There are 13 million students in South Africa, 63% of them without basic mathematics. “That is why there is a shortage of critical skills in South Africa,” Ms Munashe Dzikiti (left), told judges at the 4th annual EDHE Entrepreneurship Intervarsity 2022 finals in Gauteng on 17 November.  

It was a winning presentation for the 22-year-old final-year Bachelor of Law student from the University of Western Cape (UWC), who walked away with the R20 000 prize in the Existing Business, Social Impact category. The Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme, which organises the annual Entrepreneurship Intervarsity, is a facility of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), implemented in partnership with Universities South Africa (USAf).  

The premise of her business is simple: to make it easy for learners to practice mathematics – a subject most of them find intimidating and challenging. 

Starting her presentation, Dzikiti said: “I’m scared to sit up front with the driver in a taxi in case he asks me to count the change. That is what inspired eRank Play: an instant messaging gamified learning platform.” She cited statistics: in 2021 the education department reported that only 5 in 100 matric learners qualified to pursue a bachelor’s degree out of 750 000 who sat for matric exams.

“My team and I did our own research. We found that youth enjoy learning on digital platforms, but reported that they struggled with STEM subjects like mathematics. We came up with a solution: eRank Play, a fun, simple, affordable, and interactive maths game accessible to grade 8 and 9 learners. It has exam-specific maths content and is accessible on WhatsApp.”

Dzikiti and her team tested the pilot in 2021 on 800 users, covering geometry, algebra, trigonometry and number systems during this phase. Feedback showed that 87% of users enjoyed using the game. 

“We make money by using a freemium micro billing business model where we charge a daily, weekly, monthly or annual rate on which learners can access the premium version of those games. We use WhatsApp which has an affordable data plan; it eliminates the competition of phone storage space. If we had to develop a new app, we’d be competing with music, family pictures as well as videos.”

Ending her presentation, Dzikiti said: “This is a call to action to move Africa forward. Investing in eRank Play is investing in the future.”

Judge, Sakhile Xulu, Managing Partner at Seed South Capital said: “I have nothing to say except Bulls Eye and well done!” Judge Ms Chantal Lee-Ann Terry, General Manager and Head of Operations, Fetola asked if, since she was using WhatsApp, automation was built into the background.

Dzikiti said they were using a chatbot as well, as a mechanism that allows for user interface and user experience. “The artificial intelligence is handled by the chatbot and our programmers,” she said.

Judge Lukhanyo Neer, Chairperson at Heavy Chef Foundation was impressed with the solution – saying it was an interesting way of addressing a problem.

“I worry about using WhatsApp because it’s not a smart platform to understand why a learner is making a mistake in answering a question.” Dzikiti responded: “The main point of our platform is to let students practise their sums.  Teachers report that they struggle to find time to revise with students during class. We give the students a platform to practise on.” She added that she would eventually move to platforms like YouTube “where we can have tutorials for some subjects.” 

On tracking where students experienced difficulties, she said they were able to access that information. “We’ve found that 42.7% of learners complete the numbers topics in six minutes. We can monitor that.”

Judge, Ms Michelle Chavkin, Founder of Michelle Chavkin Attorneys asked: “Do you get feedback through your data on what impact this is having on students?” 

Dzikiti: “We have a data analytics report matrix to show how much impact we’re having. With regards to feedback, at the end of the game, we send out a broadcast message to all our users on the WhatsApp platform to fill in a Google form. That tells us how they find the game, and where they’re struggling.”

Dzikiti would later explain that because all South Africans use WhatsApp, “we thought it would be useless to develop a new app when we could leverage platforms that already have access to our market. Learners can access the game by saving our WhatsApp number in their contacts. When they say Hi to our chatbot, the game begins by asking the learner their grade and which mathematics sub-topic they want to focus on. The aim is to let students practise what they’ve learnt and sharpen their mathematical skills.”

She plans on using her prize winnings to host activations at schools to get more students excited about learning maths on WhatsApp.

More on eRank Play

About her business, Dzikiti says: “eRank Play is definitely the start of something great. It answers the need of teachers who wish could revise more in class. Now learners can do that at the click of a button.”

Dzikiti said the EDHE Intervarsity had been a wonderful learning curve: I 100% recommend joining the Intervarsity. You gain more than just a cash prize.

She thanked her mentors at the UWC Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) for their support.  “Through CEI I met my voice coach, Megan Edwards, who has helped me prepare for the presentation and has assisted with script writing.

“And a huge thank you to our co-ordinator Wendy Mehl who has had such faith in me. She’s the reason I’m here.”

Her team members include co-founder and CEO, Thobeka Nkabinde; math content creator Abe Pooe and programmer, Khotso Maduna.

Her advice to young entrepreneurs: “Take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you.” 

How it all began

“The idea was born when we joined the Enactus MTN ICT challenge in 2020 and decided to work on an idea in the education sector. My co-founder and I talked about how daunting it would be to be asked to count change in a taxi. That sparked the idea of a maths game that speaks to the everyday life of an average South African.” 

Dzikiti grew up in Zimbabwe but moved to South Africa 14 years ago. She said: “My parents are both doctorate academics and lecturers at Stellenbosch University. My dad is in the Agricultural department and my mom is in the medical department.

“I have two younger brothers – the 17-year-old is the head boy at his high school. The youngest, four years old, is still singing Old Mc Donald in pre-school.”

She says she chose to study at UWC because “I love this community; I don’t feel out of place around my colleagues. The similarity in backgrounds makes it easier to connect and relate to each other.”

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.

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