This Ethiopian startup is using data-driven tech to train better teachers

Ethiopian ed-tech startup Accelerated is blending behavioural sciences, technology and classroom data in order to build a unique teacher-coaching platform for the African context.

Founded in 2016 and now finishing its third academic year of operations, Accelerated was established to address poor education outcomes by improving the quality of teaching in Africa, starting in Ethiopia.

It does this by empowering coaches to train better teachers using tech and big data. Much like how TripAdvisor helps travellers to make smart choices on accommodation and itineraries based on ratings from other travellers, Accelerated’s Wagtail system helps coaches with meta data on best teaching strategies and personalised recommendations for any particular teacher. 

“We know a certain recommendation works, because we have observed its effectiveness over multiple years and thousands of lessons,” chief executive officer (CEO) Ravi Shankar told Disrupt Africa.

“We have conducted over 6,000 classroom observations, and understand classroom teaching at a granular level much better than anyone else. We use data analytics to understand which of our recommendations work and are the most effective at scale.”

It works like this. Schools hire Accelerated to train a cohort of their teachers, with coaches employed directly by the startup for now. This coach conducts workshops, with participating teachers set goals, and the coach monitors teacher progress, gives them appropriate feedback provided by the Accelerated back-end, and measures classroom efficacy. 

“This personalised hand-holding is proven to work more effectively than most other forms of teacher professional development,” Shankar said. But all physical, offline activities are backed up by technology.

“The tech is used by the coaches to register new schools and teachers, collect data from teacher classroom observations, analyse the data for providing personalised learning paths for each teacher, and to generate recommendations for new coaching advice and teaching strategies,” Shankar said.

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“The system also generates real-time reports for internal use and for school use. Over time, we want to open access up to third party coaches and internal school staff so they can train and coach teachers directly.”

All of this drastically cuts costs. At the moment, in the United States, instructional coaching for one teacher for one year costs over US$9,000. 

“We are significantly more affordable than that. We can do this by democratising coaching and empowering our coaches with data-driven decision making,” said Shankar.

A secondary purpose of the system would also provide real-time data to school leadership on their teacher performance and to make informed personnel decisions. 

“Schools are increasingly reliant on our data for their teacher performance management and HR,” Shankar said.

Skilled and well-trained teachers are in short supply not only in Africa, but also in most countries across the world, while in-service teachers hardly get any professional development support. 

Private schools are also struggling to compete with each other. These are all issues Accelerated, which was part of the first cohort selected for the Cape Town-based Injini ed-tech accelerator back in 2017, looks to address.

Self-funded, the startup has already reached over 17,000 students in the last three years, while all its schools are paying customers, many of them returning ones. Shankar said Accelerated, which charges schools on a per teacher subscription basis, had a footprint in three of Ethiopia’s largest cities, and was looking at expansion. 

“We have a team in place in Kenya and are about to expand to schools in Nairobi. We are exploring a pilot in Kampala in the next few months as well,” he said. “Our goal is to double growth every year and we have been doing that so far.”

This growth has come in spite of the many challenges around being an Ethiopia-based ed-tech company.

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“Ethiopia is one of the toughest places to be a tech startup in. We say “if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere”. Education especially is a tough sector, as most often users are not the actual customers and end beneficiaries – students – have very limited influence. We have to align incentives for all these players to have a sustainable business,” said Shankar.

That said, results have been positive, and Accelerated is now ready to achieve real scale in new markets.

“We have had good results so far in such a difficult environment, and this gives us great confidence for our expansion plans,” Shankar said.

“In Ethiopia, we are on a market creation phase and face many of the same constraints that new category creators phase. In Kenya, we would be in a much more mature market and it will be a penetration phase.”

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