How This 23-Year-Old Tanzanian Entrepreneur Juggles Med School And Running His Online Education Platform

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Written by Ann Brown
Tanzanian Entrepreneur

Ali Khatau. Photo: Mohammed Amri

Ali Khatau is just 23 years old yet the Tanzanian medical student is a serial social entrepreneur — and a successful one. His latest project is an education online platform to help learners ace their exam preparations.

Khatau, who is a medical student at Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar es Salaam, created ElimuTanzania in mid-2016. The online platform uses technology to provide access to a variety of educational material and content to Tanzanian secondary students in preparation for their national exams. The platform has 60,000-plus users and more than 200,000 pageviews.

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“The platform enables learners to take revision tests, access an extensive library of past examination papers, view examination results and do a lot more. All our content is based on the Tanzanian national academic curriculum at the secondary level and is designed to stimulate and personalize the learning experience outside of school,” Khatau told Moguldom.

He also launched another business, Darequip, which sells medical equipment to students and lecturers.

Khatau told Moguldom more about ElimuTanzania and his entrepreneurial drive.

Moguldom: You’re just 23 years old, how did you get so involved in online education?

Ali Khatau: I’ve been a student all my life, and going through almost 13 years of middle and high school, I noticed quite a few problems in the education system in my country. I believed education was and is the most powerful medium I could use to change my country and wanted to solve the problems and challenges I faced so other students may have it easier and may perform better. The reason I used the Internet as the medium was because the Internet is a very cheap and effective mode of delivering information to people.

As the world advances, online learning eventually will become mainstream and I believe due to the constantly increasing internet penetration in Tanzania, we can reach millions of students in a very short amount of time.  Latest reports indicate that there were around 17.3 million internet users in Tanzania in 2015, a number which is rapidly growing with increasing GDP and rising income levels. I want to take advantage of the increasing Internet penetration to benefit students by providing them with resources.

I also believe learning through online resources promotes computer literacy among students, a skill which is very important in the workplace for almost any career path.

Moguldom: How do you juggle medical school and running ElimuTanzania?

Ali Khatau: Juggling a project with being a full-time university student is definitely difficult; juggling it with medical school is much more difficult since there’s always so much more to do and learn at med school. But apart from time constraints, there’s also a financial load of running such a project and being a student with no income source, this was also quite difficult.

I applied proper time management strategies to ensure I wasn’t wasting any second of the day and made the most of every day. That’s how I could give a few hours every day to the project and a few towards med school. Time management is key for any project and I can’t stress this enough.

As for the financial constraints of running the project while still being a student, I started the project by utilizing personal savings and after a few months, I approached a local company and managed to secure support from them from thereon. I also started selling medical equipment like stethoscopes, thermometers, and blood pressure machines to my fellow medical students and lecturers and made just enough to be able to sustain the project. Every person who starts a new project will definitely face challenges and downfalls on their journey.

The secret is to keep persisting and persevering till you manage to achieve what you set out to do.

Moguldom: What made you want to start ElimuTanzania?

Ali Khatau: The idea for the educational platform came when I spotted many problems in the education system in Tanzania over my 13 years as a student. These included a lack of enough revision materials. I came up with simple online tests that students could assess their performances free of charge. There was also difficulty in accessing past exam papers. Past papers are a very essential resource in preparing for final exams especially in Tanzania but obtaining them is difficult. I wanted to make it easier to obtain these essential resources and with the rapid growth of the Internet, an online platform seemed the best and cheapest way to do so.

Most students use the traditional method where they study with books and pens. On graduating, they’re not familiar with how computers work leading to a low computer literacy level in the country. Computers and the Internet is regarded to be a basic skill all employees must possess and lack of these skills may even cost an applicant a job. Using an online platform to access these resources would also improve computer literacy skills among students. Starting the project was extremely difficult due to lack of financial resources as well as support.

I started working on the project in mid-2015 and after almost eight months of hard work, I managed to launch the platform in Feb 2016. We secured support from one of the biggest East African companies in October 2016 when we redesigned the platform.

Moguldom: Has it been hard getting people interested in an online educational platform for Tanzanian secondary school students?

Ali Khatau: Initially, when we started the platform in 2016, it was quite difficult to get students interested and the going was slow. I guess this was because we were not well known and established at the time. We eventually started spreading the word about the platform among students through word-of-mouth but we also used social media including Facebook and Whatsapp to promote our project and raise more awareness about the platform among students. We managed to get local and international newspapers and websites to write about us and that is how news about the platform spread and we got many more users. So from a very slow and difficult start, we managed to use certain channels to raise awareness and we’ve now reached a point where we have a significant number of users and are making quite an impact.

Moguldom: Can you explain how the site works?

Ali Khatau: Using the site is very simple and straightforward. There is no signup/login feature used to access resources. You simply select what you need from the homepage and you can start using the resources. If you need past papers, you select your grade, the subject and there will be a list of past papers on the page which you can download and use. If you need to do practice tests, simply go to the tests page, select your grade and the subject you’d like to practice and start doing the test. There are no charges to use the platform, its free for all users. We’ve tried to make it as simple as possible for students who are not very used to computers and using EdTech methods and are just getting started.

Moguldom: Have you found the government of Tanzania to be helpful to young entrepreneurs?

Ali Khatau: In certain ways, they have been quite helpful for example accessing loans for youth groups to invest in businesses. We have SIDO which is the Small Industries Development Organisation which deals with small and young entrepreneurs by helping them go through the documentation processes of registering a business as well as imparting skills to certain entrepreneurs who need them. Up until a few years ago, tech entrepreneurship was not well known and established and not regarded as very important.

But since a few years ago, the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) was established and with it, the environment for tech entrepreneurship became much more friendly and supportive. COSTECH has supported and been involved in many local tech start-ups for the past few years and so, I have found the government to be quite helpful to young entrepreneurs in recent years.

Moguldom: Has the government promoted Internet adoption?

Ali Khatau: Definitely! As the world has advanced, Internet adoption no longer remains an option but is more a necessity since it gets a lot of work done, in lesser time using lesser money.

I believe the government realized this and that why many different government systems use tech and Internet systems in their daily activities instead of physical/traditional methods that have been in use for so long.

Moguldom: What are your goals for 2019?

Ali Khatau: Quite simply to make a bigger impact in society through improving our services and attracting more student users.

We hope to reach at least 85,000 to 95,000 users by the end of 2019. We also plan to add more resources like past papers and revision tests. We have also been encouraged to approach investors and apply for seed funding which we can use to make a bigger impact.

Seed funding is something I’m strongly considering since it will change the game for us. We will definitely become much much bigger in a much shorter amount of time if we have the funds. Many global tech giants started small and had their progress accelerated through seed funding so It’s a really exciting prospect.

Moguldom: What’s next for you and the company?

Ali Khatau: We aim to be the biggest online education platform in Tanzania and aim to eventually provide educational resources for millions of secondary school students impacting millions of lives and increasing examination pass rates as well as computer literacy rates all over the country. We plan to increase the quantity as well as the qualities of the educational content we provide and we also plan to use various strategies to make more students aware of our services. We also plan to expand to other countries starting with the East African countries of Kenya and Uganda followed by other African countries.