In this interview with Ugo Aliogo, the Chief Executive Officer of Learnstar, Kshitij Sainani, speaks on the education platform, which focuses on non-traditional subjects, and how it will contribute to education in Nigeria
What is the background of Learn Star?
Learnstar is an online educational platform that focuses on non-traditional subjects that you don’t learn in school. So, subjects like music, music business, sports, sports management, fashion, and fashion business are what we will be starting within the creative space.
But in the future, the next few courses are going to be also in the technology and business space. We are going to be teaching taxation and insurance. Things that you don’t learn in school. Things that Africans need to know.
Our unique selling point is that all our courses and curricula are not only built by celebrities but also conducted by celebrities and the A-list of the industry. I can give you an example: Asa Asika, who is presently doing a course on the music business, and Swanky Jerry, who is also doing a course on fashion. We have Wavy the Creator, who is doing a course on how to launch yourself as an artist and others, who would not only be building the course but will also conduct the course.
What is your experience in the edtech space and what inspired the creation of this platform?
The edtech space in Africa is pretty new. A lot of people you have seen in this industry don’t even have up to 10 years of experience, even myself. This is my first platform. But Kundan and myself have been in the education sector before. We have been in overseas education migration consultancy for about two years. We have experience in the international trade sector. I also have experience in entertainment and events. The major reason for me is that education is the solution to all our problems today and that is what I truly believe. Whether it be the lack of jobs in the country, corruption, and illiteracy rates, any major problem we have today in Nigeria and Africa can easily be solved by education. Now, the problem is that we are not getting the right source of education. Most of our teachers and administrative staff are not the best, and I think that is where the technology industry also comes into play. That is our vision in Learnstar; if we can even help increase the literacy rates and the employment levels by one or two per cent in the next five years, we consider ourselves successful.
It is important to note that we have spent many years in Nigeria. I have personally spent almost 25 years in Nigeria and in various sectors. And so basically, when we got into Learn Star, we saw a need as well as an opportunity in the sector; the way the education technology sector is growing and also, especially on the creative side. We saw there is a huge gap and we realised that this is something we can do in the sector.
Whatever we have learned over the last two decades in Nigeria, we would like to give it back and education is the best sector we thought that we could venture into and do whatever we can.
Just to touch a little bit more on the entertainment and creative space, they were, I think, definitely in the top five contributors to the GDP of Nigeria in the last year. The edtech space, by the next two to three years, is supposed to be a $1.8 billion market in Africa. So, there is definitely an opportunity to tap in, and nobody in Africa for now is doing a creative school or a school for non-traditional subjects. You mainly have stuff for your high schools and middle schools, English languages. But for the creative space, we have non-traditional subjects, and there is not a single platform in Africa.
Personally, as an individual, we may not have a lot of experience in the tech sector, but we are the entrepreneurs, we are the startup and the only members of this project, with a very strong team. We brought in experts in the tech sector. We have consultants and directors on the board who have very strong backing on the technology side.
Tell us about the curriculum and why you developed new courses.
The curriculum, like I said, is based on non-traditional subjects. We are starting with six but we plan on adding one each month, so that is 12 months in a year. By the end of next year, we should have 18 courses on the platform, with one additional going forward from there. There are two main ways we build the curriculum. Of course, number one is research, but where the magic of Learn Star comes in is that before the production of the courses, we have about five to six hours of sit-down with the mentors, the celebrities and all the secrets that you cannot learn online, coming from personal life experience is inculcated into the course.
So, these are our two main aspects of the curriculum, which are research from Google Scholar textbooks from other course platforms like YouTube or Udemy. But the magic and essence of the course come in when the tutor-celebrities are giving their daily life experience as well as the secrets, tips and tricks of the industry.
It is also a blending of the standard curriculum with the personal experience of successful celebrities.
What is the process of selecting the mentors?
The best of the best, and A-listers only; that is the main criteria and for now, we have been reaching out to them through personal connections, sometimes through friends and family help us to get these mentors. But we are looking for the best to come on this platform.
What is the duration of the courses?
Duration can vary between two hours to four hours depending on which course it is. All courses are split into different modules, each module ranging from about 15 minutes to 20 minutes with the quiz in the middle, short courses, and masterclasses for two to three hours. Based on our study, we realise that in today’s world, especially among the millennials, they have a low attention span to do a three-month course or four-month course online. So, we are doing short courses. But all information is embedded in the course, and after the course, we are going to offer scholarships to the students where they can go to maybe Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) or another country to do a full programme for three or four months with practical learning, not only online learning. So that is what Learn Star is doing.
How affordable is it in terms of fees?
It is for the masses. It is not a premium or highly-priced platform. We have about three subscription methods: three months, six months and 12 months. On average, the cost is about N 30,000 to 35,000 per month. It is important to understand that the subscription or payment is not only for one course but to access the whole six to 12 courses. It is like the master class Netflix model, where you pay a one-time subscription and get access to everything.
What connections do you have with Nigeria?
I was six years old when I came to Nigeria, and much of my life has been here. I schooled here. My first two businesses have been in Lagos, Nigeria. I was educated in the Indian School in Ilupeju. I have been to places in Nigeria where probably people don’t even know. I am a true Lagos boy, that is for sure. Lagos, Nigeria, Africa, has given me so much. It is just right for us to give back.
How inclusive is Learn Star?
Let me start with the price factor. It is not highly priced and so anybody can access it. Again, as a technology platform, we have audio-visuals and e-books for the physically challenged so that the courses can be accessed digitally and can be downloaded.
What strategies do you have to keep students engaged and motivated?
Honestly, we don’t think about education in a very strategic way. For us, it is about giving the best content and educational material using the best hands and this will make students to be engaged themselves.
What are the targets you are setting for yourself?
Initially, we have planned for 6,000 subscribers in the first two months with a growth rate of about 5 per cent there onwards. There are two aspects of this; one is the students’ aspect and the other one is what Learn Star wants to do. From the students’ aspect, we are looking to train the next stars of Africa. So, our success story is focused on if we can get our students the right scholarships and internships. We can actually see people get educated from our course and do something for themselves.
We consider ourselves successful based on the students. For Learn Star, we genuinely want to help grow the nation and the continent. If we can help increase the employment and the literacy levels of the continent, that is what Learn Star is planning for, maybe a two per cent growth on each side.
What safety measures have you adopted to protect your database and website?
We have security and safety procedures that we have taken to protect the backend and the IP address of the customers.
How much has been invested in Learn Star?
The capital investment from the two founders was about $100,000 in total, and then the Fajemirokun family brought in another $100,000. The plan going forward is also to get support from angel investors, other multinational corporations (MNCs) to see how they can come on board; we provide them branding, they provide us funds.
What are some of the licensing Learn Star needs?
This is a great challenge that we are actually facing, but we are discussing it with the Lagos State government, who are also going to introduce us to the Ministry of Education at the federal level. We have our own certification that will be signed by Learn Star and the mentors as well, but we need to get accreditation from the government. And in the technology space right now, there is not much government involvement or clarity from the government side, but I can see that the current government is taking that responsibility.
How do users access Learn Star?
We have been working on this for the last 18 months but we are launching on January 29, 2024.