If you don’t understand, how can you learn?

A new app is developed to aid rural children in Kenya learn in their native languages. This is the first blog in our series showcasing the winners of the African Union ‘Innovating Education in Africa’ program.

April 29, 2021 by Abdinoor Ali Yerrow, M-Lugha app
4 minutes read
If you don’t understand, how can you learn?

This is the first blog in our series showcasing the winners of the African Union ‘Innovating Education in Africa’ program. As part of the GPE Financing Campaign, we hear from young people on the financing and innovations needed to keep education at the center of the COVID recovery, get more children learning and leave no child behind.

Imagine living in a rural or pastoralist community and walking into a classroom for the first time where the language of instruction is either English or Swahili and the teacher doesn’t understand your mother tongue.

With over 80 spoken tongues in Kenya, most people from rural areas face dialect problems. Mother tongue education implementation remains a challenge and, in most pastoralist and rural communities, the language of instruction is either English or Swahili, which is a challenge for most children. Imagine trying to learn when you don’t understand what the teacher is saying!

A problem I could no longer ignore

My name is Abdinoor Alimahdi, from Kenya, I am 32 years old. I’m a telecom engineer and for a long time I didn’t have much interest in education. I was doing well in the telecoms industry and when I left it I was regional head.

But I could no longer ignore the level of education inequality and crisis I could see in my region: from unending mass failure, mass exodus of teachers due to security issues, especially after the Garissa University attack, and above all poor command of the language of instruction.

Since I had no education or teaching background, I enrolled in a master’s for ICT in education and instructional design.

A screenshot of a page of the app

A new app to teach in local languages

When I was growing up and going to school in Garissa, I faced difficulties due to the language barrier. This motivated me later on in life to develop a solution for learners.

M-Lugha is a multi-lingual app that offers early childhood learning and lower primary syllabus in 19 local languages used in rural communities in Kenya. The app helps children in these communities to learn in their first language, solving the literacy challenge experienced where there is a shortage of schools and teachers and most teachers do not speak the local languages.

We will be donating 20 tablets with M-Lugha installed to 4 rural schools in Wajir, South Kenya. These schools have a shortage of teachers. One school we visited had 80 students with 2 teachers, while some had only one teacher managing the whole school. After this pilot, we intend to start sourcing for grants to expand the program to other parts of the county and other nomadic counties.

The other approach we are trying to achieve is partnership with the ministry of Education. Through their digital literacy program, the ministry equipped more than 22,000 schools with tablets which are underutilized.

A screenshot of the trial version of the app . Credit: Abdinoor Alimahdi
A screenshot of the trial version of the app .
Credit: Abdinoor Alimahdi

The trial version of the app had more than 10,000 downloads and the feedback has been very encouraging. I am happy that the new Kenyan competency-based curriculum supports the use of indigenous languages in learning. We are hoping to continue developing the app for more than 30 indigenous languages in Kenya over the coming years.

Thanks to the recognition from the AU Innovation Expo, myself and my team have been able to be featured in several African blogs and invited in international webinars as panelists.

In the next 12 months we plan to develop content for 8 more local communities and translate the grade 1 syllabus.

Why education financing must be maintained

When the pandemic started, most learning institutions were caught unprepared, leading to many learners discontinuing to learn, especially in rural areas; learners from disadvantaged background were affected most.

If I could spend 30 seconds with an African Head of State or other world leader, the one thing I would ask them is to fund and protect investments in education and human capital, to support Africa’s ability to innovate its way out of the pandemic and mitigate future crises.

Invest in ICT, in education and in ICT capacity building for the education stakeholders.

Read the other blogs in this series:

Related blogs


This blog highlights an incredibly important initiative. The M-Lugha app is a brilliant example of how technology can be harnessed to overcome language barriers in education, particularly in diverse linguistic landscapes like Kenya. Using native languages to teach children not only aids in understanding but also in retention and engagement. It’s encouraging to see such innovative solutions being recognized and supported by the African Union’s ‘Innovating Education in Africa’ program. This approach not only respects cultural diversity but also significantly improves educational outcomes for children in rural and pastoralist communities. Looking forward to reading more about such impactful innovations in your series!

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