MyElimu: Taking Education Out of the Classroom

Growing up Given Edward had to wake up at 5am each day if he wanted to make it to school on time. His journey involved two buses and two hours of traveling. This was tough for him especially when he had to start his journey back home because students would meet to discuss what they had learnt after classes. The later he stayed in school, the longer he sat in rush hour traffic. He therefore set out to develop a solution that allowed people in similar situations to still participate in discussions even if they were off campus.

In February 2014, Edward created MyElimu, an online discussion forum that leverages peer learning and allows Tanzanian secondary school students to discuss what what they study in school. The platform is categorised by subject and students participate based on interest and need. For Edward, MyElimu is not just for content creation and discussion alone. He wants students to be able to take information off the website and share. Elimu is the swahili word for education.

MyElimu currently has more than 800 users from four countries and Edward is continuously developing the platform. The latest feature is ‘My faculty advisor,’ which helps recent secondary school graduates decide what to study in the university based on their grades and subjects.

Edward was recently awarded the Queen’s Young Leaders Award 2015 for his work with MyElimu. The award recognises and celebrates young people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.

What have you learned from running MyElimu?

First, the most important thing is to start. You have to start from somewhere. Not only that, you don’t have to have everything you need available. I remember one of my mentors once said, “do what you can with what you have”. You don’t need to have everything figured out.

I’ve also learned that the most important thing is an idea. If you have a good idea, capital will come your way. Finally, sometimes, you have a dream so big that it scares you, but then, that’s not a reason to not do it. My approach to such is to break the [dream] into small pieces and do one piece at a time.

That’s what I’m doing with MyElimu because I have three projects that I’d like to implement by the end of the year. One of this is an audio notes project where we convert study materials into audio form. They are short mp3s which can be downloaded and listened to. They will be categorized according to topic. The goal is to make them shareable via whatsapp and other social media platforms. I think this will be effective because students always have their earphones on, whether at the bus station or at home. And it will be more fun. They never forget songs so they won’t forget the notes they listen to. The two other projects, I can’t disclose right now as they are still in the very early stages of development.

Any challenges?

Some issues require cash that I can’t generate at the moment. I handle the technicalities and maintenance of the platform but some aspects such as advertising and projects such as the audio notes require money. Not everyone shares the passion and devotion for bringing change and there’s nothing wrong with that. Many are business oriented and rightfully so. You can’t just go to a studio and ask for their equipments without cash and with just a bag of passion. Right now, the team is saving some money to take care of this and push more activities and projects forward.

Another challenge is juggling between school and the projects among other leadership tasks in various organizations I work with. This forces me to be quicker, faster and smarter in the way I work and get things done. It wasn’t easy at first but with time I believe I’m getting a hold of this. If it was easy everyone would have done it. It’s the hard that makes it great.

What legacy would you like to leave?

Significance over wealth. For me the most important thing that matters is the significance of what you do. You do something not because of wealth but because it will impact people. It’s why I try to make everything in MyElimu free.

Who are your heroes?

My uncle. He supports me to the point I feel indebted. He may not see the full picture for a project, he just trusts that I can do it. He supports me because I’m doing something productive.

Also my mum, she has been supportive and allows me to make my own decisions. All she wants is for me to come to her with my activities so she can be satisfied with my safety and wellbeing.

Are there any women leaders that you look up to?

Asha-Rose Migiro, the Tanzanian former Deputy UN Secretary General. What I find great about her is that she’s very composed and you will never see her in the spotlight if it’s not necessary. You only see her when it’s necessary and when she pops out everyone will know. She’s powerful and gets the job done. She’s a politician but she’s not in politics. It’s a job for her and it’s about getting the job done.

What does the Queen’s award mean for you?

It’s very exciting and encouraging. To me it means that someone out there, somewhere appreciates what I do. That motivates me a lot. It’s like a tap on the shoulder. It makes me more confident and determined. The award also brought with it attention from both the media and the society. The media attention is temporary but that of the society is there to stay. People will always observe and watch. Once you get the ball rolling they want to see how far you can get it. And the better you get, the more expectations they set and begin to trust you and bank on you. That forces you to always work hard.

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