Supporting students from the most unprivileged backgrounds is our mission and that is precisely why we created a-ACADEMY—a digital learning platform for primary school children. So far, we have worked mainly in informal slum schools in Africa that need our support most desperately, making our material available already to more than 15,000 students.

Reaching so many students with our limited resources encouraged us to find a way to go further. Our best bet was to use the existing ecosystems such as public schools, and to obtain official recognition for a-ACADEMY so that it could be used in all the 22,000 primary schools in Kenya. We knew it was an ambitious goal but we are relentless, so we had to try.

A long process for an Orange Book

We learned about the existence of a mysterious ‘Orange Book’. Every single public school in Kenya is required to use only the educational material listed in that book because its quality has been vetted and approved by the government. So, of course, the next question was: how do we get a-ACADEMY listed in the Orange Book?

The governmental body responsible for the evaluation is KICD, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development. They decide what is worthy of being in the Book. KICD has a very thorough vetting process and follows strict procedures. Only materials which are in line with the Kenyan curriculum and meet a high quality standard will receive KICD’s endorsement, so the vetting process was bound to be very thorough and strict.

Just give it a try!

Nevertheless, we felt a-ACADEMY could rise to the challenge. All the digital content we developed for a-ACADEMY was fully based on the Kenyan curriculum. We involved Kenyan experts in its development and hired editors from all over the world to make it locally relevant and bring our product up to international standards.

KICD had never given their endorsement to any digital material before so we were inundated with questions. How would they respond to our product? Would we manage to prove to them that a-ACADEMY’s highly-interactive activities strictly follow the Kenyan curriculum and at the same time is innovative and fun? It was hard to predict if we would do well or not, but because one of Avallain Foundation’s principles is to work closely with local governments we wanted to put a-ACADEMY Science to the ultimate test.

Never listen to rumours, believe in a good product

After submitting a-ACADEMY for vetting, we faced a long nail-biting wait to find out the results. At that time we were highly sensitive and aware of any negative rumours, we did experience some pessimism. We heard that maybe KICD wasn’t ready for a product like ours, that a-ACADEMY was too complex. We were told we were taking too much risk, that our effort might go to waste, and that we should focus on our daily job in the slums.

We were disheartened, yes, but we never ceased to believe in our product and hard work. a-ACADEMY was already being used in multiple slum schools, and both teachers and students absolutely loved it! We ran an impact study that showed that students using a-ACADEMY performed better than those who didn’t, especially in slums schools. We absolutely had to succeed in this vetting process because we had an awesome product that worked. And we did indeed, succeed! One day, we finally received the long-awaited official letter stating that our digital material was approved and endorsed by KICD.

There are always more challenges…

We proved all the rumours wrong and confirmed that we are on the right track with our product. There was no doubt that we were ready for the next subject to be put to the test: a-ACADEMY English. Again, the process took some time, effort and a lot of patience, but we did it again. a-ACADEMY English is now ALSO approved by KICD. Orange Book, here we come!

We listed a-ACADEMY Science in the Book immediately and a-ACADEMY English is on its way for the next edition.

Getting a-ACADEMY KICD-approved was undoubtedly a huge success for our Foundation and we take great pride in achieving it. It also makes us very happy to be able to give teachers and children in slums schools, access to material officially endorsed by the government.

So, after the vetting process, a-ACADEMY met the requirements to be used in all public schools in the country, and as great as that was, it still needed to be made available to all those schools.

…but also new opportunities

Many public schools in Kenya have very limited resources. Not only do they have few electronic devices but often they have insufficient amounts of desks and chairs to seat all students. Some areas aren’t connected to mains electricity, which means that appropriate lighting or using a computer are out of the question. The challenge was starting to seem too big for our small Foundation. We could not singlehandedly solve these issues, especially not at a national scale.

Last year, the Kenyan government announced that they would put their focus on promoting digital literacy among children and would provide electricity and laptops to all public primary schools. This was the perfect solution to the infrastructure issues we were facing. Maybe now that KICD knew our a-ACADEMY, we could donate its digital content to use as part of this initiative.

Believe it or not, one day, we received a phone call from KICD with a very exciting proposal and we could only tell them that we were more than ready to embark on the next big adventure. How amazing would it be if a-ACADEMY could appear in all 22,000 primary public schools in Kenya, averaging 1,000 children each. We stopped doing the math and got ready for the next steps.


Miriam Ruiz