Kenya’s Tonee Ndungu of Kytabu: ‘Enriching Curriculum Content’

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

“The challenge of building a new generation of readers in Kenya is being addressed in part by Kytabu, a platform not just for students but also for parents and ‘super schools.'”

image – iStockphoto: Zinkevych

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘As Many Ideas as People’ of the Role of Books
In a morning session on the second day, Saturday (June 15) at the International Publishers Association‘s (IPA) “Africa Rising” seminar in Nairobi, hosted by the Kenya Publishers Association, the topic will an urgent one familiar to publishing players in many parts of the world, the discussion being titled “Creating the Readers of the Future.”

From market to market today, you hear at conferences various observers talking about how weak they find “the habit of reading” has become among younger people and how difficult a challenge it is to inspire and train them to engage in immersive, long-form reading, particularly as visual and audio entertainments become only stronger in the marketplace.

Click here to download a free copy of our “Africa Rising” edition for the Nairobi seminar.

The Nairobi-based Kytabu Educational Platform (“kee-TAH-boo”) is an approach to the challenge using digital educational efforts in reading and other curricula not unlike the digitally realized network services of Cengage Learning, based in the States—recently headlined for its McGraw-Hill merger). While Cengage has focused its work at the university level, however, the Kenyan company’s target age group is students in primary and secondary schools, along with their teachers, parents, schools, and institutions.

A quick rundown of the company’s products includes:

  • Kytabu for Parents
  • Kytabu Super School for school systems up to some 2,500 students
  • Kytabu Publisher Portal for publishers to use in distributing new material on the system quickly

A free edition with in-app purchases is available in the main system, while Kytabu Parents and Kytabu Super School are operated as premium services.

The founding chief information officer for Kytabu, Tonee Ndungu, has built the seven-year-old company into a US$5.6-million program, and the Kenyan government has selected Kytabu for its laptop programs created with the telecommunications company Safaricom and Microsoft.

Ndungu’s first company was a leadership building concern, the Kenya Wazimba Youth Foundation, which raised more than 4 million Kenyan shillings to tour the country’s schools making early editions of the kind of motivational and strategic-innovation addresses he gives today in TEDx programs and leading conferences.

A compelling personal element of Ndungu’s approach to educational work is his own dyslexia, something he worked with as a student, himself, using audiobooks.

Looking for ‘Digital Content Creation Skills’

On the panel on Saturday, Ndungu is joined by:

  • Moderator Lawrence Njagi, chair of the Kenyan Publishers Association (our interview with Njagi is here)
  • Joan Mwachi-Amolo, director, East Africa, Worldreader (Kenya)
  • Will Clurman, co-founding CEO, eKitabu (Kenya)
  • John Mwazemba, general manager, Oxford University Press East Africa (Kenya)
  • Zukiswa Wanner, journalist and novelist (Kenya)

An exchange with Ndungu reveals that he’s found that the problems of a weak reading culture among young Kenyans aren’t well understood in his market. So his educational role may actually start there: introducing the need.

And in one of his most insightful answers to our quick questions, Ndungu puts his finger on a complication in his work that many publishers might recognize: the plethora of concepts out there as soon as you start looking for reading’s place in society and best approaches to manifesting its promise.

We begin our brief interview with Ndungu by asking what makes Kytabu distinctive in the Kenyan educational landscape.

Tonee Ndungu. Image: Kytabu

Tonee Ndungu: We have national government approvals and are the only application to my knowledge that enriches curriculum textbook content with audio and video.

Publishing Perspectives: Working as you are as on a platform for educational curriculum content in the digital space, and in a market to which this is quite new, what do you find are your largest challenges?

TN: Local, non-aggressive finance and digital content creation skills are very limited.

PP:  Do you have any rivals at this point? Is there competition to be concerned with?

TN: Not in this country, but on the continent there are a small number.

PP: In terms of the debate we’ll hear at the seminar, with your specialized viewpoint, can you put your finger on where the greatest weakness may be in many African cultures today in terms of building a reading culture?

TN: Kenya is a country with as many ideas as there are people of what role books should play in their lives.

PP: What might be your main talking point on the panel on Saturday at Nairobi?

TN: The role that we in education can play in preparing the young people of today for the future of work.

Image: Kytabu

More from Publishing Perspectives on the International Publishers Association is here, more from us on its ‘Africa Rising’ Nairobi seminar is here, and more on African publishing markets and issues is here

Our special magazine for the International Publishers Association’s (IPA) “Rising Africa” 2019 seminar has been printed by Modern Lithographic Kenya and is being provided in print to delegates as the conference convenes on June 14 and 15 in Nairobi.

We hope you’ll download a free copy here in PDF and join us in welcoming the second annual IPA Africa Seminars event, an important new series in world publishing.

In this new magazine, you’ll find commentary from the IPA leadership, from key stakeholders in the 2018 seminar at Lagos produced with the Nigerian Publishers Association, and from our hosts at this year’s event produced in cooperation with the Kenya Publishers Association. There also are insights from speakers in this week’s program and background coverage on publishing in Africa from Publishing Perspectives.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.