptable and believable to students who access this information,” said George Audi, the group’s head of finance.

Researchers and lecturers have not been left out either as they will have a portal through which they can post their research findings, which can be reviewed and critiqued by their colleagues.

Through the portal, the researchers and lecturers can increase chances of partnering with scholars with similar interests.

The students say they have already started sourcing for the information and plan to launch the application in Nairobi in June.

Mr Audi estimates the total cost of the project will be more than Sh600,000 with most of the expenses accruing from sourcing the content.

The team, however, says amassing a detailed portfolio may prove difficult since some universities view such openness as potentially exposing them to the competition.

“Since the information to be uploaded will include a detailed breakdown of courses, some institutions fear that this will afford rival universities a chance to tailor their courses better,” said Mr Audi.

University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor George Magoha agrees that since universities are in a state of pseudo-competition it is only natural that most will be apprehensive about giving information freely.

“They can access UoN’s summarised curriculum online and thereafter reinforce their database by adding information attained from attending open days which are now organised by a majority of the local universities,” said Prof Magoha.

The innovator’s problem could, however, be solved given that the ministry of higher education in conjunction with the Kenya YearBook have started a ranking system for public universities which will also include the creation of a similar database.

“There is so much information about the education sector but very little of it has been properly publicised. At Sh50, we will not only make the information available, but do so at an affordable price,” said Denis Chebitwey, the CEO for Kenya Yearbook Board.

The survey will be conducted in conjunction with research firm Synovate.

The ChaguaPlus application has already attracted its fair share of accolades.

Last year, the application was ranked second in a competition organised by MIT-Africa Information Technology Initiative (MIT-AITI) summer programme.

It was runners-up in the Global Social Venture Competition - Africa region gala in November 2011.

The team also represented the continent in the Asia-Africa Global Social Venture Business Plan Competition held at the India Business School (IBS).

Although they did not emerge top, Mr Okwero says they gained from interacting with fellow innovators from across the world.

Mr Okwero’s views on why many apps fade into oblivion soon after they are launched.

“The problem with many developers is that they are in a hurry to mint money immediately they can write their first codes.

"People should invest more time in market research and find out if the product is worth going live,” he said.