Tarryn-Anne Anderson is the Growth Director at Snapplify, an education technology company that specialises in enabling digital learning by providing a marketplace for digital education content. She is also the co-founder of Book Dash, a voluntary organisation that creates children’s books that are free to translate, print and distribute.
R:Ed: Could you give us a short introduction to your name and your work?
I’m the Growth Director at Snapplify and co-founder of Book Dash. Snapplify is a marketplace for digital educational products and services. We help schools to digitally enable their classrooms so they can use and access resources from prescribed textbooks to reading materials (such as videos and podcasts that the teachers have recorded and created for the students). Book Dash is a non-profit organisation which creates children’s books from scratch. Volunteer creatives open licence their work as a gift to the world and help to solve the problem of child illiteracy in South Africa.
R:Ed: What is it that drew you so much to books- why do you think they are so significant?
I love books, I love reading, I think it’s incredibly important. Books build better brains. The switch from learning to read, to reading to learn is critical to function in the world. I have a passion for stories in every form- film, television, books. But books have always been my primary passion and this is what drew me towards the field areas.
R:Ed: Snapplify operates primarily with eBooks and eTextbooks. Is there a strategic reason for choosing eBooks as opposed to physical books?
Some decisions are made consciously and others happen by virtue of where you are at that time. To give you a bit of history about Snapplify, a lot of companies in the EdTech space are education experts who are getting into the technology world. For Snapplify it’s a bit different. We are technology experts getting into education. We first developed the technology to distribute materials for newspapers and magazine through newsstand applications on various app stores. As we grew that technology, we saw the opportunity for it to become a fully-fledged e-reading application which we then developed from there. We saw in Africa, if you’re going to be dealing with books, education is where you can make a meaningful impact. We took that technology into the education space rather than looking at the education space and making decisions about print versus digital.
We ultimately want to find a way to fix access to different materials through various projects. The market has a hunger for digital tools as well. A year ago, we launched a premium version of our education ecosystem platform because we saw the huge need for access. We opened it up and in the space of a year we signed with 2500 schools across Africa, which is evidence of the desire and need to grapple with digital materials in the classrooms across the continent.
R:Ed: Which regions do you reach out to more than others and why?
BookDash is an open source project is picked up by partners across the globe and the open licence has led to a widespread adoption of the materials and books. For Snapplify, we are active in seventeen territories across Africa but our primary areas of focus are South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria where we have the largest proportions of schools. We have an office on the ground in Kenya and a team based there. These were the first territories we expanded to because they are the loci for mobility and technology in the continent. They are innovative, leading the way in adopting new technologies, and have the infrastructure to do so.
R:Ed: How do you reach out to countries that don’t have that infrastructure?
We do marketing campaigns to reach those territories and try to get some traction there. There are locus events where people from all over the continents come together in one place and interact with companies and government officials from across the continent who are there to discuss problems and challenges and to find ways forward. The only way to really understand a market is to go there and to listen to people’s needs.
R:Ed: Who tends to be your target audience for your e-textbooks? Is it just current university students or professors, or do you find people outside of higher education accessing those resources as well?
Technically Snapplify reaches a consumer market. We don’t only partner at a university level but in fact work all the way from Pre-K all the way to tertiary education. We also work with corporates who want to provide opportunities for their employees who want to do further learning and professional development by offering them resources. For the most part, we find that the majority of our work is with organisations- institutions, companies, schools. A lot of it is at the primary and secondary school level with a smaller proportion at the university level but we are definitely growing into those areas as well.
R:Ed: What do you find the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity in using technology in education in Africa?
Africa is a very mobile and tech forward continent and one of the biggest in the world so there is a hunger for adoption of digital tools. Our main problems are infrastructural- lack of connectivity or expensive data. Proportionally it is much more expensive for someone in South Africa to download and consume content materials from the internet than it is for anyone else in the world proportional to their income.
A lot of people have smartphones but may not have the most recent kind. Understanding the realities of the market in this sense is our biggest challenge, but the desire for adoption is definitely there and it overcomes challenges too.
R:Ed: Finally, I imagine you must enjoy reading given your involvement with education technology. What is a book that you’ve read recently that’s really stood out to you, that you’d recommend to our readers?
‘Educated’ by Tara Westover was a deeply fascinating book for me and a testament to how desire and curiosity can overcome any situation and how someone can educate themselves.
Also ‘Never Split the Difference’ by Chris Voss is a good business book to read with helpful business tools in there for anyone in the business world.