Hyperion graduated from Cambridge Social Ventures in January 2017.
Hyperion Development is Africa’s first online course platform enabling aspiring programmers to learn the most desired tech skills, from human tutors, for free.
Cambridge Social Ventures believes that the Hyperion model, already delivering huge social impact in southern Africa, has the potential to have significant impact where inequality exists, by:
- Increasing accessibility to learning
- Improving career prospects for computer science students from disadvantaged backgrounds
- Improving national computer science education and standards
Hyperion Development runs the largest community of computer scientists and software developers in Africa and delivers free training in these fields to thousands of individuals.
“Our mission is to improve the computer science and software development standards and education in Africa. We’ve been focusing on South Africa until now, though we are growing organically across southern Africa. We do this, primarily, by concentrating on three projects,” advises Riaz Moola, founder of Hyperion Development.
“We run an online course platform for programmers in the region, so people come to us to improve their programming skills. We help programme developers get jobs and start their careers in software development. And we promote computer science at schools at governmental level in different African countries.
“I realised the need for such a service during my first year studying computer science at a university in South Africa that hosted students from very disadvantaged backgrounds. During that year, 60-80% of my classmates failed. The reason is that they lacked the foundational computer programming skills I had gained at private school. When I realised this, I started to think, ‘Why don’t I just try to teach people online, design an online programming course to get them up to speed so they can learn at this level.’ So I created this course one day and went back to the university and presented it to all of the students in the class. One hundred plus students signed up immediately. Within a few weeks a few hundred students from across South African universities had signed up,” Riaz remembers.
“I then transferred to Scotland to complete my undergraduate degree and continued managing the online course in South Africa. It continued to grow until it was being used by every single university in the country, supported by a team of about 30 volunteers hosting about 4,000 students learning programming courses, free, online.
“And then last year we partnered with Google who gave us a grant to enable us to do more development on the careers side, as well as joining with us to promote getting computer science onto the school syllabus with the South African government,” Riaz concludes.
Riaz is a South African citizen of Indian decent, born just two years after apartheid had officially ended. Beginning his studies for a BSc in Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, where blacks and white were educated separately, he became truly aware, for the first time, of the tremendous inequality in the South African education system.
Transferring to the University of Edinburgh, Riaz completed his undergraduate degree in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science. During this time he continued to build Hyperion.
Gaining an MPhil in Advanced Computer Science from the University of Cambridge in 2015, he went on to work in the search team at Google, where he contributed to the development of Google Voice Search and the latest version of Android, whilst continuing to develop Hyperion into the largest community of computer scientists and software developers in Africa.
Across southern Africa, Hyperion is:
- increasing accessibility to learning
- improving career prospects for computer science students from disadvantaged backgrounds
- improving national computer science education and standards.
This established social enterprise has created a market for online computer science courses that enable undergraduates studying computer science to start from a more level playing field. The speed of its growth, coupled with its established USPs of ‘human tutors’ (when people register for a course they know they get support from a human tutor), and a delivery model that takes into account the limitations of bandwidth in the African market, protect that market share.
“Our courses are very much text based. You don’t need to watch videos or download large files. Our whole model is based on that because it’s currently adapted for the African market where we know people don’t always have access to the internet all the time, and even if they do, very often the bandwidth is poor, which affects how well they can learn online.
“Another aspect of this is that the courses we run actually work via Dropbox, meaning people can work in their folder without internet access, and when they have access again, the files will sync’. This means that when students go back home from university, often to rural settings, they can continue their work and sync’ their files when they are back, or visiting somewhere with internet connection.
“This feature is an important part of our social impact as the extent to which our courses are used in disadvantaged or rural communities is our key performance indicator. We track this information by asking for feedback and monitoring where the feedback is coming from. It’s also Hyperion policy to promote our service to communities where people from disadvantaged backgrounds are encouraged to study,” Riaz concludes.
Now present in all of South Africa’s, Botswana’s and Lesotho’s universities, as well as many in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria, Malawi and Kenya, Hyperion has well and truly established itself in Southern Africa. The plan now is to scale the impact they are having on social equality issues.