Johannesburg | Soweto-born Joseph Mokone aims to make quality education accessible to all with tech start-up

 Johannesburg | Soweto-born Joseph Mokone aims to make quality education accessible to all with tech start-up

Soweto-born founder and CEO of Hippocampus, Joseph Mokone, has entered South Africa’s growing edu-tech market by starting his very own education technology company.

While many use Facebook for entertainment and other personal uses, Mokone has taken a different approach, running his online tutoring service via Facebook Messenger, which is programmed to uniquely cater to the academic needs of all students.

Mokone said: “I am passionate about football and the sports analytics side, specifically recruitment using player performance data to uncover hidden talents or to improve players, which is akin to the learning data we use in our platform to improve student academic performance.”

Mokone has been hard at work to educate and provide easy access to quality education to all students to improve their academic performance. He started working full-time on the start-up in 2019 while working freelance jobs.

Mokone said: “I stumbled across past exam papers and their solutions while tutoring. I would work on the past exam paper with my friend and explain what he could not understand. If I also didn’t understand, I would use the solutions to check where I went wrong.

“I quickly realised the immediate feedback reinforced my learning. When I got to university I started a tutoring programme where I would tutor groups of students at a price. In 2016 a couple of friends and I joined the MIT Global Start-up Labs accelerator in collaboration and hosted by Wits University, which helped me greatly in the foundation of setting up Hippocampus.”

Mokone added: “What sets Hippocampus apart is our relentless focus on making sure our platform is easily accessible and engaging. One of the decisions we took early on was to make our platform accessible on Facebook Messenger after our Android app could not be downloaded on most low-end phones because of the limited internal storage. Over one billion people use Facebook Messenger and it is the fourth most downloaded app in South Africa.”

With reports stating that the global edu-tech market holds an absolute growth of more than 130% during the forecast period, Hippocampus aims not only to provide a helping hand, but also to aid the high levels of student drop-out in universities caused by high student-to-staff ratios at undergraduate level and, especially for first-year students, inadequate systems for recognising students who need support and insufficient student support for academic and social adjustment to university life.

Just like many other start-ups, Mokone’s journey was not without its challenges.

“The biggest challenge we have encountered so far is students not being able to afford our low subscription fee of R99 per month per student for all your subjects.”

“This is significantly cheaper compared to private tutoring, which is about R350 per hour. Our solution is available 24 hours every day. We have done a lot of research and came to the conclusion that the economic background plays a role in this. We are looking to corporate and government to assist these students to access the platform.”

Mokone would like to have his platform used in all the undergraduate qualifications in South Africa. The large amount of data collected in the system allows it to learn what teaching strategies, feedback or responses are most useful to students for certain kinds of errors.

This could uncover some teaching principles they haven’t figured out yet. The system also aims to allow students to use this data for their research projects.

The Empire Partner Foundation, a Sandton-based tech non-profit, is backing Mokone. The organisation is currently housing Mokone at its innovation hub in Illovo.

Joanna Govender, the chief executive of the EPF Tech Fund, said Mokone aligned with their priorities.

“Education is at the top of our impact investment priority list, we are proud to support Hippocampus, led by the talented Joseph Mokone, in his vision of empowering our youth to build a better South Africa.

“Education is a critical driver of individual, national, and global development. Education is a powerful change agent that improves health and livelihoods, promotes social stability, and propels long-term economic growth,” said Govender.

Govender added that the organisation was committed to identifying promising tech business ideas that are scalable and also rewards young, high-potential, innovative entrepreneurs to spur economic development in the country.

Related post