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Jobless teacher turns hobby into big business

CARTOON
By | September 15th 2011

By JOHN KARIUKI

Isaac Gitogo has proved that viable business ideas come from what one does everyday for a living. But whereas most people nurture such ideas over a long time and implement them in retirement, Gitogo’s journey into entrepreneurship was rather hurried.

His last designation was District Education Officer, in charge of Kiambu West up to last year when he suddenly found himself out of work.

Armed with a copy of the primary school curriculum, several KCPE examination reports and a laptop, he used a bookshop ran by his wife in Nakuru to research on the creation of www.kenyaexams.com. It was an idea that he had been pursuing as a hobby.

But in his joblessness, he had ample time to perfect the idea and earn from it.

He hired some experienced teachers to keep up with the needs of parents and pupils from standard four to eight and created a full time job for himself.

So, how was the idea born? In his work as an education officer, Gitogo realised that many parents were buying commercial examinations, some of which had serious shortcomings.

"Many such test papers did not base their questions on the existing syllabuses or had diagrams and illustrations beyond the scope of a particular level," he says.

While doing his masters degree at Egerton University between 2002 and 2004, Gitogo developed interest in the primary school curriculum and specifically in the test item writing area.

"Test item writing is complicated because the multiple choice items have to be closely related," he says.

Competent questions

From his fieldwork, he knew that many teachers had a problem setting competent questions and relied on easy knowledge items. He had a hunch that the poor framing of answer choices could be the reason for perennial failure of pupil in some areas of science and mathematics in KCPE.

With this realisation, Gitogo embarked on a journey to rectify the situation.

"I would read the Kenyan National Examination Council’s KCPE reports, single out the weakness areas and set specific questions on those areas as a strategy for improving education standards in the districts I had worked in," he says.

He would team up with trained test item writing teachers and gradually, his bank of questions grew. Out of curiosity, he contracted a web designer to create www.kenyaexams.com in 2009.

"There was nothing much in it except some questions and a few guidelines to students," he says.

When he was out of work last year, he developed the website further, as he puts it, "largely to kill boredom", but in effect, he opened the door to a fulltime occupation.

"My website has free general information for teachers and pupils in various classes between standard four and eight that can help them understand the school content better," he says.

"We study the syllabi and delve deep into the questions that register the lowest scores in KCPE and offer a surgical remedy on how such difficult areas should be tackled in classroom situations to improve pupils’ understanding," he says.

The free information draws attention of teachers and pupils on the proven problem areas in KCPE with a view to improving performance.

With his team of practicing teachers, Gitogo has also posted free information about class work revision, how to study well and tips on writing the final KCPE examination.

Subscription fee

"My examinations brand name is Excel Examinations, a link available in my website," he says.

"Upon paying a subscription fee of Sh500 per year via mobile phone money transfer service, one can access over 20,000 examinations and their answers," he says.

The questions test the ability of pupils from class four to eight. He has close to one thousand subscribers to the examinations portal and the future is looking bright.

"Over the past one year, business has picked and I am earning sufficient money to take care of my team and foot my financial overheads," says the father of two teenagers.

"My greatest joy comes when I see frequent visitors in my website come again and 40 per cent of them spending at least an hour," he says.

He adds that his website has never been advertised, but its existence is spread by word of mouth.

He is happy to disseminate educational information, like syllabus changes and so on, well ahead of textbooks and to many parents and teachers who log into his website.

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