Nafham (Arabic for “We understand”) is an Egyptian online learning platform on which students can find the complete spectrum of the Egyptian curriculum. In large areas of the country, the state schooling system is completely inadequate. Overcrowded classrooms (100 students in one classroom is not uncommon) and poorly-paid teachers who earn the rest of the money they urgently need to get by through giving private lessons, mean that there are children who even after 10 years of schooling still cannot write their own name. The lessons are pedagogically insufficient – students learn almost exclusively for the exams by rote – with self-directed and interest-driven learning non-existent. Moreover, the construction of new schools is not keeping up with the massive population growth. Also, as a result of the political instability of recent years, there is a gap of over 500,000 children for whom no school places are available.
Against this backdrop, Nafham was founded in 2012 by the Egyptian-American investor Ahmet Alfi and programmer Muhammad Habib. The basic idea was to support the government with its educational plan, with Nafham complementing the official curriculum by processing the learning content online and making it available to all students for free. Through this, they also wanted to unburden the many families who collectively pay between 2-3 billion Egyptian pounds per year to provide their children with private lessons.
The complete Egyptian curriculum has been up on Nafham since September 2014. Altogether 23,000 videos between 5-15 minutes long can be found on the platform. As of August 2015, the site receives 500,000 unique visitors per month, and 100,000 hours' worth of learning material is retrieved by students (30% on mobile devices and 70% on computers) per day. In total, the videos have received 28 million views and reached 3% of the target group.
The majority of the videos are self-produced by Nafham, but they also take on videos from third parties such as the Khan Academy, their major inspiration. Since 2014, the focus has been on crowdsourced videos – in particular because the Egyptian curriculum is continually changing and the new content can best be taught by the students and teachers themselves. For this reason, Nafham holds a monthly competition in which those interested can submit learning videos and win prizes. In this way, they generate 500 new videos per competition. One of the first winners was an eleven-year-old student from Alexandria, who actually only wanted to share the class material with a friend who had missed a lesson. Another teenager has in the meantime become a real professional and has transformed his bedroom into a recording studio in which he makes many different kinds of learning videos.
But are the online tutorials also effective? Nafham is aware that they still have to work on the learning methodology and and impact assessment – while the initial offering only consisted of videos, these are now supplemented by a Q&A section, in which learners have to apply what they have learned.
A further challenge is sustainable financing. Up to now, they have stuck with using their seed funding as well as prize money from innovation competitions about water. “We joke that our business model is based around winning prizes”, says Habab. So far they have only been moderately successful in their attempts to get advertising and sponsor logos on the platform. Nafham is currently working hard on its impact assessment in order to make itself attractive to international foundations and social investors. Then they would finally be able to push ahead with the data analysis and create personalised learning programs for students.
Even though finances remain uncertain, Nafham does not want to restrict itself to one country. Because their curriculums are partially the same, the organisation is also present in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, and Algeria. With that, they are part of a trend that is just starting to develop across the Arab world, as in Jordan with Edraak and Rwaq in Saudi Arabia.
We discovered this case through our Lab Around the World research trip.