In a world where social media reign supreme, Barbara Mallinson believes it is necessary to have a safe online social network for young people that can double as an education tool.
She claims her South African company Obami achieves this. The service, which was listed by Forbes Africa as one of the top 20 African startups, is an e-learning and communications platform designed specifically for the classroom.
Although school students tend to use online destinations such as Facebook to shield their conversations from adults, Obami encourages them to interact with their elders by turning learning into an enjoyable exercise.
Once a school links with Obami, students and teachers have access to a number of interactive tools designed to improve the learning experience. For example, the “My Account” tab allows kids to update personal and school profiles so they can connect with like-minded people within the school and others from around the world.
The “My News” section allows for updated news and announcements from contacts regarding school activities. “My Portals” serve as mini websites hosted on the Obami platform, whether for a class, an after-school activity, or the Parent Teacher Association.
Obami also facilitates text messages, alerts, and email, along with a calendar function that keeps students posted on assignment deadlines or school events.
Mallinson said her company is “stringent” on the legal processes required to get a school up and running on the service.
“That involves getting permission from the school to use Obami,” she said. “The school also has to get permission from the parents for their kids to join Obami. We’re very strict on the terms and conditions, and make sure that the kids understand them. And over and above that, we’ve tried to ensure that the environment is kept safe, just so we don’t face any liabilities ourselves.”
This includes monitoring content passed between users, along with implementing an extensive profanity filter and employing offensive-content reporting tools.
“And we have a really good relationship with schools and the IT administrators, just to make sure that all those corners are covered,” she said.
Mallinson said students have taken the concept and run with it, setting up social clubs, for example. In addition, the platform enables schools to conduct tests online, making it easier to track student and class performance. And parents can use the service to check on what homework assignments are due or correspond directly with the school without the need to set up a parent-teacher conference.
Since going live in 2012, some 300 schools have signed on with Obami and about 25,000 students have begun using it. The service is free, but Mallinson said Obami charges for certain premium content and for setting up a school’s branding.
Although plans are in place to provide a marketing platform on Obami, Mallinson said all companies using it would need to be education-related.
“We don’t want obvious advertising,” she said.