When Sam Gichuru decided to home-school his children, he wanted to ensure they got the best education while spending more time with them.
But he soon realised that he was not getting value for money from the teachers he had hired. Most parents would have sought other teachers. But not Sam. He decided to solve the problem the best way he knows how- through technology.
“I’m excited about solving problems using technology because technology is an equaliser,” says Sam, the founder of Kidato, a live online school offering an IGCSE curriculum with a physical campus in Lavington, Nairobi.
“Education is a personal issue to me because I have three sons and every parent desires to give their child the best quality education,” he explains.
Sam says he had two options. Either opt for private schooling which in the best of schools is very expensive or settle for public schools where for every teacher there are nearly 70 pupils. None of these was appealing.
He figured that by using technology, he could greatly cut costs on items such as infrastructure and transport and pay teachers well to offer learners holistic education.
“That is how Kidato came in, taking the best of brick and mortar, the best of homeschooling and creating a third option which then becomes online learning. It has all the benefits of a classroom setting with small class sizes (teacher-to-pupil ratio is 1:8) and a variety of social activities both online and offline,” he adds.
To get his online school project off the ground, the former Wananchi Online account manager started by bootstrapping.
Luckily, he received a $20,000 grant (Sh2.5 million based on the current exchange rate) which took care of the major costs of setting up the learning infrastructure.
“They saw what we were doing and got quite excited. We were executing very well having begun with three children on September 7, 2020. We also managed to join Y Combinator and got Sh15.5 million ($125,000).”
Kidato, Sama says, also has an Ivy League investor.
As a business offering quality education at an affordable cost, Kidato has achieved this through the reduction of infrastructure and recurrent costs and well-enumerated teachers who are able to upscale themselves and “cater for even learners with neurodiversity”.
At years 1, 2 and 3, Sam says that Kidato is 50 percent cheaper compared to schools offering similar curricula because of the minimised operational costs.
“Not only can education be affordable but with well-paid teachers. At Kidato you only pay for what you use and parents get value for money,” he says.
With the organic transition, Kidato ended up with an autistic child whose parents say had been rejected by other schools.
“We had a meeting about whether to take the child in because he was very much on the spectrum. We got him a shadow teacher and gave them a care package. The child performed extremely well and is now very confident. We felt that we could now handle any kid between the spectrum,” Sam adds.
For both the online and offline school, Kidato currently enrols up to 100 children, including students from outside Kenya (UK, Germany, and UAE).
Approximately 4,500 parents have registered their children for after-school activities, and over 3,000 teachers have sought to teach at Kidato, according to Sam.
The after-school programme was relaunched to Open Learning. With access to short interest-based courses like personal finance, coding and fitness.
Sama says: “Kidato is a full school like any other school. We are able to measure a child’s progress because everything is done on the platform. It is data-driven.”
The Nailab founder and former CEO says that their biggest challenge has been addressing the misconceptions about socialisation in online learning.
He points out that not only does online learning encourage students to develop friendships based on common interests, but they also get to pursue passions outside of the traditional school extracurricular, and socialise beyond the campus environment.
“The removal of soft bullying gives them confidence because of the comfortable environment we are giving them.”
The other challenge is that in online schooling, teachers don’t have face-face interactions, so they have to properly support them by organising hangouts and online groups for them to share their experiences.
As parents across the continent express interest in enrolling their kids in Kidato, Sam says that he’s excited about the future possibilities. “The dream is to see students from Kidato changing this continent and building a circle of influence around them.”
That, he says, is more important than turning Kidato into a billion-dollar company, and the money will be used solely for that purpose.