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“In a market with such barriers, the solution can only be an audio-based learning tool in local languages as well as English, freely accessible via any feature phone and only requiring GSM signal, whilst also providing comprehensive analytics to the teacher – in short, Sterio.me.”

Chris Pruijsen is a co-founder of Sterio.me, which reinforces primary school learning through a simple pre-recorded and teacher-generated inbound phone call. They call the recorded lessons “Sterio’s” and call the process “Learning Out Loud”. Sterio.me was developed on StartupBus Africa and has confirmed an initial pilot in Zimbabwe with the Higher Life Foundation.

Sterio.me engages young African learners through a free, teacher-generated and pre-recorded interactive voice-call to reinforce learning outside the classroom.


BusinessInterviews.com: Can you share how a trip on StartupBus Africa led to the creation of Sterio.me?

Christopher: The StartupBus process requires everyone, who applies as an individual, to pitch their competencies and ideas on the first day, after which they form teams around ideas and start hacking on the evening of day one. Danielle, Dean and I instantly bonded around ways to teach people via feature phones. Initially we were discussing text message based learning, but Danielle and Dean advocated for audio learning as a more engaging method (they both have years of experience in audio startups). We then explored various audio learning applications and on a thought from Dean we ended up at an application to help teachers deliver and assess homework and content outside the classroom, thereby reinforcing learning (as opposed to an app that would displace teachers altogether). The last 4 days were spent on developing a demo, interviewing teachers and learners to validate our ideas, and arranging our pilot scheme!

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you talk a bit about the development process and challenges that you’ve encountered and how you managed to overcome them?

Christopher: During the development process we had several challenges. Being on the road from Harare Zimbabwe to Cape Town South Africa two of the most pressing challenges were power and internet. In setting up websites, building the application, talking to users and mentors etc. the lack of internet posed a problem. In making designs, drafting our deck and pitch, and in all matters using the internet – it was a big problem that power was scarce. In the end we just had to be creative and efficient with work. We napped on the bus when internet and power were lacking at certain intervals, and then worked at night when we were at hostels. It can all be summarized: we have hustle.

BusinessInterviews.com: Can you elaborate on the significance of Sterio.me being approved for a pilot with Higher Life Foundation which offers access to over 3,000 schools in Zimbabwe?

Christopher: This is a very significant milestone, however, not our last. We are currently working on confirming pilot programmes in at least five African markets throughout East, West and Southern Africa. Zimbabwe is a market which is very close to our heart, as the StartupBus Africa started in Harare and Econet was such a great sponsor of the StartupBus (the Higher Life Foundation was founded by Dr. Masiyiwa, who also founded Econet Wireless). Zimbabwe furthermore is a very well developed market, literacy rates are extremely high and English is the spoken language, making initial rollout of Sterio easier for us to manage. However, we aim to pilot and test Sterio.me in schools all over Africa.
Sterio.me addresses a number of issues in the African market.

Teachers (data from South Africa) spend 25-50% of their time doing assessments – time they could spend teaching (which is what they would prefer doing). UNESCO reports suggest that primary school class sizes in Africa are crowded and often over 40 learners per teacher (up to 100 in some cases). Books are scarce in some areas. Internet based learning is not always accessible as it requires a smartphone or computer, as well as connectivity and data. And text based learning requires literacy (often in English or a major language) – and illiteracy amongst rural and older generations in some countries remains a problem.

“In a market with such barriers, the solution can only be an audio-based learning tool in local languages as well as English, freely accessible via any feature phone and only requiring GSM signal, whilst also providing comprehensive analytics to the teacher – in short, Sterio.me.”

BusinessInterviews.com: What are you doing to prepare for your pilot that’s about to roll out in Zimbabwe in a few weeks’ time?

Christopher: Currently we are conducting market research in five African markets. This research spans the exam questions and results for all learners age 8 to 12 from 2008 onwards in a test sample of primary schools. We aim to identify the 100-150 areas of learning which traditionally have been struggled with the most, so we can create free and professional Sterio lessons on these topics to populate the platform before launch. Anyone that would like to offer assistance in this market research, please reach out at hello@sterio.me

BusinessInterviews.com: After launching the pilot, what milestone are you most looking forward to celebrating?

Christopher: During the pilot we are testing three things: do teachers love using Sterio (do they save time), do learners love using Sterio (is Sterio content more engaging than traditional homework) and does Sterio improve learning results. What we hope to celebrate after the pilot is of course an affirmative answer to all of these, which would give us the green light to scale throughout Africa.

Any result obtained during the pilot will be treated with the same integrity, and if we find that any of the above doesn’t hold we will have to adjust the product and/or market accordingly.
BusinessInterviews.com: If I could grant you one business related wish right now what would you ask for?

Christopher: for the sustainable success of Sterio.me we need to partner with telecommunications companies in Africa to reduce our content delivery costs. So an introduction to a decision maker at a telecommunications provider in Africa would be fantastic. Reach out to us at hello@sterio.me or to me personally at Christopher.pruijsen@gmail.com

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