Using technological innovation to revolutionise the way African students learn

For South African Doug Hoernle, founding director of Rethink Education, enjoying an excellent glass of whisky has much in common with pursuing social entrepreneurship. For one, both should be shared with people who have a similar passion for life and business. Secondly, when savouring the superb taste of a well-crafted Chivas the same appreciation for detail and quality should be used to embrace opportunities that stand for change.

These are also the qualities that lead Nigerian entrepreneur and presenter, Audu Maikori to feature Doug in the third episode of the new TV series, ‘Chivas, Win the Right Way’, which will be aired on Wednesday, 4 January 2017 on CNBC Africa.

The series celebrates social entrepreneurs who run their business in a way that benefits society, and use their success to inspire other African entrepreneurs to join a growing movement.

So ask Doug what success means to him and like most business people he will tell you that it’s partly about making sales but he is also driven, both personally and in his business strategy, by the bigger picture, and pushing the limits of learning.

Doug wants to use technological innovation to revolutionise the way African students learn. The standard of education in South Africa has long raised concern. According to civil rights organization, Equal Education, up to 50% of students who start Grade 2 in South Africa do not end up writing matric with their class. The majority of these learners fall to the wayside between Grades 10 and 12.

In response to this issue, Doug and his team have developed Rethink Education. This data-lite mobile platform uses mobile chat to deliver short, interactive math and science lessons that are fun and effective. It’s easily accessible, and eliminates one of the major barriers to quality education on the continent.

“Today we are still learning from text books and off the chalk on board, yet we have these really powerful devices in our pockets that can open up the world of learning,” says Hoernle.

Doug believes that innovation in education can be fast tracked by allowing people who have never really worked in this particular space to apply their thinking and new ideas.

“This way we can develop new innovative systems to solve the current issues. One cannot look at the old system and say that’s going to solve this [education] problem, it’s not, [and] by using mobile learning we can provide relevant and constructive education to anyone, anywhere, all the time. A number of students have limited access to learning material, because of the limited access to a desktop or internet connection; now they can learn on their phones.”

To date, Rethink Education has distributed maths and science content to over 500,000 South Africans. The team is putting in a lot of work to expand the business to more countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

At the end of the day, Doug encapsulates the pioneering spirit of a social entrepreneur who relies on a great team, realises the impact his business can have on his community and Africa, and who uses business for the greater good.

For Chivas, Doug is ‘winning it the right way’ and for Africa it is businesses like Rethink Education that should inspire everyone to be part of solving the challenges that face their communities.

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