Mavis Computel Limited
Mavis Computel makes education accessible in rural Nigeria. Its "talking books" take the schools to the children and teach subjects in the learners' native languages. Through group sharing models, they encourage collaboration and make the books affordable in low-income communities.
To start, can you briefly introduce yourselves?
Samuel: I am Samuel Ucheaga, the CEO and Founder of Mavis Computel Limited. We are based in Abuja, Nigeria, and started as a family business in 2007.
Chiemezie: I am Chiemezie Ucheaga, the chief technical officer. We have been together since the inception.
What motivated you to found Mavis Computel?
Samuel: In our country, Nigeria, the quality of education is very poor. We have over 18.5 million out-of-school children, the highest number in the world, and students at public schools do not learn much. Some people resort to private schools, but this is very expensive. We thought there should be a simpler way of delivering education.
How does Mavis Computel simplify education?
Samuel: We have developed Talking Books™, a technology that makes it easy for people to learn. It is almost like a Computer-and-a-Pen.
Chiemezie: We print books that the pen recognises. When you tap the pen on the book, audio emerges from the pen to explain what is written in the book. We use the language that the learners understand – Hausa, Igbo, or Yoruba, for example – to teach maths, languages, science, or other subjects. Our focus is on basic education.
Who uses the Talking Books?
Chiemezie: Many books are used in rural areas because this is where education gaps are most evident. We even had deployments in camps for internally displaced people (IDP Camps) and in herder (nomadic) communities. Usually, we work with partners – NGOs, international organisations, development organisations – that finance these deployments. In addition, parents in middle-income communities buy the books for their children.
How do the books address the needs of people from low-income communities?
Samuel: First, we improve access to quality basic education. In many cases, schools are far away, and it is difficult for low-income families to even afford the transport costs. So we take the school to the child. The Talking Books™ also provide equity in the sense that we use experts in the subject areas to develop the content. For instance, two of the English books were voiced by a native English major. By means of technology, we can get such experts to teach leaners, even those in rural areas.
Chiemezie: We also spend a lot of time to ensure that the design enables learners to quickly understand what we are teaching. The books use their mother tongue or the language of their immediate environment. In terms of affordability, our model encourages a lot of sharing. The more they share, the more the cost comes down.
Can you explain more about this group sharing model?
Chiemezie: Several children sit down and use the books together. They take turns tapping and repeat together. Depending on the deployment, they use earpieces or just use the basic sound that comes from the speaker of the pen. We also train learning facilitators, who go from group to group to ensure the children are actually progressing systematically since our Talking Books™ are curriculum based. This is very important to help the children learn in a structured manner.
How do you select and train these facilitators?
Chiemezie: Most of them are community members that we identify. If there is an implementing organisation, they select facilitators. Through our training, the facilitators become very conversant with the use of the Talking Books. When they enjoy using the books, they can help the children to enjoy them, too. They also learn to assign bits of lessons to the students.
Samuel: We also teach them how to organise the children into groups. In some communities, religious or socio-cultural norms prohibit that the older girls are with the boys. So, depending on the local context, they need to divide them according to their ages or sexes.
Chiemezie: When questions emerge after some months, we return for a refresher training.
How do you power the pens and books?
Chiemezie: The pens can be charged from mains power supply. In some areas, mains power supply is a problem. So, we deploy the books with small solar devices to ensure uninterrupted learning and we teach the facilitators how to use them. Up to now, we have deployed about 260 solar modules. The books are specially printed ordinary paper books and so do not need powering. The audio files are saved on the pen, so no internet access is needed.
What learning results do you achieve?
Samuel: In our first deployment in Mpape (a suburb of the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria), the children reached about 27 per cent average in the baseline literacy assessment. After using the books for about two months – three hours a day and five days a week – they achieved 93 per cent average. In another project funded by the US Embassy between 2017 and 2019, the children recorded improvements of about 46.4% in literacy and 51.6% in numeracy.
Chiemezie: Through education, we also address other issues. In conflict-afflicted areas, for example, the learning can go on even when no classrooms are available. This can also help children and adults cope with trauma and displacement.
Do adults use the books, too?
Samuel: Sometimes, parents want to learn as well. They get excited because they understand the language. The first such case was an adult education class for women. They were in the same building as the children and wanted to participate. So, we created some days for them. Eventually, we had more adults using the books than children.
Do you impact women and girls differently from men?
Samuel: In one way, no: They all learn. In another way, yes: Some women don’t want to go out because of the socio-religious environment. But when we take the books to their communities, they want to learn. Their husbands have no objections because they are there, too, and see their progress. In a very simple way, we can penetrate the communities. And that is what we are hoping to build on to encourage women’s learning.
How many learners have you reached?
Samuel: We have reached about 9,000 people in low-income communities so far. About seven per cent of them are adults. If you add people who buy the books for their children, it goes up to 14,000 or 15,000 people.
How do you measure the impact you create?
Chiemezie: We use standardized tools like EGRA (Early Grade Reading Assessment) and EGMA (Early Grade Math Assessment) to measure the effectiveness of learning. For the facilitators, we do focus group discussions. They also fill in forms, which we analyse.
How does your business model create revenue?
Chiemezie: In low-income communities, eighty or ninety per cent of our income comes through NGOs or development programmes. A lot of parents just want to get by and buy food, so they do not care much about education. This has become a lot worse because of Covid, so they cannot pay for the books by themselves. In middle- or high-income communities, over ninety per cent of our users are self-funding.
Can you tell me the revenue of your business?
Chiemezie: So far, we have made 442,850 US dollars from nine partners and 30,000 US dollars from retail sales.
Do you receive any funding or technical support from outside the company?
Samuel: No, we don’t.
What are your plans for the next few years?
Samuel: By 2030 – having the SDG date in mind – we should be able to reach up to 1 million learners.
How will you hit this number?
Samuel: By being able to tell our stories, show the impact of what we are doing, and then iterate it. I know it’s ambitious. Apart from getting more visibility, we also hope that other education providers will collaborate. In addition, we want to get people in the diaspora to invest in the education of their communities.
What else can you point to?
Chiemezie: First, one of our implementing partners is already working on another project phase which will be many times the size of the last. Second, we try to make sure that our products are durable so that when a new set of children enter a class, they can use the books bought for the children before. Third, the books change people’s mindset. When we take the school to the families, they see what education is about and are willing to invest in it. Lastly, we have equipped our production facility to enable us to go at our own speed from start to finish.
What struggles has your company overcome?
Samuel: When you are producing something that is aimed at the low-income group although it can benefit all income groups, it looks as if you are doing charity work. But our company is for profit. It is sometimes difficult to know you have a solution, because you require assistance to push it forward. There is a limit to what you can do as an organisation that is for profit. A great balancing act is required.
What inspires you to keep going?
Samuel: The results we are seeing. People were thinking that there was some kind of apathy about learning. Instead, we see engagement, excitement, and collaboration among learners. It is quite gratifying to see what can be achieved with a simple technology.
Are there any recommendations you can give to other inclusive business companies?
Samuel: Do not quit, and be sure that whatever you are doing is well thought out. If you are solving the problem, eventually the money will come. Money should not be the first thing to consider.
The Impact Stories are produced by the Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN). They are created in close collaboration with the highlighted entrepreneurs and teams. The production of this Impact Story has been led by Susann Tischendorf (concept), Rachel Elliott (video), Katharina Münster (text and info graphics), Christopher Malapitan (illustrations), and Alexandra Harris (editing). The music is royalty free. The photographs are courtesy of Mavis Computel Limited or stock photography.