Even when he failed his school-leaving exam for the third consecutive time in his native Ghana during the early 2000s, Cecil Nutakor remained convinced this was through no fault of his, but rather a rigid education system not geared to deal with inquisitive and creative students.
“Everybody blamed me for not studying hard. But I felt that the system was too rigid and wasn’t designed to make learning interesting and fun,” Nutakor says. “The system was designed in a way that some of us who did not like cramming would keep failing.”
“Some of us like asking questions, being analytical, and trying things out,” he told the African News Agency on the sidelines of a recent investment forum in Johannesburg. “I had to do something to prove to my family that I was not that dumb but it was the system that had a problem.”
Thirteen years later, the 35-year-old entrepreneur runs a thriving e-learning platform, eCampus, which traces its humble beginnings to the era of floppy disks.
After raising more than $300 000 (R4.2m) in funding, eCampus is now a disruptor across the continent which has changed the way teaching and learning are conducted while giving learners an incentive to study.
The platform leverages on exponential technologies, Nutakor says, referring to any technology that grows 10 times every year in power, capacity, and deliverables such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing and blockchain, among others.
He describes eCampus as an electronic classroom where over 400 experts upload tutorials and course material on subjects ranging from maths to music, science and sport – which then get digitized in voice, notes and video format, allowing for chat groupsand open discussions for students who get scored on what they have learnt.
Clients include governement and private schools, insurance companies, medical and engineering schools and firms as well as authors and the content is available in seven languages.
“With eCampus we are able to predict whether you are ready for an exam or not so you don’t go and embarrass yourself,” says Nutakor.
“So when you’re learning on our platform, you will be earning points which we will calibrate and predict the mark you will get. If you know that, for instance, 40,000 points will get you a B and before the exam you have 80,000 points, you will be (very) confident.”
“Anything that has a final exam – nurses training, medical school, law school, architects – we are able to predict your final mark.”
He said the platform was introducing micro-credentials, certificates that acknowledge achievement in each aspect of course material, giving students the opportunity to get employed based on what they have learnt.
It also offers learning as a currency “by making the act of learning give you instant gratification”.
“Beyond making you know if you are ready for an exam or not and generating you micro-credentials, you can also trade the points you earn by learning on our platform for real-world things like food, transportation, entertainment and healthcare,” says Nutakor.
Despite not having a school-leavers certificate, Nutakor was able to use his innovation to get admitted for a Bachelor of Science degree on a fully-paid scholarship to Regents University of Science and Technology in Ghana but dropped out after a year.
In 2014 he completed an MBA in Global Business and Sustainability at the Catholic University of Milan, Italy, where he learnt more tricks of the trade after scoring another scholarship worth €8 000 (R128 000).
Nutakor says a 2008 decision to walk away from a $2 million deal in which he would have sold an 80 percent stake in e-Campus to the Venture Capital Trust Fund, making it possible to go and study at Yale, was one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make.
The offer however did make him realise he had not acquired the aqeduate education and experience to run a large corporation.
“They were right. They were asking things like, what’s your present and future value, discounted ratios, the balance sheet deficit, and I would call the consultants to explain,” Nutakor says.
“At the time I was angry but now that I know all these things I think they were right because they were going to give me $2 million and I would have to do quartely reports, depreciations armotizations. But I said I can’t give 80 percent of all my hard work to somebody else, go to the US and come back (to find) it has changed.”
“I remember that day I walked for kilometres in the hot sun wearing a suit and carrying my bag. I was just angry and walked for a long time before I realised I had walked too many kilometres.”
“Right there I decided to ask which schools in Ghana can give me a degree, so I went to the Ghana Institute of Public Management and Administration and got in on a new programme in Entrepreneurship and SME Management.”
“So it is still very important to get an education,” he concedes.
eCampus shares subscription revenue with “fellows” or teachers and content providers at a 50:50 ratio, with learners paying a “reasonable” subscription fee for classes, except for primary and high school material which is freely available.
Nutakor was invited to South Africa by the African Development Bank to participate at the inaugural African Investement Forum as one of eight young and successful entrepreneurs on the continent.
He decided to extend his stay by another week to try and close deals and participate in Global Entrepreneurship Week activities.