Zimbabwean software developer Ntokozo Ncube’s apps bring education to Africa’s remote learners

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BULAWAYO. – Solusi University staffer Ntokozo Ncube grew up as a villager herding cattle with his only desire being to be a teacher. Today, he is developing software and mobile apps which are being used in many African countries by learners, University students and institutions alike.

Ncube, who works as Information Communication Technology manager at Solusi University in Bulawayo, told local Chronicle newspaper that he never thought he could leave the village he grew up in and develop softwares that are impacting the way children access education, especially post-Covid.

The passionate software developer grew up in Unzingwane in rural Matebeleland, herding cattle and working the fields for daily sustenance. He recalls having no hope of any other life apart from the village routines.

Ncube attended local Unzingwane schools, Mbizingwe primary and Nsezi secondary schools. These are hardly recognisable names in Zimbabwe’s education, but their alumni is developing apps and educational tools that have so far benefited over 12,000 poor learners scattered across Africa.

Ncube’s life took a dramatic turn when a relative took him to Bulawayo after completing his O Levels at the village school. It was an eye-opening experience as he came to realize that being a school teacher was not the alpha and omega of careers, but was only one of the millions of professions he could pursue in life apart.

“I grew up in a rural set up and my daily routine involved going to school and doing the routine chores such as herding cattle, fetching firewood and working in the fields. The only professional people I could see were the teachers that taught us hence my aspiration to become a teacher,” Ncube said.

Still, there were no funds for Ncube to pursue A Level, so he took odd jobs and saved money. By age 25, he reckoned he could bypass the A Level requirement and enrol with Solusi University via a mature entry route, which he successfully did in 2007.

Today, Ncube boasts a Bachelor for Business Administration in Computers and Information Management Systems from Solusi University, a Master of Business Administration from Solusi University and a Master of Science in Computer Science from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST).

He also holds an Advanced Post Graduate Diploma in Cyber Security from the National Institute of Technical Teacher’s Training and Research (NITTTR) in Chennai, India. But as Ncube says, all those qualifications are worthless if they cannot advance humanity and improve livelihoods.

“Our country needs to be rich in education not only in terms of literacy but an education that will allow graduates to implement and apply solutions to communities and bring about positive change,” Ncube says.

But like many great stories, Ncube’s owes part of his success to Covid-19. As the pandemic ravaged the country and even the world in 2020 and 2021, disrupting education and learning, Ncube was busy at work creating a solution to the problem.

Having grown up in rural areas himself, Ncube knew the disruptive effect of Covid-19 was more pronounced in remote places where learners stay with adult parents and guardians who cannot afford access to alternative learning facilities. Hence he developed a way teachers and schools can deliver lessons to examination candidates via SMS and USSD systems offline.

Ncube’s flagship app is the Sadc Open Internet Education Project (SOIEP) application which allows learners to receive educational material offline. Teachers are paid to upload learning material which learners can receive via USSD and in their local language.

SOIEP is already available in opensource format on Github and is being used in Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and even the Netherlands and Iceland in Europe.

Ncube has also developed apps and software tools for university students to make fees payments at banks and attend lectures online. He also has developed cash and membership management systems for churches, and bus company management tools, among others.

Ncube has done multiple projects with the Internet Society Zimbabwe Chapter to ensure the internet reaches remote learners who may not have powerful smartphones.

He is also lead developer for the Digital Educational Empowerment Programme (DEEP) in rural Matebeleland. Under DEEP, schools upload learning content to a server, and learners access the content remotely.

Moreover, Ntokozo has previously developed apps like iNtokozo Student Trancact, iNtokozo Payroll, TChaks Easy cafe manager, e-Libraries and other data integration softwares. His iNtokozo Easy Interpreter could translate over 60 languages on the fly.

To him, the whole point of software development is to make life easier, in all its facets. Software, therefore, must be affordable, accessible and user friendly.

“The applications that I develop are available on GitHub. Normally when I develop an application, I make it open so that people can download and use,” Ncube says.

Witness Lusaba, Ncube’s former headmaster at Nsezi Secondary School, says Ncube was always destined for greatness despite having been brought up under very tough conditions.

“Ntokozo was a studious pupil who allways kept to himself. He was a God-fearing child who co-operated well with colleagues and seniors. He was always destined for higher heights,” said Lusaba in his commendation.

Apart from skills in web designing, apps development and software engineering, Ncube is a speaker of not just English but five indigenous languages: Zulu, Ndebele, Shona, Bemba and Tonga. ■

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