Interview with Cecil Senna Nutakor, CEO of eCampus, a Ghanaian start-up that provides African youth with alternative credentials

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Frustrated with the theoretical and rigid traditional educational establishment, which he says made him fail his Senior High School final exam a number of times, Cecil decided to start eCampus, a tech start-up that digitises all forms of learning materials in 2003.

Tell us about eCampus?

eCampus literally puts learning in your hands. How? By using technology to process already existing training material into more interactive and measurable content that can be consumed on the go, either by mobile or desktop.

We are able to bring existing learning material to life. We can produce podcasts, simulations, illustrations, virtual reality and augmented reality content out of it and make it available in your palm on the go.

Our goal is to make learning easy and more efficient. So we have deployed artificial intelligence, one of the exponential technologies, to measure students’ performance, or learners’ performance because it is used in the corporate world as well, to help companies set targets.

For example, the first thing we are trying to address is to make it easy for students to know whether they can pass an exam or not. So today if I am studying for an exam, it is hard to tell whether I will pass if I am to write the exam in a week’s time; there is no system to tell you that. So what we are doing is that by using artificial intelligence, we are able to tell that if you can score 20,000 points on subject like mathematics before the exam, you would make the pass mark.

This way, there is less anxiety; most people fail exams because they are anxious and unaware of their preparedness level.

What problems are you seeking to solve?

In 2017 for instance, the failure rate in the West African Examination Council was about 70 percent, which is very bad. Meanwhile, when you interact with these students, you would realise that they are very smart.  I personally failed three times not because I did not know but I was tensed. So I want to take that problem away, which is number one.

Secondly, we are creating an alternative credential system. Not everybody can go to college or university. In our country or our part of the world, if you do not get an opportunity to go to any of these you are not valued because there is nothing to show for the things you know.

So we want to give those in this category something to show for the things they know – alternative credentials. So if one studies on eCampus or learns how to repair a microwave, by following content from microwave manufacturers like Phillips and you are able to earn the points, we can calibrate your points into an intermediate or advanced expert on your system, which you can show to anyone that you can repair microwaves. This way, you do not have to worry about not going to university.

The sad thing is that we have a huge chunk of our population caught up in this gap. They have learnt a lot of trades and soft skills that they can use to make money but they have nothing to show, so people doubt them. We want to accommodate those kinds of people.

The third thing is that we are making learning a currency. With this, what we are trying to achieve is that we are creating a knowledge based-economy where learning becomes a currency.

Have you ever asked yourself why we go to school? It is because we want to be able to afford the lifestyle we want to live. We go to school for four years just to achieve this goal, which to me is too long for a millennial. The millennials want things fast that is why most of them feel that they do not belong to the traditional school system.

So the thing we are trying to do is to ensure that if you learn about semi-conductors this week, you should actually be able to use that to put food on the table the following week.

We are creating eCampus Exchange just like the stock exchange where you can do trading. We want people to be able to trade their knowledge for a movie ticket or any other thing they want.

So in effect, we want to make it easy for people to pass their exam. We want to provide people with alternative credentials that, overtime would become valuable than traditional degrees or certificates and we want people to make a living from the knowledge they have acquired.

So we are using blockchain technology to store all the information from our learners and authors to ensure credibility and trust because nobody will be able to edit it. So, when someone comes to you that they have these credentials from eCampus, they actually have them.

How are people receiving the idea?

At the corporate level, we were amazed at how corporate Ghana received this. Initially, we were more concerned about students but we veered into the corporate space and it just moved very fast because you could see clearly that companies have the same difficulties as students.

For example, companies have challenges measuring employee training and learning programmes. Some of these companies pay so much for these learning contents or training material, which ends up in employees’ cars. But by digitising and making the content available on eCampus, you are able to tell the number of times an employee watches the video, or accesses the content or test.

From there, you could measure the correlation between their use of the information and their output and efficiency. You can also measure the return on investment.

For Junior High and Senior High Schools, we have made it free for them. But the challenge there is access to smart phones or computers with internet access.

When it comes to tertiary institutions, we are working with lecturers or professors and authors, whom we call eCampus Fellows. As you know, lecturers normally give out lessons’ handouts and some sell it, which is legal in certain institutions.

Now, we are telling the lecturers to bring those lesson notes or handouts, we will digitise it into podcast and make it available on eCampus so that the students can follow them on eCampus and pay through the platform.

The good thing about this is that you can update the content as when you want, as against waiting for a semester to end before preparing a new pamphlet.

The platform is interactive, you can chat with students and even upload videos. The other thing is that, students from all over the world can follow you on the platform. This increases the lecturer’s reach and revenue until the content becomes obsolete.

This is one way of making teachers to become millionaires so that we can make the teaching profession very attractive to young people. We are not replacing teachers or consultants, we are actually trying to make them millionaires.

So in a nutshell, the response has been amazing and the challenge that the response brings to us is the speed of content development. Because of the nature of our content, it takes time to produce all those illustrations, virtually reality, podcasts and going to the studio to fine-tune it.

What challenges do you face?

For instance, it takes an average of 24 days to produce a 20-paged PowerPoint presentation, so you can imagine all the teachers and consultants wanting their works to be uploaded.

We need to raise more investments through equity to be able to scale up. We have been able to raise some good amount of money and we have improved the technology; we have released the version 3.0. So, slowly we will get there but we still need more capital injection.

How many countries do you have presence in currently?

We are incorporated in Ghana and Liberia, but the nature of our content makes us valuable across the whole of Africa.

In 2017 we made the Application available in seven different languages. So we are available in Amharic for the Ethiopian market, Arabic, English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Swahili.

So, if a teacher brings their content in English, we have a voice-over team in Mozambique to do the voice-over in Portuguese.

In terms of users, we have over 25,000 active users and it is growing very fast. And as more Africans get access to affordable internet and the tech space expands, eCampus will become an African monster.

In the next five years, where do you want eCampus to be?

We should at least have over 2 million active users because of the active engagement we are rolling out in Nigeria. That is what we are looking at because in Nigeria alone, there are about 27 million people taking the West African Examination Council exam and JAMB every year.

As I have mentioned already, we have created a monster which we might struggle to control in the next few years. That is the picture.


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