An interview with Trueman Mabumbo, the high school student who made a WhatsApp bot that provided students all over Zimbabwe with free learning materials.
A talk with an exceptionally bright young entrepreneur…
One of the most impressive tech innovations we saw last year was Dzidzo Paden, a WhatsApp bot created by high-school student Trueman Mabumbo that gave students access exam preparation resources and learning materials, and gained a well-earned amount of fanfare and praise from a lot of Zimbabwean media, especially in a time when the ubiquitously presented online learning was a burden on most people due to data costs and even lack of adequate tools to join things such as Zoom calls and other online learning platforms.
We were able to catch up with Trueman and talk to him about Dzidzo Paden, what his aims where as well as future plans for the platforms, and how innovations like Dzidzo Paden can help shape the future of an e-learning curriculum in Zimbabwe.
Clint Mukarakate(C.M.): Trueman Mabumbo, pleasure to have you here.
Trueman Mabumbo (T.M.) : Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here and to talk about Dzidzo Paden.
CM: Dzidzo Paden has been an amazing tool in linking students to learning materials, but when you talk about a product to its creator, it’s often best to refer to what vision or goals they had for it. So what where the general goals you had building dzidzo paden and if the platform has reached those goals?
TM : Well when I conceptualized the idea of Dzidzo Paden, the general goal I had was to bridge the gap between students who can afford online learning solutions and those who couldn’t. And as far as that goal is concerned, we have successfully provided learning materials to over thirty thousand students now, in grade 7, form 4 and form 6, which is a pretty big number. So while I wouldn’t say we’ve completely achieved our goal of completely eradicating that gap I mentioned, I would say we’re on a pretty good path.
CM: How does it feel being the brains behind such a powerful tool and where do you think building Dzidzo Paden might take you?
TM: Well it feels pretty amazing, however I definitely didn’t create the platform with the goal of recognition in mind. As I said, my focus was on bridging that gap. But with the positive attention the platform and I are getting I will say I’m grateful and humbled and excited about where it will go in future.
CM: Do you feel innovations like Dzidzo Paden or Dzidzo Paden itself could be integrated into normal/conventional learning curriculums and maybe as a student, how would you see that being done right or what do you think is the best way to do it?
TM: Generally my stance on e-learning in Africa and Zimbabwe as a whole is that we definitely need to be focused on solutions that are contextual to our circumstances. We might want to incorporate Zoom and Google Meet and other international standard tools, but as long as we have issues such as access to the internet or even computers, we often don’t have the infrastructure or resources for everyone to fully utilize them. So in the case of solutions such as Dzidzo Paden where you have something more tailored to our environment, you find it can be more effective because while not everyone has access to the full-blown internet a lot of people have access to WhatsApp and it’s relatively more affordable. Hence I would say that more solutions like Dzidzo Paden that incorporate design thinking and ideate around our environment are required if we want to implement a proper e-learning curriculum. It’s really about seeing where the actual problem is and empathising so we can see what we can capitalize on to solve the problem and get ideas that re contextually relevant. It’s a case of seeing what the majority has in common and maximizing on that.
CM: How do you see Dzidzo paden expanding? Would you like to expand to more platforms (an e-learning site? Telegram/Facebook bots? Etc)?
TM: The easiest way to answer this is that at the moment I haven’t really thought about expanding to other platforms because I don’t want to rush and expand to another service or another platform which can only be accessed by people in a more privileged position. Dzidzo Paden is a step in the right direction to grant everyone access to learning materials but even it doesn’t reach 100% of the people in need of them. There’s still kids out there who don’t even have access to smartphones and my line of thinking is how can I get to reach them. That’s what I’m more focused on. That being said a zero-rated site that works on Zimbabwean networks for free and allows people to get those resources without the need for data is something that I plan on.
CM: Dzidzo solves the problem of access to learning materials for students, but do you see any other educational problems that could be solved by an app or tech service of some kind and how would you solve them?
TM: Well, that’s a more complicated question to be honest. One of the solutions I wanted Dzidzo to directly address was opening up the whole issue of access to textbooks, that whole field. But of course there’s issues around that as that would be piracy and students would start essentially sharing textbooks illegally, but the main problem I saw when I was teaching other students at St. Josephs and Crowhill Primary schools last year was that access to textbooks is still an issue even for schools in town or in urban areas. So there is need for a platform where these students can buy subsidised textbooks online for a much cheaper fee, even when compared to the illegal photocopied ones they buy on street corners. I think that would make a lot of sense.
CM: And finally, what’s next for Trueman Mabumbo? Where do you see yourself going/hope to go and what would you like to work on next?
TM: I’m generally passionate about social entrepreneurship, so I’m always looking at problems within the society that I can solve, because I genuinely believe in youth entrepreneurship and that through activities like this I actually learn a lot more than I would in class. So I’m always looking at problems that need solving and especially when you look at the Global SDGs, you see where the world is versus where it needs to be. For example with Dzidzo Paden I was tackling SDG number four which is quality education. You look at SDG number 2 and that’s zero hunger while SDG 1 is no hunger. So there’s still disparities in the world and still a lot of disadvantaged people. So what’s next for me is simple really, it’s constantly looking for opportunities to help people. I’m actually quite passionate about agriculture too and I’ll be doing a lot of work related to small hoarder farmers and just thinking about how best I can solve challenges they face in Zimbabwe.
And that was our short interview with Mr Mabumbo, who as you can probably tell, is an incredibly bright young man with the kind of passion you can only admire in an entrepreneur. Chances are this won’t be the last of him that you’ll see here, so keep an eye out for any other news including him and other young Zimbabwean entrepreneurs.