For two and a half months now, since schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, 34-year-old Helen Nyokabi has been running a digital school.
"It's a digital platform where learners from all across the country have a virtual interactions with teachers from the comfort of their homes. We have learners from standard four to eight. They will log in at 8 am, have face to face lessons with their teachers until 4 pm," says the Nyeri-based married mother of one.
A year ago, Willow Schools was eons away from being the business it is today.
"At the beginning of 2019, my husband and I decided that we wanted our 12-year -old son Baraka to have extra tuition now that he is in upper primary. All the options we explored involved having all these teachers coming in and out of our home. We thought of creating a digital site where he could learn from home and have actual interactions with teachers also in their own homes."
And thus, through her IT expertise, the learning platform was born in March 2019. For months, Baraka was the only student here. Then family friends began asking about the platform and Helen and her husband Isaac Wangethi let in a few other pupils in the virtual classes with Baraka. At this point, the thought of making it a business had not crossed their minds.
Helen is a certified accountant with an Information Technology degree from KCA University. Isaac owns a construction company. Last year, they were both thriving in their different fields, making plans to go up the ladder and expand the construction business. Then Covid-19 happened and everything changed. Though she still has her job, her husband's business dwindled.
"Suddenly, we had all these parents with their children at home and no idea how to teach them. They were willing to pay to get their children admitted on our site. We thought quickly and decided to get more teachers on board and to admit more students. We now have classes five and a half days a week. On the platform, they have virtual interactive lessons and then homework and assessment exams," she says. The platform has 100 students so far, who pay Sh6,000 per month with concurrent classes for Standard 4 to 8 being offered by different teachers.
Seeing as she has no teaching background, on a normal day at work, you will find Helen working behind the scenes.
"I have been tasked with running the system, making sure that the classes are running smoothly, allocating the time tables as well as admitting new students."
Her workday begins at 7 am with a virtual meeting with their team of teachers. The way she sees it, it's important to keep reminding her team of what the dream is, of what exactly they want for the children on this platform. Her husband, on the other hand, handles the marketing part of the business.
Before the pandemic happened, forcing the world into alternative living arrangements, some Kenyan parents were becoming more open to the idea of homeschooling. Helen intends to keep the school open post-covid for those parents who might want to go this way.
"It's a scary time. We are all anxious about what will happen in the foreseeable future but we will get to the other side eventually. I know many parents have thought about homeschooling but they do not know how to get in. I am hoping that if we give them an option, they will take it up."
While their classes are growing, their biggest business challenge still is convincing parents that the platform is all rounded like a classroom.
"The other fear is gaps in the syllabus seeing as our children are students in other schools. We acknowledge that different schools teach at different paces so we assess every student that comes in to make sure that no one is hanging in class."
Eventually, the couple would like to build a physical school where the students can come in during the holidays for some interaction.
"Physical interaction with age-mates is vital for children. If you chose to homeschool, you should make arrangements to have your child interact with other children their age."